Dr. Charles Lyons Jr., who led Fayetteville State University for nearly two decades, has died, according to the university.

Dr. Lyons was named chancellor of FSU in 1969 and served in that post until 1987. The school said he died Friday morning in Florida, where he had been battling an unspecified illness.

“Under his tenure, we became Fayetteville State University and a constituent institution of The University of North Carolina,” university spokesman Jeff Womble said in a news release. “Among his many accomplishments at FSU were the granting of master’s degrees, a program office at Fort Bragg and significant capital expansion with six new buildings.”

The Lyons Science Building on FSU’s campus is named for the former chancellor.

Officials said funeral arrangements were incomplete as of Friday afternoon.

Dr. Lyons was 43 when he came to FSU on Aug. 1, 1969, the same year FSU took on its current name. Previously, the school had been known as Fayetteville State College and, before that, Fayetteville State Teachers College.

The Shaw University graduate and former Raleigh school teacher was named president of FSU by the college’s trustees in May of 1969.

Dr. Lyons had previously served as dean of admissions at Howard University in Washington. A native of Conetoe, he had attended Shaw University, Columbia University and later received master’s and doctorate degrees from Ohio State University.

In his academic career, Dr. Lyons taught at Grambling College in Louisiana and was a dean at Elizabeth City State College.

Dr. Lyons’ tenure at FSU ended 18 years later, when he resigned under pressure in 1987. He later said he was forced out by “local politicians.” Years later, he said he was ousted because he ignored political pressure to award a cafeteria contract to a local company.

In 1990, Dr. Lyons was asked what his legacy at FSU would be. He said: "That he cared about people; that he attempted to provide opportunity for young black students, who but for Fayetteville State University might not have had a chance; and that he stood up like a man for what he believed in, even if it meant losing his job."

Dr. Leo Edwards, who worked at FSU during Dr. Lyons’ tenure, said the late chancellor would be remembered as a dynamic, highly intelligent, caring and hard-working leader.

Dr. Edwards said he met Dr. Lyons as an alumnus of FSU, while he was working toward a master’s degree at Temple University in Philadelphia.

He would later return to Fayetteville and began working at FSU while earning a doctorate at Utah State University.

Dr. Edwards said Dr. Lyons encouraged him to obtain his doctorate and, as he did with many other members of the faculty, worked to find the funds to pay for the additional schooling.

Dr. Edwards began his work at FSU as a mathematics professor. He was later promoted to chair the mathematics department and then as director of the Math and Science Education Center.

He said Dr. Lyons expected the best out of everyone who worked for him.

“He had high expectations,” Dr. Edwards said. “He was hard-working and he expected that out of everybody that worked for him.”

Known as “Charles ‘A’ Lyons,” the ‘A’ “stood for action,” Dr. Edwards said. “That’s who he was. He was a man of action. He wanted to make things happen.”

Dr. Lyons was a long-time advocate for historically black colleges and universities.

In 1978, he said schools like FSU must not forget their historic mission. He noted, at the time, that more than half of all undergraduate degrees going to African-Americans came from historically black institutions.

Dr. Lyons said the achievements by FSU and other historically black institutions were “miraculous” and said that questioning their value was akin to questioning “whether or not black folks ought to be educated and I don’t think anybody wants to question that.”

The Fayetteville Times, in 1987, described Dr. Lyons’ tenure as one that endured “growing pains” for himself and the university.

Dr. Lyons “has been praised and criticized,” according to the introduction to a lengthy Q and A with the chancellor. “He remained aloof from most of the criticism that surrounded his tenure as chancellor, often refusing to respond publically to controversies affecting Fayetteville State, while progressively building his reputation in national organizations involved with the education of black people.”

After his resignation, officials said Dr. Lyons “gave a major portion of his life to [FSU] and made it great.”

Before his tenure, FSU had 1,400 students and only one-fourth of its faculty had earned doctorates. In Dr. Lyons’ final days at the helm of the university, the school had grown to more than 2,900 students and the percentage of faculty members with doctorates had increased to 77 percent. Dr. Lyons also launched FSU’s first endowment campaign.

Dr. Edwards said Dr. Lyons worked hard to improve the quality of education at FSU, while also ensuring as many students as possible were able to get an education.

“That is one thing that stands out to me -- he sought to make sure the quality of the institution would be expansive. He sought to have a quality facility and a quality set of students,” he said. “He wanted an opportunity for every student who wanted to come and was serious about coming there.”

 

Military editor Drew Brooks can be reached at dbrooks@fayobserver.com or 910-486-3567.