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The Region

Book Lover Wills Fortune to Library

Reading: Joyce Lyon, 92, who lived modestly in an apartment, leaves funds from a $1-million estate to Ventura facility in her late husband's name.

June 16, 2002|TRACY WILSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

She died in her husband's favorite chair with a stack of books at her side, which was no surprise to those who knew 92-year-old Joyce Lyon. Reading was her passion.

So it was also no surprise when friends learned that Lyon, a childless widow who lived in a two-bedroom apartment near the ocean, had earmarked money in her will for the downtown Ventura library where she and her late husband, George, used to check out books.

It was the amount of her gift--$1.2 million--that came as the shocker.

Lyon left most of her estate to the county library system with instructions that interest on the money be used to buy books for E.P. Foster Library. And in a plot twist that could have been lifted from a romance novel, she specified that the endowment be known as the George D. Lyon Book Fund, in honor of her late husband.

"She really wanted to do something in memory of George," said attorney Bruce Johnston, who met the couple a decade ago through a group of library supporters and served as executor of Lyon's will.

"The libraries have been cut so much," Johnston said. "The book budget really suffered. This was just a natural for her."

Although a final accounting is ongoing, the estate is expected to generate about $60,000 annually for the historic Main Street library, tripling its existing books and materials budget. It is by far the largest donation by an individual to the county library system, said Ventura County Library Director Starrett Kreissman.

"It is very significant," said Kreissman, who never met Lyon. "I was amazed. It is a lovely, lovely remembrance, and a wonderful thing for her to do. It makes you wish you had known her."

Those who did know Lyon, who died of heart failure in November, described her as a discreet woman, a fashionable British expatriate who spoke several languages and lived modestly in an apartment along the Ventura Promenade.

Lyon was civic-minded and practical, friends said. She instructed in her will that her furniture, appliances and clothes go to the Salvation Army. She left $50,000 to public TV station KCET and $20,000 and a collection of jewelry to her husband's daughter from a previous marriage.

Friends said she enjoyed reading, playing bridge and watching her investments grow. Probate records show that Lyon's money was held in various stocks, bonds, mutual funds and money-market accounts. Friends suspect that her fortune came from her husband, a prior marriage and possibly a family inheritance.

"She enjoyed playing the stock market quite a bit," said Walter Voris, an 83-year-old Ventura resident who with his wife, Frances, met the Lyons at a senior center Spanish class about 15 years ago. The couples met for lunch once a week, a routine Lyon continued after her husband died in 1990.

"I think she came over from England before the war," Voris said. "She never talked about it much."

Lyon told one friend she moved from England to New York City with an aunt who tailored clothes for fashionable women. She later moved to California and was married to a Los Angeles lawyer. After he died, she married George Lyon, who owned a restaurant supply business. They moved to Ventura in 1979.

Their apartment overlooks the ocean, and Joyce Lyon once told a friend that it reminded her of a family home in England where as a child she would look out at the sea. After her husband's death, Lyon had his ashes scattered off the California coast and instructed that her ashes be scattered at sea as well.

"She would sit in that window seat and watch the ships come and go," said 82-year-old Arlene Kirman, a friend and neighbor. "She missed him greatly."

When George Lyon died, Kirman said, his wife discovered a series of envelopes he had left her in a bank deposit box. Some of the envelopes contained poems and cards. One envelope held money and a note describing a gold necklace he wanted her to buy.

Other notes suggested books she should read.

"They were a very devoted couple," Kirman said, describing the endowment as a fitting tribute to both their lives. "Joyce was extremely fond of books and reading, both she and George. She was reading clear to the end."

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