STATEN ISLAND, N.Y. -- Jane Lyons, 85, of Sunnyside, a former executive director of Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home who was dedicated to preserving its history in health care and in the African-American community, died Monday from a cardiac condition in Mount Sinai Hospital, Manhattan.
Tall and soft spoken, Mrs. Lyons had a gentle but assertive way of making an impact on many organizations that served those in need and the disabled, fostered education and health care, and enriched the cultural life of the community. She was respected for the knowledge and dedication she brought to her work, both professional and volunteer. She was named an Advance Woman of Achievement in 1967 and later served as a judge for the event for many years.
"Whenever she saw the need or saw the urgency of something that needed to be done, she just stuck with it until it was resolved," said Virginia Allen, a close and longtime friend who worked on many projects with Mrs. Lyons.
"She was kind and generous with her knowledge, and she had a great sense of humor," said Lucille Herring, a retired nurse administrator who counted Mrs. Lyons among her mentors.
Born Jane Morgan in Williamstown, Mass., Mrs. Lyons moved to Meiers Corners in 1959 with her son, Gregory Lee Bates.
She affectionately referred to the area as Dogpatch, appreciating both its bucolic setting and a "mongrel mix" of people – Italian immigrants, African Americans, Jews, Irish, Germans and more recently Indians and Filipinos, she said in a 2008 Advance story.
The area was a Democratic stronghold and Mrs. Lyons became involved in the party's campaigns. In 1961, then borough president Albert V. Maniscalco appointed her to his cabinet as a special aide, making her the first African-American and first female to serve in a borough president's cabinet.
She was school secretary at Markham Intermediate School in Graniteville from 1965 to 1968 and during that time studied for her bachelor of science degree in business management which she earned from Long Island University.
By 1967, her impact on the community was already recognized with her nomination as an Advance Woman of Achievement. She was recognized for her work with the NAACP, as secretary of the local chapter and a member of its executive committee, and for fundraising for United Cerebral Palsy, another cause dear to her heart. Cerebral Palsy, a movement disorder, afflicts her son.
"She was a devoted mother," said Ms. Allen.
Mrs. Lyons professional career and education continued to advance in tandem.
While holding positions in personnel administration with the city Department of Personnel and then the City Hospital Center in Queens, she earned credits in accounting and finance at New York University before earning a master's degree of business administration in health services administration at Wager College in 1977. In 1980, she completed an executive program in health policy and management at Harvard University.
Mrs. Lyons began working at Sea View Hospital Rehabilitation Center and Home in 1978, working in a number of executive positions, including chief financial officer, before becoming executive director, a post she held for 15 years, retiring in 1997.
Of paramount concern to her, during her tenure and after retirement, was the preservation of Sea View's history, both it role in the treatment and cure of tuberculosis and the part that African-American nurses, known as Black Angels, played in the care of the patients there during a time of racial segregation.
She was instrumental in establishing the first state health care museum named for Stiversa A. Bethel, a former nursing director, in 1984. In 1989, she hosted Mayor Ed Koch at the rededication of Works Progress Administration murals on the Sea View campus that interpreted the theme, "Americans at Work."
"She played a great part of Afro-American women's life here. She tried, through her knowledge, to improve life on Staten Island for all of us," said Ms. Herring, citing in particular Mrs. Lyons' involvement with Community Health Action and AIDS education, and her support of the NAACP and the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW).
Ms. Herring is also a past president of the Sandy Ground Historical Society. Mrs. Lyons participated in a project in which the Society partnered with StoryCorps to research and record the stories of employees of Sea View Hospital.
When Mrs. Lyons became aware of the WPA murals disappearance from public view about 10 years ago, she made inquiries that led to the involvement of Elizabeth Egbert, director of the Staten Island Museum, and Judge Judith McMahon, arranging for their display in State Supreme Court in St. George, a process that is still underway.
Mrs. Lyons' induction as an Advance Woman of Achievement marked the beginning of a long record of volunteering, most often as a board member of the organizations.
Susan Lamberti, chair of the Northfield Bank Foundation, who has known Mrs. Lyons for some 30 years, shared an interest in helping people with disabilities - Mrs. Lamberti as a special education teacher with the city Department of Education and Mrs. Lyons as a mother.
"She was always the lady. She didn't have a lot to say, but what she said was significant," said Mrs. Lamberti. "I always respected her. She was always sincere about what she did, and she believed strongly in what she got involved in."
The two served together as judges for the Advance Woman of Achievement and on the board of the Sisters of Charity Housing Development Corporation. Beverly Neuhaus, director of Richmond Senior Services, has been crossing paths with Mrs. Lyons since the 1980s.
"Always a pleasure to work with her. She was always generous and understanding in difficult situations. She always found a gentle and firm way of asserting herself in advocating for those in need," said Ms. Neuhaus. Ms. Neuhaus worked with Mrs. Lyons when she served on the board of the New York Urban League, United Cerebral Palsy and Richmond Senior Services.
Mrs. Lyons was also a board member of the Staten Island Employment Education Consortium. Board chairman Al Curtis, who worked with Mrs. Lyons "for many years" said he was saddened by news of her death.
"Jane served with the utmost passionate distinction and a strong commitment to the diverse community we work with. She is irreplaceable, and we shall truly miss her," Curtis said, echoing the sentiments of many of those who worked with her.
"I'm going to miss Jane very much. She was a friend, but she was more like a sister to me," said Ms. Allen.
Mrs. Lyons was named one of the Top 100 Black Achievers in New York City of the 20th Century by the Schomburg Center for Research. She served as basileus of Lambda Chapter, Lambda Kappa Mu Sorority, an organization of professional African American women.
Among many other awards, she received the Salvation Army Community Service Award, Soroptimists International of Staten Island Women of Distinction Award and the Good Scout Award from the Staten Island Council, Boy Scouts of America.
Her husband of 49 years, Arthur, died in 2011.
She is survived by her son, Gregory Lee Bates.
Funeral arrangements are from Casey Funeral Home, Castleton Corners. They include visitation at Brighton Heights Reformed Church on Monday from 10 a.m. to noon, with a funeral service at noon. Burial will take place in East Lawn Cemetery, Willamstown