Carol Lyons, 72, died peacefully on July 24, 2020, of Alzheimer’s disease in Neenah, Wis., with her husband at her side.
She was born Carol Robertson on Dec. 14, 1947 in Milwaukee to Stuart and Lucille (Hogan) Robertson.
She moved to Southern California when she was very young and grew up in the Redondo Beach area of southern California before moving to Boron, Calif., in the Mohave Dessert with her mother, stepfather Ned Ira and her younger brother, Dan. She is predeceased by all three.
Carol went to Boron High School and played the tuba in the marching band, rode her horse in barrel races and hung out with her girlfriends Joyce and Martha.
She married Keith Tarr, an airman stationed at nearby Edwards Air Force Base, in 1963. When Keith was stationed overseas, Carol moved back to Milwaukee with their oldest son Kevin. When Keith returned, they had three more sons; Christopher, Tracy, and Jason. Carol and Keith's marriage ended after 14 years.
In 1978 she met Tom Lyons in the office of a suburban Milwaukee newspaper chain where they worked. As a single mother with four kids, Carol was teaching herself the newspaper craft to support her family.
She and Tom married in 1980 on Groundhogs Day, a date selected so he would never forget an anniversary. It was a successful strategy.
In addition to Tom, her four married sons survive her: Kevin Lyons-Tarr (Jenny Tarr), Neenah; Christopher (Amy) Tarr, Mukwonago; Tracy Tarr (Rebecca Lee), Minneapolis; and Jason Lyons-Tarr (Krista North), Minneapolis.
She his additionally survived by seven grandchildren: Zach Tarr, Alison Tarr, Daniel Lyons-Tarr, Caitlin Lyons-Tarr, Nathan Tarr, Emily Tarr and Josephine North Lyons-Tarr, as well as two great grandchildren, Kyler and Blaise Lyons-Tarr.
While Tom and Carol worked for newspapers in Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula, the family lived (in order) in Waukesha, Hartford, Marinette, and Green Bay, Wis., between 1980 and 1994.
During that time, Carol was an award-winning newspaper reporter and writer of a popular newspaper column. A book of her select columns, Color Me Plaid, reflects her distinctive style of finding gentle humor, often at her own expense, in everyday family life and societal issues.
In 1994, Carol and her husband left newspapering behind and moved to their small getaway cabin in southern Door County where they began new chapters. Tom worked as marketing director at the Door County Visitor & Tourism Bureau. Carol got heavily involved in theater: writing, directing and acting. She was part of the group that founded Third Avenue Playhouse where her original works, such as Grandma’s Gone Wild, The Belgian Detective and Ma’s Case were often performed.
She also helped launch Door County Magazine and was its charter editor. She was an active member of the Friends of the Door County Library, blending her love of books with putting on children’s theatrical events.
The decade in Door County was the couple’s golden period with new jobs, new friends and lots of extended visits/ outings with their growing number of grandchildren. The couple winterized and expanded their small hand-built cabin in the woods to a whopping 900 square feet. The overnight record for visitors stands forever at 17.
In 2004, the couple moved to Neenah to be physically closer to Kevin, Jenny and their kids. In Neenah, neighborhood kids called Carol grandma and often stopped by after school to make cookies with her. As her disease worsened, the kids took over the cookie production and cleanup.
In Neenah, she was a lifeguard, water instructor and kids’ theater instructor at the YMCA. When her memory problems, which were first diagnosed in 2008 as Mild Cognitive Disorder, began to worsen, she realized she could no longer safely fill those roles and retired.
Over the next several years, the MCD slowly developed into Alzheimer’s dementia. Carol faced the unrelenting disease with guts, unflinching honesty, grace and a concern for others. In her will, she writes: “I have some regrets in my life, but none of them involve my children, my husband or my friends.”
She moved into Valley VNA Senior Care on April 1, 2017 where she remained as active and engaged as possible until days before her death. As she had all her life, Carol radiated a positive attitude, an infectious smile and a love of being with people. That love was returned in ways big and small every day.
Family and friends, too numerous to mention, remember Carol for her sharp whit, loving heart and sense of fun. If she was at the party, she was the life of it.
Throughout her life, Carol was fearless when it came to tackling new challenges. Examples abound. She hiked three days on the Appalachian Trail by herself in her fifties. She overcame her fear of flying by having a friend take her up in his single engine two-seater.
She was a strong crusader for social justice in the 1960s and was arrested during a demonstration for civil rights. It was a passion she carried through her life. If she were alive and able today, she would be in the streets. She also was a staunch feminist, admiring and befriending strong females throughout her life. In what should come as no surprise to anyone who knew her, Carol had some thoughts on the subject of her passing.
She did not want a traditional wake and funeral, but she also understood we would want to mark her passing in some way. “If you must do something, keep it light,” she wrote. She wanted her friends and family to tell stories, have a little wine and break bread together. She would understand some tears but wanted smiles to carry the day. Instead of hymns, she wanted The Beatles, Gladys Knight, Billy Joel and Bob Marley.
We, her family, will honor her wishes.
Carol’s remains have been cremated and placed in a columbarium at Bayside Cemetery in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. A virtual wake for family and friends will be scheduled.
In the interim, in lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association, which Carol has supported for years, or to Valley VNA Senior Care, where she found a welcoming community of new friends.
The family wants to thank the people of Valley VNA and Theda Care Hospice for their tender mercies.
We also offer our blessings and comfort to the many people who helped make the tapestry of Carol’s life so rich and colorful. If you’ve read this far, you are very likely one of those people.
To send flowers to Carol's family, please visit our floral store.