Lyons: The passing of a friend

Published 12:05 pm Friday, December 30, 2022

The passing of a friend and trusted companion inevitably causes one to pause and reflect. Until my decision to run for the office of Mayor of Dowagiac in 1997, Leon Laylin was only known to me as the husband of Shirley Laylin.  I’d come to know Shirley as a strong community booster who played a pivotal role in the creation of the Dowagiac Dogwood Fine Arts Festival. For almost 30 years that festival brought the best of the arts to Dowagiac and gained wide acclaim for our small city.  The visiting authors included such luminaries as Norman Mailer, Amy Tan, Ken Kesey and many, many others. Besides authors, there were fine artists and performing artists, all dedicated to showcasing their talents for the benefit of Dowagiac.

Part of my strategy for enacting my vision of improving Dowagiac was to surround myself with like minded people, which included encouraging some to run for a seat on the Dowagiac City Council. Knowing Shirley Laylin as I did, I felt she would be a great council person. I was, of course, disappointed when she turned me down citing her already heavy workload, between the family business, her church and Dogwood Festival. However, she suggested that her husband Leon would be a great candidate. While I was disappointed that Shirley had commitments elsewhere, and I knew Leon only casually, I remarked to myself that if he was good enough for Shirley, he’s surely good enough for me.

While reluctant at first, Leon agreed to run with me in that 1997 city council election. Leon went on to faithfully serve on the Dowagiac City Council for the next 24 years, including many years as Mayor Pro Tempore.

Dowagiac’s vision of good city governance is based on a team approach, where each member of the team brings their own unique perspective and talents together in  an atmosphere of collegiality and cooperation to craft and execute a common vision of what the city should strive to become.

Leon played a pivotal role in that process. He was not only willing, but anxious to share his wisdom and insight on what constituted the best path forward as we worked to enact a common vision.

After 24 years of faithful service to the citizens of Dowagiac, father time finally caught up with Leon and he made the decision not to seek re-election in 2021.  Now, both Shirley and Leon are gone.

They will be greatly missed but the changes they helped bring about will be their legacy, and will be a reminder to all for generations to come, that good people working together for the common good can bring about great change.

Rest in peace my friends and know that I’m going to sorely miss your great ribeye steaks and fine scotch!