IRVINGTON, NJ — According to multiple sources, Municipal Council President and North Ward Councilman David Lyons died of as yet unknown causes at Beth Israel Hospital on Sunday, Aug. 11.
“I was actually there at the hospital the day he died,” Mayor Tony Vauss said Aug. 12. “Me and the first lady decided that Sunday we were going to go down and see Officer Gaeta that got shot last week and council President Lyons who was in Beth Israel Hospital. We stopped by and spoke to his wife and spent some time with him, then we went down to University Hospital to see Officer Gaeta.”
Police Officer Brandon Gaeta was shot Aug. 8 in a standoff with a gunman. Of his Aug. 11 visit with Lyons, Vauss said he had no idea it would be his last.
“When we left there I got the call that Dave had passed away. So me and my wife were probably the last ones that saw him alive besides his wife,” Vauss said. “He led with honor and distinction. It’s definitely a tough blow for the township of Irvington. It’s been a tough year too. Losing Lebby Jones, Sandy Jones and now Dave Lyons. Right now we have flags at half-mast for Dave.”
However, Vauss said the symbolic gesture of flying the U.S. flag at half-staff in honor of Lyons doesn’t seem like enough. He said the latest death in the ranks of the township’s long-serving leadership has been difficult to handle.
“It’s not a good feeling,” Vauss said. “He was council president, so we worked together on a lot of stuff. He was definitely a great asset here in a leadership role in the township of Irvington. Above all, he was just a good friend, a good guy, a straight shooter.”
Vauss said his memories of times spent with Lyons are one of the only sources of solace for him right now.
“Specifically, there was one time in 2014 or 2015, when he received an award for being one of the longest standing officials in the state at an event in Trenton. I went down to Trenton for that,” Vauss said. “I think he actually got an opportunity to get a lot of things done that he wanted to get done in the township.”
Vauss’ recollection was from 2015, when Lyons was inducted into the New Jersey Legislative Hall of Fame in recognition of his 20-plus years serving on the Irvington Municipal Council. His tenure was topped off in 2016, when his council colleagues selected him to lead them as president.
The mayor said he is pleased to see Lyons’ legacy will continue on the council. First Vice President Renee Burgess will most likely succeed Lyons on the council.
“She’s already been the acting president for the entire time that he was in the hospital for these last few months. I think the council is in good hands,” Vauss said. “We lost our council president and our 2nd vice president, Sandy Jones, this year. Renee Burgess has been there throughout that.”
Burgess said she’s still trying to process the fact that Lyons is gone.
“I’m deeply saddened and my family sends out our deepest condolences,” Burgess said Aug. 13. “Not only was Lyons an outstanding council president who served his role and constituents with pride and integrity, he stood in as a voice for his community. He believed in them and they believed in him.”
Burgess said she too has fond memories of Lyons to lean on in this time of mourning.
“He often talked about the love he had for his wife and children and how proud he was of their accomplishments,” she said. “Mr. Lyons had a unique way of expressing himself, which I respected very much. He had a low tolerance for nonsense. When I think of the leadership of the late Council President Lyons, I’m reminded of a scripture from Psalms 78:72, NIV: ‘And David shepherded them with integrity of heart; with skillful hands he led them.’ Lyons was a great man and a true friend. I will truly miss him.”
At-large Councilwoman and Irvington National Action Network Chapter President October Hudley echoed Burgess’ sentiments.
“I would like to say I am deeply saddened by the loss of council President David Lyons,” Hudley said Aug. 12. “I would like to continue to send prayers to his wife, Mrs. Charmin Lyons, the entire family, my council colleagues and the entire Irvington community.”
East Orange Mayor Ted Green joined the Irvington community in expressing condolences.
“First of all my condolences go out to his family,” Green said Aug. 13. “David Lyons has been a trooper when it comes to public service. When it was something he believed in, he didn’t mind fighting for the people.”
Green said he had known Lyons personally and in an official capacity for several years prior to Green’s stint as Irvington’s Building Department director from 2014 to 2017. As a result, Green said, he has many fond and funny memories of Lyons.
“When I worked for Irvington he confirmed me as part of the council,” Green said. “I have no regrets and nothing but good things to say about David Lyons. Job well done as a public servant. We lost a soldier.”
Green said he can appreciate Lyons as a man and a leader since he too served as the city’s 3rd Ward councilman for many years and rose to serve consecutive stints as the East Orange City Council president prior to being elected mayor in 2017.
“He was known in Irvington for going against the party and he always won because the people were on his side,” Green said. “Then when Mayor Vauss came in, he joined forces with him and became the council president. That speaks volumes of two men who know how to put their differences aside and get things done for the people. Farewell to a champion, the man we know as David Lyons.”
Irvington South Ward Councilwoman Jamillah Beasley-McCleod, daughter of former Municipal Council President, Essex County Freeholder, and Team Irvington social and political organization co-founder D. Bilal Beasley, agreed with Hudley and Burgess’ sentiments.
“He’s one of our leaders who have been dedicated to the township of Irvington and he offered a wealth of experience and knowledge to the new council members and he will truly be missed,” Beasley-McCleod said Aug. 12. “My condolences to his wife, Charmin, and the entire family. I know this isn’t easy and we are here for them and I will continue to keep them in my prayers.”
Lyons and Beasley-McCleod’s father were longtime political adversaries throughout most of their public service careers. Some of Lyons’ living political opponents expressed grief at his death.
“I’m very sorry and my sympathy goes out to his family. And regardless of our differences I’m sorry this is how he left us,” said Elouise McDaniel, president of the Irvington and Nesbit Terrace joint block associations, on Aug. 12.
Lyons’ funeral arrangements had not been announced by press time this week.
Photos Courtesy of Tony Vauss