The Passing of Steven Arif Abdullah Lyons and Why Love Endures

Steve Lyons

Steve Lyons

Eleven years ago this week a great friend died by my side in a hospital bed in Kuala Lumpur. I want to remember him today. Importantly, to remember the one thing about Steve that was insanely unforgettable. Read this post of his death, life and future, and you will never forget it. Promise.

A great leader is someone who knows how to inspire. Genuinely inspire. With time we forget what they said, we forget what they did, but we NEVER forget how they made us FEEL. Eleven years after his death, I remember crisply, clearly, vividly… how Steve Lyons made me feel. Invincible. Unbeatable. A king. A star. Wanted. Supported. And he made me feel loved. As he did many people across the region.

This is a story about Steve’s death. About the life he lead. The impact he made and left. And how Steve and his inspiring aura lives on- 11 years later. Quite simply, I publish below the email I sent to Steve’s massive circle of friends around the world just after he died, in March 2002. Most of you don’t know Steve- it does not matter, give it a read. Some of you do. Enjoy the reminder!

17 March 2002:  Steve  Lyons passed away at 3.15am on Saturday, 16 March at the hospital at Subang Jaya, Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia.

His  wife Sali held his left hand. Peter Kingsbury his right. Nine of Sali’s relatives surrounded his bed. I had my hand on his knee. He was surrounded by love. And he was 54.

Peter and I arrived at the hospital six hours earlier, directly from the airport and  our flight from Sydney. Steve was half sitting up in bed, propped up by numerous  pillows. He was semi-comatosed, his eyes open, looking into the middle distance, unblinking. His breathing labored.

Sali told us that earlier that day, Steve had said to her: “Sali, later, with the  morphine and all that, I might get real groggy, but when you talk to me, hold my  hand, and if I can, I’ll squeeze it twice to let you know I can hear  you.”

I went  to his side… took his hand. “Steve,” I said. “It’s Chris. I’m here to tell you I love you.” (He squeezed – very weakly but with a

sharpness- my hand twice).  And then I told him some personal stuff. Every now and then, he’d squeeze my hand twice. And then I told him how all his friends in the Burson and Ogilvy worlds sent him their love. That the Ogilvy guys who I was in touch with daily asked me to tell him  how indebted and grateful they were to him for all he had done for them.(Squeeze  squeeze). That Alan VanderMolen was on his way from Sydney to see him (squeeze  squeeze). But most of all, I told him how much he was loved and cherished by so  many people across the region and the world. Squeeze  squeeze.

Then Peter took his hand and spoke to him for quite a while, telling him lots of things and lots of messages from all his friends, and reporting afterwards that  the double-squeeze came periodically, weak yet with a sharpness.

During the next three to four hours, Peter and I spoke to Steve several more times…  but there were no more squeezes.

At 2 am, his breathing began to weaken, ever so gradually. During the next hour or so, it slowed. And he relaxed. And eventually, very peacefully, he eased himself  away, and the breathing stopped.

There was a great sense of peace in the room. A great sense of  love.

It was explained to us that, as is the Muslim way, Steve would be taken immediately to a mosque for an hour or so, and then driven eight hours to a spot in the countryside where he had asked he be buried. Did we want to come to the mosque?

Peter and I looked at each other. What would Steve say, we asked. The answer: “ARE YOU  KIDDING ME!!! NO FRICKEN WAY! GET OUTTA HERE!” (and then, leaning forward with eyebrows raised and voice a little quieter). “In fact, if I were you, here’s  what I’d do. Go back to your hotel,  order in three cheeseburgers, and then watch videos, man. ALL RIIIIIGHT.”

We got the hint, and said our final farewells to him before he left for the mosque.

I first met Steve in Sydney in 1984. He became my hero.

We all  know he was the greatest motivator there was, particularly of young PR  professionals. Steve made you feel you could do anything, be anything.

