Pearse Lyons came into my life about 15 years ago when he asked me to sing “My Old Kentucky Home” at his daughter Aoife’s wedding reception. We forged a friendship that will live on long past my time on Earth.
One of the reasons we have so many wonderful singers at the University of Kentucky is because of the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition, which was his idea. It has changed the face of UK Opera Theatre. Pearse and wife, Deirdre, not only sponsored the competition, now in its 13th year, they also sponsored the Alltech Celebration of Song at The Square in downtown Lexington each holiday season for the past 13 years.
They have flown the singers all over the world and sponsored them in different activities that help further their careers. For the past seven years, they have sponsored artists Gregory Turay, Ronan Tynan, Tedrin Blair Lindsay, Cynthia Lawrence, Reginald Smith, Jr. and many of our faculty and students. They have established residencies for Turay at Centre College and for Tynan at UK.
Pearse was so fond of singing that he published a book of songs given to every Alltech employee. At any company event, anywhere in the world, there would be singing. At the receptions after a meeting, in the hotel and at the bar, there would be singing. In his hotel room with his family, there would be singing. To begin and end meetings, there would be singing. Pearse felt that the way to get to warm up to any businessman, customer, acquaintance or friend was through song.
His energy was boundless. His voice grew stronger as the evenings went on and he would sing until the early hours of the morning. Then after a few hours of sleep, he would go running with his team. He ran every day and would allow very little to get in the way of his running. Even during the Alltech Symposium, held in Lexington, he would start the conference with a 6 a.m. run.
Pearse loved life. He loved meeting people and he never met a stranger. If someone seemed a bit tense when he met them, he would begin singing to them and you could just see the tension melt. He was always the same. He never wavered from his love of life and of his fellowman and that was truly infectious. He was a great man and a great, great friend.
And he loved Kentucky. In the hundreds of events I attended with him, all over the world, the singing of “My Old Kentucky Home” started each event or ended the evening.
Every Alltech office in the 128 countries is adorned with Kentucky art, fences, woodwork, photos, bourbon and ale. Recently during a trip to his office in Dublin, the Alltech Choir of staff workers sang for us and Pearse jumped right in the middle of them and sang along. It was magical and so, so heartwarming.
Alltech 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games would not have been the same without Pearse, Deirdre and Alltech. Alltech invested over $30 million to make sure that Kentucky would shine during that time. And boy, did we shine. He wanted the best musicians to perform, the best singers to sing, the best horses to participate and the best face possible for Kentucky.
They spared no expense. They made us “Kentucky Proud.”
I loved Pearse like a brother. I am just so thankful that he and Deirdre made Kentucky their home and allowed so many people to shine by offering us their light. Kentucky will be forever changed because of the love, dedication and support of Pearse Lyons.
Everett McCorvey is director of University of Kentucky Opera Theatre.