The Passing of Steven Arif Abdullah Lyons and Why Love Endures
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”