Lyons Barnett Joel was a renowned “super-salesman” who climbed the ranks at the Atlanta-based firm started by his grandfather in 1896 to become president of Selig Chemicals. He bravely fought his complications from cancer, then finally succumbed May 29, 2020, surrounded by family at his bedside and on FaceTime, all sharing how much they loved him and how grateful they were for what he’d brought to their lives. He was 86.
Lyons was a diehard Georgia Bulldogs fan who never missed a game. “He never missed one of our swim meets growing up, either,” recalled prominent Atlanta realtor Alan Joel, one of three children with Lyon’s late wife of 44 years Renee, who died in 2000.
“Run the damn ball” was his favorite phrase, said Alan, a former UGA varsity swimmer and volunteer coach at North Atlanta Swim & Dive Team who took his father to see his beloved “Dawgs” beat Oklahoma in the 2018 Rose Bowl.
At the same time, his father was cheering on his grandchildren and the children of strangers as an active board member of the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Atlanta.
He ran marathons into his 70s and was still playing tennis when he went in for a routine physical last year and learned he had leukemia. “He was shocked,” said his daughter Connie Jervey of Richmond, Va. “He said, ‘I don’t feel sick. I feel great. I’m going to keep on living.” And live he did.
A former UGA varsity tennis player, he’d still hit the courts regularly at Bitsy Grant Tennis Center, was seen dining at Hal’s steakhouse, and flying around town in his convertible, top down, smile on his face, the new love of his life by his side, that Lyons Joel signature twinkle his eye. “He was a guy’s guy with my brothers, but he was the greatest father any girl could ever have,” Jervey said. “He was full of kindness and compassion, made us all believe in ourselves, and how important it was to help other people.”
Indeed, Lyons Joel had a life to smile about. A native Atlantan, he was born March 24, 1934, one of three children of parents Lyons Barnett Joel Sr., and Dorothy Selig Joel. He graduated from Marist High School in 1952, went on to the University of Georgia, where he became president of his fraternity (Phi Ep) and was promoted to editor of The Red & Black as the last man standing after the university fired the staff his sophomore year.
After college, he joined the Army where he was a first lieutenant in the U.S. Army Signal Corps. Then it was on to Selig Chemicals, where he sold innovative cleaning and household products while developing new formulas, even naming one for his wife Renee, called the Big R. “Everyone thought it was a rug cleaner, but it was named after Mom,” Alan said.
Known for his problem solving, he once raced to a local hotel, where the manager had threatened to call police after a relative trashed a room during a party and stained a pricey marble tabletop. “Dad brought the chemist and got out the stain.
When the manager saw it, he asked, ‘What else you got like that?’ And Dad landed a huge hotel account for the company,” said Ben Joel, his oldest son.
He ran Selig Chemicals after it was acquired by National Service Industries and retired in 1999. After his first wife died, he remarried Gay Kahn, a psychologist, who died in 2017. She was said to have fallen in love with his fun-loving spirit.
A prominent member of the Jewish community, philanthropist and member of The Temple, he served as president of The Standard Club, board of directors of the Boy & Girls Clubs of Metro Atlanta and was a member of the Kiwanis Club, active in community affairs. “When Lyons came to a party, it was like Seinfeld hitting Goldbergs deli, the crowd parted. He always had an upbeat spirit and a new joke that made everyone smile,” said Ben Joel, a top Atlanta financial manager.
Lyons is preceded in death by his first wife Renee Rosier Joel, who died in 2000, and his second wife Gay Kahn Joel. He is survived by sisters Susan Joel Tancill and Dorothy Ann “Dottie” Joel; children Benjamin, Teresa, Alan and Sophie Joel, and Connie and Darrell Jervey; grandchildren L.B., Austin, Helen and Holly Joel, Jinks, Mac and Renee Jervey; and many nieces and nephews.
A private ceremony was held for immediate family. To watch the celebration of life, for more information regarding streaming of the funeral, donations and the future memorial service, visit www.adayforlyons.com. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Boys & Girls Clubs of Greater Atlanta and The Temple. Arrangements by Dressler’s Jewish Funeral Care, 770-451-4999.