A LIFE OF GIVING: REMEMBERING
WILLIAM “BILL” LYERLY
By Jane Daniel
In honor of Donate Life’s Donor Remembrance Day, MediGO Marketing Manager, Jane Daniel, sat with the Lyerly family to tell the incredible story, life, and legacy of William “Bill” Lyerly.
“Are you happy?”
It was one of the last questions William “Bill” Lyerly had for his family on Christmas Day. His daughter Kirsten replied, “Yes,” swelling with joy knowing she could genuinely say yes and mean it. That whole Christmas Day Bill did things a bit differently. He dusted off the iPad and played his wedding song. “I want you to know I’m proud of you both [sisters Kirsten & Heather] and proud that your mother and I raised you well,” Bill said.
Later that night, Bill would pass away from a heart attack, after dealing with heart disease over the past few years.
Bill had a life-long affinity for helping people. He kicked off his 42 years of public service with joining the United States Air Force Academy in 1975. He transferred into the Army to pursue a career in medicine. He was assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center where he interned as a medical technologist and met his wife of 42 years, Sylvia.
His career took him to Nairobi, Kenya where he worked in public health including research on incurables like Ebola, which is where he got his call sign “Ebola Bill.” Next, he was tapped by the State Department to work on HIV/AIDS prevention and other programs in over 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. He then worked for the Department of Health and Human Services, setting up global and domestic programs in Emergency Management and Preparedness. After 9/11, Bill was an integral part in helping form the Department of Homeland Security where he led WMD Operations Incident Management and Global Health Security.
As impressive as Bill’s career was, his family reflects on the little moments. When his wife Sylvia was teaching at St. Andrews, the 8th grade math teacher said to her students, “Now when you’re finished school and you want a job you go and contact Mr. Lyerly. Mr. Lyerly will help you.” This math teacher had only met him a handful of times. But that was Bill, he would help anybody. He sponsored midshipmen and his door was always open to anyone needing guidance or help in their careers.
“It’s so fitting that the man that dedicated his entire life to helping people, would in his final act— help more people,” Kirsten reflected.
The evening of his death the Lyerly family got a call from a non-profit OPO. They said, “Your dad has the ability to help 50 plus people including giving two people the gift of eyesight. Would you be open to organ donation?”
Kirsten in the midst of laughter and tears immediately responded “Yes, of course” struck that the even in death her father was still continuing to help people. That is who he was.
“They let us know that we were running against the clock with recovering his organs. They walked us through the different skin, tissues, and bones he was able to donate. They knew how to ask questions and how to bring it up while being sensitive about how a family is feeling after a sudden death,” said Kirsten.
They were going to take the body to Tampa to recover everything and return it to the funeral home. Sylvia informed them that they weren’t having a showing, he was going to be cremated. The family service coordinator said, “In that case can we also take more skin, his sternum, and his hip bones?” Sylvia responded, “You take whatever you can use. If people can benefit from this. I couldn’t imagine something nicer that Bill would have wanted.”
Kirsten ended with “The work that MediGO doing is incredible. I would want my dad’s ultimate gift to be handled with great care and in the best quality and condition for the person in need.”
Save lives. Register to be an organ donor today.