He made  you believe in yourself, and in possibilities. How many times since the terrible news of his illness flashed around the region have I seen people write, or  heard them say: “If it hadn’t been for Steve, I would never have done….”. My  story is the same. Many examples. He even introduced me to my wife.

He was the most generous of spirits. He developed wonderful relationships. He was absolutely consistent. So many of us felt we had a unique, special relationship with him, and it was a relationship we held close to our hearts.

Steve was a very private man. Even when he was down, he’d tell you, ‘I’m terrifiiiiiiic!’. He hated to cause inconvenience or concern. He would have hated his illness… for what it was doing to him, but more for the pain and distress and ‘inconvenience’ it was causing others.

He  loved his wife. He loved his friends. He loved his cheeseburgers and Starbucks and Gucci, crocodile skin shoes, reading, videos, golf… he never changed his fashion style in the 18 years I knew him! He loved people. He loved being involved with people. In helping. In seeing people succeed. Most of all, he loved FUN! And to ensure we all had fun, often.

Quite simply, Steve Lyons was a giant.

Of our industry. In the lives of so many people around the region and the world. And-  certainly- in my life.

Soon after he died, I called home and asked for a branch to be broken off our frangipani tree, and to plant it immediately in a pot. Steve will live on with me always in its flower and its fragrance. When I see the frangi in flower, I will see Steve’s face, with the raised eyebrows and the rascally laugh.

Peter and I farewelled Steve from all of us. He knew that. He loved that.

The giant is gone, but his giant impact lives on.


From “Tuesdays With Morrie” (and thank you Possum reader Hermann Bohmer for sending me this quote) , a book about the reflections of a dying man: “As long as you can love each other, and remember the feeling of the love we had, we can die without ever really going away. All the love you created is still there. All the memories are still there. You live on in the hearts of everyone you have touched and nurtured while you were here.”

Steve Lyons is here today. He will be here tomorrow. Thank you Steve. We love you.  I love you, darling friend.


Steve’s frangipani at my home. Picture taken 10 March 2013. “When I see the frangi in flower, I will see Steve’s face, with the raised eyebrows and the rascally laugh”


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29 Responses to The Passing of Steven Arif Abdullah Lyons and Why Love Endures

  1. Dawn Kingsbury March 13, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    What a lovely post Chris….yes, I too remember that day and the last minute planning for you and Peter to get a flight to KL…it was the most harrowing 48 hours! Bless him and I am sure your blog will prompt many of his friends and colleagues to remember this wonderful human being…a hero to many of us x

    • Chris Savage March 13, 2013 at 10:42 am #

      Thanks Dawn!

  2. Kelly March 13, 2013 at 10:36 am #


    I’m glad you posted this. Steve was a wonderful and inspirational leader and he shouldn’t be forgotten.

    Kind regards


    • Chris Savage March 13, 2013 at 10:43 am #

      Thanks Kelly- appreciated.

  3. Mark March 13, 2013 at 10:49 am #

    Chris, beautiful post. Thank you.

    In reading it I observed many parallels with the passing of my Dad 18 months ago.

    The words spoken by our friends and family at the time helped put everything back in perspective for me.

    People don’t remember you for your chosen profession or for how successful you were in pursuing it.

    They simply remember how it felt to be in your company. How every minute with you left them with a something truly special, powerful and enduring.

    I know you’ll enjoy reminiscing and celebrating Steve’s life on this special day.

    I wish you all the best.


    • Chris Savage March 13, 2013 at 12:17 pm #

      Thanks a lot Mark. Chris

  4. Glenn C March 13, 2013 at 11:03 am #

    Sorry for your loss of your friend Chris and thanks for sharing your story. Your a true friend keeping his memory alive.

    • Chris Savage March 13, 2013 at 12:16 pm #

      Thanks Glenn

  5. Iain March 13, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    I hope you, your wife and everyone who Steve inspired have a smile today.
    Thanks for taking the time to remind us all how helping other people grow and believe in themselves is the most rewarding thing you can do for yourself.

    • Chris Savage March 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

      Thanks Iain!

