Kentucky is lucky that fate — plus a scientific knowledge of whiskey — brought Pearse Lyons to the Bluegrass and that he put down roots.
We don’t envy his eulogists, though. How to convey the power of his vision and generosity? Not an easy task.
Lyons’ extraordinary drive as a scientist and entrepreneur enabled him, in partnership with his wife, Deirdre, to build a $3 billion company and also pursue another passion: philanthropy.
From his native Ireland to his adopted Kentucky to the earthquake-shattered isle of Haiti, Lyons’ altruism, like the man, was eclectic and loyal to the places he cherished.
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Who could guess that a transplanted Irishman who loved singing would meet a transplanted Alabamian who loves singing and together build a great opera program at, of all places, the University of Kentucky. UK opera director Everett McCorvey says the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition was Lyons’ idea. It supports promising young vocalists who otherwise might not be able to study full-time.
Under Lyons, who died March 8 at age 73, Alltech also supported science education at all levels.
And it’s no exaggeration to say that Lyons rescued the World Equestrian Games in 2010. Alltech’s sponsorship was critical to the event, which showcased Lexington and the Kentucky Horse Park to an international audience. Alltech ended up spending triple its original pledge, but Lyons said the investment would pay off in increased sales of the company’s equine nutrition products and of his signature brew, Kentucky Ale. It wasn’t just Alltech’s money that gave the Games their panache, though, it also was Lyons’ sense of hospitality and showmanship.
Because of Lyons’ vision, innovators from around the world gather in Lexington each year to hear some of the world’s sharpest thinkers (and to enjoy Kentucky Ale and a Kentucky spring) at the ONE: Alltech Ideas Conference.
In 2010, the day after a devastating earthquake, Lyons flew to Haiti to see how Alltech could help. The company launched the Sustainable Haiti Project which revived a shade-grown coffee variety, creating a livelihood for Haitian families, who produce Alltech’s Cafe Citadelle, the sales of which go back to Haiti.
In Kentucky, Lyons’ greatest legacy may be his example. Alltech is living proof that something that starts in a Lexington garage with $10,000 can be built into a global nutrition and health company employing 5,000 people worldwide and overseen from a headquarters on a country road in Jessamine County.
We thank his wife and Alltech co-founder, Deirdre, and their children Aoife and Mark, all involved in guiding the company, for sharing Lyons with Kentucky.
A funeral mass will be celebrated at 1 p.m. March 17 at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Lexington. Public visitation will be held March 16 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. and from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. at Milward Funeral Home, 1509 Trent Blvd. An April mass will be held in Ireland.