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Stanford Report, May 12, 1999

Charles Lyons, who shaped Drama Department over past 26 years, dies at 66


Charles R. Lyons, the Margery Bailey Professor of English and Dramatic Literature at Stanford, died Tuesday, May 11, at his home in Palo Alto. He was 66 years old. At the time of his death, Lyons, an internationally acclaimed expert on contemporary theater, was chair of the drama department.

"That typifies his spirit, that he was going to keep teaching to the end. Being a scholar/teacher is what defined him," said Harry Elam, the Christensen Professor for the Director of Introduction to the Humanities, who called Lyons "a singular influence" in terms of shaping the department and "making it one of the best PhD programs in the country."

A memorial service will be held Monday, May 17, at 3:30 p.m. in Memorial Church.

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Lyons was born in Glendale, Calif., and received his bachelor's, master's and doctoral degrees from Stanford. After serving in the Navy, he held faculty positions at Principia College and the University of California-Berkeley before returning to Stanford in 1973. Lyons chaired the department from the time he joined the faculty until 1987. He was named chair again in 1995.

During his 26 years at Stanford, Lyons also chaired the program in Western Culture, which has had several incarnations, including Cultures, Ideas and Values, and is currently the Introduction to the Humanities program. "He was very knowledgeable in terms of university administration. That helped him be a good advocate for the drama department," Elam added. "[The department] will be a different place as we go into next year."

Last month the James Irvine Foundation made a $3.2 million grant to the university to support the arts, a new Law School program and more funding for existing initiatives. A portion of that award will fund the Institute for Diversity in California Arts, which will bring emerging artists representing different media in the fine and performing arts to Stanford. Lyons helped develop the grant proposal and shepherd it through to approval. Had he lived, he would have directed the institute. "This is a wonderful moment for the arts, here," Lyons said at the time. "It's really important for Stanford to make a stand in terms of the development of the arts in California."

Lyons' colleagues remember him as a committed mentor and teacher. In 1994 he received a Dean's Award for Distinguished Teaching, which credited him with conceiving the current graduate program in drama and integrating scholarly and theatrical work with practical work in the theater.

Alice Rayner, an associate professor of drama, had known Lyons since he was her freshman adviser at Principia. "In terms of the profession at large, he set a standard for the kind of broad-based scholarship that made drama both something artistically provocative and intellectually substantial," Rayner said. She called him one of the absolutely best mentors in the country and said she knew of no one who cared more for students, who took their careers as personally and directed them even after they left, or "who had more heart." She credited him with turning drama into a viable intellectual enterprise and contributing "generations of students who have gone out and kept up that standard in other places."

Lyons pioneered critical studies of Ibsen, Brecht and Beckett. His books include Shakespeare and the Ambiguity of Love's Triumph, Henrick Ibsen: The Divided Consciousness, and Samuel Beckett: The Despair and Polemic. Lyons and Leila Phee Lyons, his wife of 43 years, were partners in Lyons LTD Antique Prints, a member of the Art and Antique Dealers League of America and the Confederation Internationale des Negociants en Oeuvres d'Art.

In addition to Leila, he is survived by his sons, John Christopher of San Diego and James Charles of Palo Alto, as well as sisters Barbara Hruby of Laguna Hills and Kathleen Herzer of Glendale.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Charles R. Lyons Memorial Fund, c/o Department of Drama, Stanford University, Stanford, CA 94305. SR