Blake Lyons, a longtime leader of the Northwest Territories Teachers Association, city councillor and school board trustee has died, NNSL Media has learned.
Lyons, 78, died last Saturday afternoon in “extremely peaceful setting” with his family and loved ones at his side at his home in Salmon Arm, B.C, according to his son Graeme.
“I can confirm it was done through assisted suicide with a company called MAID (Medical Assistance in Dying) due to Alzheimer’s and it had been his plans to do it on his terms,” said Graeme. “He wanted everyone around and to do it on his terms.”
Lyons was remembered this week for serving 19 years on Yellowknife city council between 1988 and 2006.
Lyons was also the executive director of the NWT Teachers Association between 1980 and 1999 as well as executive director of the Nunavut Teachers Association from 1999 to 2006.
In 2009, he ran and won a seat with the Yk Education District No. 1 school board.
Graeme said growing up, it was evident his father was committed to the community and was in empathetic and in touch with people who needed help.
“Honestly I remember from when he was leading the teacher association and as alderman that we would get calls right up to midnight – either from a teacher struggling somewhere or a person in town that needed someone to talk to,” said Graeme.
Lyons last spoke to NNSL Media when he decided not to run again as school trustee leading up to the 2015 election and after serving two three-year terms.
“I’m 74 years old and I have a whack of grandchildren and four children and it is the time when you want to visit them and make sure they are taking care of themselves,” he said at the time. “As a parent, you never really stop.”
John Stephenson, chair of Yk 1, said he was very sad to hear the news. He was also new to the board with Lyons when they were first elected as trustees in 2009.
“He was one of those guys when you met him and saw him he really lightened your mood,” said Stephenson.
“We were new colleagues that were both elected in 2009 as brand new trustees and I remember he was coming to the position with a long history of education and executive experience.”
Al McDonald, who worked closely with Lyons and was friends with him for nearly 40 years, paid tribute to him this week.
“He had a heart of gold and he was a very, very hard worker,” McDonald said, noting Lyons’ experience stretched back to 1979 when he began as executive director with the Northwest Territories Teachers Association.
“I remember he promised Maureen that when he was done with politics and heading the unions that he would take her back to B.C. and settle.”
Gord Van Tighem, who was elected mayor of Yellowknife in 2000, remembered Lyons as a councillor who served in the now defunct position of assistant deputy mayor and noted that he left a legacy behind at the teachers’ association that made it the successful organization that it is today.
“He was very much a champion of the NWT,” said Van Tighem.
Along with son Graeme, Lyons is survived by his wife Maureen, and daughters Pamela Makarus of Hong Kong, Tess Lyons of Edmonton and Mandy Lyons of Saskatoon.
Graeme said in his final years Lyons had wanted to settle in Salmon Arm as he had been born in British Columbia.
“I think dad was just getting more tired of slipping on the ice and the cold and he felt he had done an honourable job in Yellowknife and he really wanted to soak in the golden years,” he said. “They were able to find a beautiful spot and idealistic setting in those last years.”
Fraser Oliver, president of the NWT Teachers Association, said he worked with Lyons as part of seven or eight negotiating teams when Oliver was working for the Yellowknife Catholic School Board. Oliver said Lyons left behind a legacy that teachers still enjoy today, including things like maternity leave, parental leave and educational leave.
“He was just a quality person,” said Oliver. “I would say he was a founding father of our organization and one of the pillars and his work is still being recognized by our teachers. They are still benefiting from negotiations that he would have done 20 years ago.”