LEXINGTON, Ky. — Dr. Pearse Lyons, who founded the diversified company Alltech, died Thursday, March 8, 2018, due to an acute lung condition that developed during his recovery from heart surgery. He was 73.
In 1980, Lyons, an Irish entrepreneur and scientist, founded Alltech in his home garage with $10,000, hoping to apply his yeast fermentation expertise to agricultural challenges.
Today, Alltech is a leading producer and processor of yeast additives, organic trace minerals, feed ingredients, premix and feed, with more than 5,000 team members worldwide.
Headquartered just outside of Lexington, Kentucky, Alltech has a strong presence in all regions of the world.
Although his training was science, he was widely regarded as an inspirational leader and communicator.
“Dr. Lyons was a visionary entrepreneur who transformed the agriculture industry beginning with his innovative application of yeast technology in animal nutrition,” said Alric Blake, CEO and treasurer of Alltech. “He inspired everyone he met with his energy, enthusiasm and passionate belief in possibilities.”
Lyons was born Aug. 3, 1944, to Thomas Kevin and Margaret (nee Dunne) Lyons and raised in Dundalk, County Louth, Ireland.
He received his bachelor’s degree from University College Dublin, Ireland, graduating with first-class honors. He continued into postgraduate study at the British School of Malting and Brewing in Birmingham, where he gained master’s and doctoral degrees in brewing science from the University of Birmingham. He was the first Irishman to receive a formal degree in brewing and distilling from the university.
He interned at the Guinness and Harp Lager breweries and later worked as a biochemist for Irish Distillers, makers of Jameson whiskey. He was instrumental in designing the Midleton Distillery for Jameson, an opportunity which he considered to be a highlight of his early career.
Pearse met Deirdre (nee Byrne) when she was 17, and they married in 1972. Their daughter Aoife Louise was born in 1973 and son Mark in 1976.
Lyons moved to the United States in 1976, having been asked by Irish distillery Gems Whisky to help ethanol distillers in Kentucky improve their processes.
In 1980, Lyons launched his own business, Alltech, which built its success upon the application of yeast technologies to animal health and nutrition. Incidentally, Alltech’s name is based on the initials of daughter Aoife Louise Lyons, and Alltech’s signature logo color was son Mark’s choice at the time.
In 1999, when the former Lexington Brewing Company in downtown Lexington was closing its doors, Dr. Lyons purchased it to resurrect the brewing and distilling tradition of Lexington that dates back to 1794.
Lyons was widely recognized for his contributions to science and industry and was awarded honorary doctorates from many colleges and universities around the world. He was named Business Person of the Year by Business & Finance magazine and received the prestigious Ireland-U.S. Council Award for Outstanding Achievement.
Irish Prime Minister Enda Kenny recognized him with the St. Patrick’s Day Science Medal in recognition of creating a global business based on scientific research. He was also selected to receive the Commander’s Award for Public Service, a rarely presented official U.S. Army medal, and has been honored with the Henry Clay Medallion for Distinguished Service.
Lyons spearheaded Alltech’s commitment to international equestrian sport by sponsoring the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games 2010 in Lexington, Kentucky, which led to his receipt of the Commonwealth of Kentucky’s first-ever Legacy Award in 2011.
The Lyons believe in cultivating lifelong learning, and Dr. Lyons, in particular, was interested in encouraging young scientists and entrepreneurs. The Alltech Young Scientist program, the largest global agriscience competition of its kind, has engaged more than 100,000 university students.
The Lyons also ensured that Alltech opened its doors to students for on-the-job discovery, with more than 450 undergraduates completing an internship program at the Alltech Center for Animal Nutrigenomics and Applied Animal Nutrition in Kentucky, and approximately 440 Ph.D., master’s degree and graduate students being supported through Alltech’s bioscience centers.
Also, at the university level, Dr. Lyons initiated an Alltech Innovation Competition, which awarded entrepreneurs with $10,000, the same amount with which he founded Alltech.
Believing that the arts are essential to creative thinking and innovation, Dr. and Mrs. Lyons led Alltech’s sponsorship of the Alltech Vocal Scholarship Competition, which is considered one of the largest vocal scholarship programs in the world and has positioned the University of Kentucky Opera Theatre program as a Richard Tucker Foundation top 20 opera program. More than $500,000 in scholarships have been awarded annually to promising young vocalists.
He and his wife also funded and oversaw the construction of more than a dozen state-of-the-art science laboratories at primary schools in Kentucky and Ireland.
His business, Alltech, will remain privately held under the ownership of the family.
The Lyons family request any expressions of sympathy, including memories and tributes, be shared at alltech.com/pearselyons. In lieu of flowers, the family is encouraging donations to the Alltech ACE Foundation, a 501c3 nonprofit organization that funds a variety of philanthropic endeavours around the world from disaster relief to primary schools in Haiti. Donations may be made at alltech.com/pearselyons.
Funeral masses will be in Lexington, Kentucky, on March 17 and in Dublin, Ireland, in April. Public visitation in Lexington will be on Friday, March 16. Arrangement details will be kept up to date on alltech.com/pearselyons.
A special celebration of life will be held on May 20 at the beginning of ONE: The Alltech Ideas Conference in Lexington.