Public Affairs' New Leader Brings Background in Journalism, Politics and Public Relations
By Janet Gilmore, Public Affairs
The son of an American Studies professor, Lyon, 42, grew up on college campuses in the East. But much of Lyon's career had pulled him away from college campuses as he delved into journalism, politics and corporate public relations.
At Berkeley, he will blend his intimate knowledge of university life with his expertise in communications, to lead the campus' public affairs efforts. "I want to make sure that we are communicating intensely with the campus constituencies so that we can reflect our best moments, deepest concerns and greatest achievements," said Lyon. "We have the potential to enthrall and inspire the rest of the world."
An important aspect of that mission will be communicating Berkeley's core goals, its most pressing needs and major successes in a strategic way. For Lyon, that means understanding and helping define the common goals of a diverse campus community and communicating that message to the public and key constituencies.
Orville Schell, dean of Berkeley's Graduate School of Journalism, said he looks forward to working with Lyon.
"His experience has been both in the academic community and outside, which is exactly what the job requires," said Schell, a member of the search committee that recommended Lyon. "I was looking for someone who could walk the walk and talk the talk with the media."
Schell also liked the fact that Lyon is married to a journalist, Katie Hafner, a technology correspondent for The New York Times.
"This means he's in the journalism world at home," Schell said. "He knows what kinds of creatures journalists are, and this is extremely important."
Indeed, after graduating from Hampshire College in 1980, Lyon worked as an associate editor for The Texas Observer, but soon embarked on a career in politics that would dominate his life during the '80s. Not content to merely report on politics, Lyon began exploring the behind-the-scenes world of political campaigns -- working first with a Democratic Party get-out-the-vote effort in South Texas, and eventually as chief speech writer for then-Texas governor Mark W. White. In 1987, he signed on as national issues director for U.S. Rep. Richard Gephardt's presidential bid.
But Lyon -- a self-described child of the civil rights movement, Vietnam Era and Watergate scandal -- quickly grew disenchanted. Presidential campaign politics and the environment of Washington D.C., in his view, were rapidly turning vicious. Too much time was devoted to personal attacks on opponents and too little time was devoted to social problems or reform.
He returned to Austin to work for a high-tech engineering firm, Parker Kinetic Designs Inc. As communications director, Lyon translated the firm's complex, technical challenges and success into clear, effective terms. The firm had links with the University of Texas and, in time, Lyon met, and eventually went to work for, Robert Berdahl, who was then president of the University of Texas at Austin.
"It was the best job I'd ever had," he recalls.
Lyon began as Berdahl's speech writer and eventually took on many other aspects of campus and community public affairs
It was Lyon's first homecoming to life on a college campus. He loved it.
As a child, Lyon grew up on college campuses -- in Chapel Hill at the University of North Carolina, and later, on the campuses of the five-college consortium centered in Amherst, Mass.
While his father taught American Studies, English and other subjects, Lyon's mother, an artist, had raised four boys.
Lyon vividly recalls experiences peculiar to a childhood in academia, like riding his bike on the Chapel Hill campus, learning from Tarheel coach Dean Smith how to shoot a basketball, and climbing on the latest NASA rockets on display outside the university's planetarium.
By 1994, however, Lyon reluctantly agreed to leave university life so that his wife, then a high-tech reporter for Newsweek, could move closer to the heart of the industry, Silicon Valley.
With their daughter, Zo╬, now 5, they settled in the Sonoma Valley, a quiet, rural community that reminded Lyon and Hafner of the Amherst area where they first met as children. Their fathers were colleagues in the founding of Hampshire College.
Lyon went to work at the San Francisco office of Public Strategies, Inc., helping corporate clients develop public affairs strategies. He also led the creation of a new Interactive Division for the firm, which used the Internet for strategic research and communications goals.
No stranger to the Internet, Lyon co-authored, with Hafner, "Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet" (Simon & Schuster, 1996), a national best seller which Library Journal named the best sci-tech book of the year.
While at Public Strategies, Lyon learned that Berkeley was looking for an assistant vice chancellor for public affairs. His reaction was immediate.
"I became very interested in coming home, in a sense, to the campus," Lyon recalls. "The chance to work with a campus community again, particularly under the leadership of Bob Berdahl, was too good to be passed up."
Even the commute from Sonoma to Berkeley is tolerable, Lyon often wakes up before his alarm clock begins beeping each weekday at 5 a.m.
"I have so much energy for this work that I'm amazed," he said. "I'm eager to get out of bed."