Remembering Flying Samaritan killed in plane crash

Roger Lyon, known for conservation work, also loved playing pranks, family says at memorial

ktanner@thetribunenews.comOctober 29, 2010 

Hundreds of people took part in two gatherings Friday to celebrate the life and achievements of Roger “Chopper” Lyon of Cayucos, a man they remembered as an audacious and passionate conservationist, attorney, champion swimmer and athlete, consummate traveler, humanitarian, master barbecuer, party emcee, prankster, family man and priceless friend.

Lyon, 60, and three other county residents died Oct. 15 on a Flying Samaritans medical mission. Lyon, a volunteer with the group since 1982, was piloting his 1973 Beechcraft Bonanza plane on landing approach to Ensenada, Mexico, when the plane crashed.

Memorial services for Drs. James Thornton and Graciela Sarmiento and Cal Poly graduate Andrew Thiel were held previously.

Those honoring Lyon did things he loved in places he loved: paddling into a circle at the Cayucos pier Friday morning and then being together in a restored former dairy barn on the Hearst Ranch in San Simeon in the afternoon.

The latter was a private memorial held in a large tent outside the barn, attended by family and about 600 friends. Statesmen, surfers, ranchers, college swimming pals and others shared memories of Lyon’s many accomplishments, his passion for achieving them and his equally notable high jinks. Several times, the tent rocked with applause and boisterous cheers for Lyon.

Among the memories shared was how Roger Charles Lyon Jr. was called a “chip off the old block” when he was young. That evolved to the moniker “Chip” and, through word play involving “chip-chop” and “chipper-chopper,” to the nickname “Chopper.”

Among the mourners were his widow, Susan; George and Stephen Hearst of Hearst Corp.; Rep. Kevin McCarthy; Assemblyman Sam Blakeslee; county Supervisors Katcho Achadjian, Bruce Gibson and Frank Mecham; and former Supervisor Shirley Bianchi.

“As you drive from Cayucos north to the county line, what you don’t see has a whole lot to do with what Roger Lyon did and who he was … (conserving) Estero Bluffs, Harmony Headlands, the hillsides behind and north of Cayucos, Hearst Ranch,” Gibson said earlier in the week. He estimated that “literally millions of people will drive on Highway 1, and none of them will know his name, but all of them will appreciate the work he did.”

Early on at the ceremony, Lyon’s sons Michael and Kristopher Lyon, both physicians, put the emphasis on happy memories. While clearly struggling with the sudden loss of their father, they focused on funny memories, such as some April Fool’s Day revenge, trips in a “very well-used RV” and “Chopper’s” passion for traveling and surfing, family and flying.

Kristopher Lyon told attendees his dad would have urged each of them to “hug those you love today, because you never know when it will be the last hug.”

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