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William L. Lyon, Jr.

1/ Today would’ve been the 100th birthday of William L. Lyon, Jr. – my dear father, Lyon family patriarch, inveterate tinkerer, lover of math & science tricks & puzzles, and a kind, humble, and generous man/nerd. And he kept the lights on for the City of El Paso. 🧵

2/ Daddy was born in 1922 and mostly raised in El Paso. His parents were a traveling salesman, ex National Guard Captain from Georgia and a college-educated teacher – a multi-generational Texan woman from Marfa. (I think his clothing got simpler after the depression hit)

3/ By the time he was in his teens, it was clear he suffered from “The Knack” –
insatiable curiosity, tinkering and building. Here he is at age 14 (1936) in a model airplane contest. (2nd from left, looks like a blue ribbon on his plane!)

4/ On his 96th birthday, his friend Tom presented him with a fully restored plane that my Dad and a friend first built and flew in 1937! It was radio-controlled! On-board tube receiver! 8 foot wingspan!

5/ In high school my Dad had a reputation as a smart-ass, mathematically gifted, and as a prankster. I know – I went to the same high school and there was still one of his teachers there!

6/ One reason Dad was “gifted” is that he borrowed textbooks from his older sister – the amazing Eleanor Lyon Duke (…). He followed her to Texas College of Mines – now known as UTEP.

7/ College was interrupted by World War II. He enlisted in 1943, and after AT&T Communications training at @WUSTL – he shipped out to the South Pacific as a radio specialist. That’s him with his best friend Steve who died in the war. Truly the greatest generation.

8/ After the war, Dad attended the University of Texas in Austin, where he was introduced to Verna Mae Orts by their respective roommates. He got his EE degree, she got a Journalism degree; they married and moved back to El Paso in 1948. (my parents on the left)

9/ Dad joined the El Paso Electric Company, where he was to work for the next 37 years until retirement. But for a while, he also had a side job repairing radio and television sets for people. (Here he is with some serious high voltage shit – check out the rubber gloves)

10/ My oldest brother was born 9 months to the day from my parents’ wedding, and the kids kept coming. I am 1 of 9 siblings. My mother is a devout Catholic and my father was agreeable. Lots of business for Santa Claus!

11/ My Dad rose to be VP of System Operations at the Electric Company. He was literally keeping the lights on for the city. When there was an outage, he was on his way within minutes. Reddy Kilowatt was a part of the family.

12/ Sometime around 1966/7, the Electric Company was looking at process control computers. Dad took a trip to the IBM San Jose plant where they built the IBM 1800. He came home with a FORTRAN manual, which was eagerly devoured by the kids.

13/ The hardest I ever saw my Dad work was when he was figuring out whether El Paso Electric should invest in the Palo Verde Nuclear project. Huge *paper* spreadsheets and his trusty slide-rule on the dining table. Palo Verde is now the largest nuclear plant in the US.

14/ My Dad was still a prankster as an adult. During the ’70s energy crisis, the Electric Company truck drivers were supposed to keep careful track of their miles-per-gallon. But my Dad and his buddies would mess with one guy by putting in or siphoning out gas from his truck!

15/ My Dad received @IEEEorg journals and the @sciam at home. He was a huge fan of Martin Gardner’s Mathematical Games. Nerd heaven. My brother @blyon3 actually got a bubble-popping photo experiment published in the Amateur Scientist column.

16/ Daddy made a huge number of unusual toys, repurposing whatever broken things we had – a unicycle that he rode, an air cannon – big box + solenoid, a smoke-ring blowing machine, a light-following robot, etc. And he helped us with whatever crazy experiments we desired.

17/ Daddy retired in 1985. Here we are at my wedding in 1986. But he kept busy.

18/ Daddy volunteered at the Insights El Paso Science Museum, where he built and maintained a huge number of exhibits, including a 12 foot high huge and frightening Tesla coil!

19/ In later years, Dad spent a lot of time with a woodworking club, where they made huge numbers of toys for children in El Paso. And for his own grandkids.

20/ One of the mathy toys we always had around the house was the Soma Cube ( – a 4x4x4 puzzle. My Dad decided to build 5x5x5 sets for each of the 9 kids. Lots of work. My brother Dick’s friend at Google finally found a solution using brute force.

21/ Daddy passed quietly at a ripe old 96 & 1/2 years, knowing he was well loved and had spawned a huge family of nerdy over-achievers. R.I.P. Daddy!

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