Pearse Lyons, Irish-Born Self-Made Kentucky Billionaire, Sponsor of 2 World Games, Dies–1944-2018
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He died after months of hospitalization from complications following heart surgery, the Kentucky-based Alltech announced.
Dr. Lyons and his wife, Deirdre, started Alltech in the garage of their Lexington home in 1980 with $10,000 to become a family-owned company with 5,000 employees in 80 offices around the world doing business in about 130 countries.
The company focused on all-natural nutrition products for animals and humans based on yeast fermentation, enzyme technology, algae and the interaction of nutrition and genetics. It has brewing and distilling operations in Kentucky and Dublin, Ireland.
The company reports annual revenues are about $3 billion though as a privately held enterprise profits were not disclosed.
Alltech was the title sponsor of the World Equestrian Games in Lexington in 2010 and in Normandy in 2014.
Thomas Pearse Lyons was born Aug. 3, 1944, in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland, one of six children of Thomas Kevin Lyons and the former Margaret Dunne. His mother owned a small grocery, which Lyons said inspired him to become an entrepreneur.
His mother’s family included five generations of coopers, who made barrels for Irish whiskey distillers. After he started his beer and distilling operations, Lyons often joked that his parents were teetotalers, so he tried to drink enough to make up for it.
Lyons’ first job was helping in the laboratory at the Harp Lager brewery in Dundalk at age 14. After earning a bachelor’s degree from University College Dublin, Lyons studied at the British School of Malting and Brewing in Birmingham and earned master’s and doctoral degrees in brewing science from the University of Birmingham.
After interning at Guinness and Harp Lager, he worked as a biochemist for Irish Distillers, which makes Jameson whiskey, and helped design its Midleton Distillery.
At age 17, Pearse Lyons met Deirdre Byrne, and they were married in 1972. Daughter Aoife was born in 1973, son Mark in 1977. All three are senior Alltech executives.
The Lyons family moved to Lexington in 1976 after Gems Whisky, an Irish distiller, asked Pearse to help Kentucky ethanol distillers improve their processes. Four years later, the couple started Alltech to use yeast technologies to improve the nutritional value of animal feed.
The company’s name came from their daughter’s initials: Aoife Louise Lyons.
Pearse bought the former Lexington Brewing Co. in 1999 and started making Kentucky Ale, adding Bourbon Barrel Ale in 2006 and other drinks since then.
He loved hobnobbing with celebrities like Muhammad Ali who lived in Louisville, Kentucky at the time and appeared at the 2010 World Games’ opening ceremony. He took a road show of “Kentucky Proud” products to the Royal Windsor Horse Show in 2009 and sat by Queen Elizabeth II in her private box.
With his wife, he went to Dublin last the Pearse Lyons Distillery at St. James, an Irish whiskey distillery in Dublin’s abandoned St. James Church, which they renovated and enlarged. The adjacent churchyard held the graves of his great-grandfather and other relatives.
In Kentucky, he was given the state’s first Legacy Award in 2011 for his role in bringing the World Equestrian Games to Lexington and the Henry Clay Medallion for Distinguished Service.
The Lyons family’s philanthropy has included donating more than a dozen science labs to parochial schools in Kentucky and Ireland. The company has helped about 440 science graduate students with scholarships, internships and work experience.
After the 2010 earthquake in Haiti, Alltech opened a coffee plant there to provide jobs in one of the Western Hemisphere’s poorest countries.
The company has been a major supporter of the University of Kentucky’s Opera Theatre program.
Funeral masses will be in Lexington Mar. 17 and in Dublin, Ireland, in April.