  6. Paul Spon-Smith March 13, 2013 at 11:43 am #

    Hi Chris,
    Not many things in my day move me as much as your tribute to Steve has today. It reminded me of the many good people that have left my small world far too early.

    It’s a profoundly humbling and a priveleged experience to hold the hand of a loved one in their last moments. Thanks for sharing yours with Steve.

    • Chris Savage March 13, 2013 at 12:15 pm #

      Thanks Paul. Appreciated.

  7. PK March 13, 2013 at 12:48 pm #

    Thank you, Chris, for honouring the memory of a fabulous human being – someone who still figures greatly in both our lives and in the lives of many other people.

    You never forget someone who makes you feel good about yourself, and that was Steve’s great gift.

    Thanks pal – All best PK

  8. Eileen Lim March 13, 2013 at 4:18 pm #

    Thanks for remembering and reminding us of someone who always found time for other people. He would breeze into town and we’d go for lunch at the Mandarin Grill and he would make me laugh. Can’t believe it’s been 11 years.

    • Chris Savage March 14, 2013 at 10:19 am #

      Thanks Eileen. Good to hear from you. Chris

  9. Sandra Renowden March 13, 2013 at 7:25 pm #

    Wow, that’s some post…raw, full of feeling and brought back sharp memories of those close to me who have passed. Thanks for making me shed a tear and remind me that it’s ok to miss those that you have loved who are now gone..physically, that is…. but not from our hearts.

    • Chris Savage March 14, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks Sandra- true

  10. Alan Claire March 13, 2013 at 8:06 pm #

    Thanks for sharing such a personal and inspiring post.


    • Chris Savage March 14, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks Alan!

  11. Greg Flynn March 13, 2013 at 9:47 pm #

    Chris – a splendid and fitting tribute to Steve … a charmer, a gentleman and a talented guy. Aside from attempting to teach me PR, he introduced me to his favourite steak restaurant in New York – and paid.I remember our sadess and I also recall someone who showed his true colours re Steve or anyone else that could no longer make him a buck.

    • Chris Savage March 14, 2013 at 10:20 am #

      Thanks Greg!

  12. Foxy March 13, 2013 at 11:45 pm #

    Good story mate – well written and some good reminders.


    • Chris Savage March 14, 2013 at 10:21 am #

      Thanks Foxy

  13. Paula Gaber McNulty March 15, 2013 at 2:15 am #

    He was a very private person, true, but he opened up to me when I was lying in the hospital in Hong Kong in 1985, in the dark, unable to move and with bandaged eyes, fearing I would be blind. Perhaps it was the dark. Perhaps the ‘captive audience’. But he told me about how he always felt inwardly sad himself (not very apparent) and this is why he was a bit of a clown — always smiling and wanting to make others feel good about themselves and happy. Simple analytics to a life well lived.

    • Chris Savage March 15, 2013 at 9:43 am #

      Thanks Paula. Thanks for the insight. Hope you are well and happy. Chris

  14. Kay March 23, 2013 at 9:12 pm #

    I did not know of Steven Lyons until today reading this post. Your words though about your friend, colleague…A great leader inspires. With time we forget what they said, we forget what they did, but we NEVER forget how they made us FEEL is one which has just now provided clarity for me. So in one post, and a 5 minute break I’ve got a way forward, with conviction. Thank you!

    • Chris Savage March 25, 2013 at 11:13 am #

      Thanks Kay. Very glad to hear that. Chris

  15. debra spykerman April 10, 2013 at 11:30 am #

    I missed this post Chris – but I so remember this email. And 11 years later, I still tear reading your post and thinking of Steve the giant in everyone’s life.

    You are so right in saying that Steve Lyons will always be missed and never forgotten.

    Steve on Gobin’s scooter going for a meeting, Steve giving every lady in the office a rose on Valentine’s day and Steve the wonderful gentleman who made the most junior person in the office feel important and that they were contributing to the team.

    Numero Uno . . . . Steve Lyons.


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