Stephen Emmett Lyons died peacefully in a Boston hospice, with family members at his side, on December 2, 2020, of cancer. An award-winning science documentary writer, producer and director, he was 65.

Born in Boston on February 27, 1955, Stephen was the son of Robert Dee and Sheila Lyons. After attending schools in six states with his often corporate-relocated family, he graduated early from Hamilton-Wenham Regional High School, MA, where he developed what would be a life-long interest in science and chemistry. He attended Harvard University and was graduated with an A.B. degree in Psychology, magna cum laude in 1977.

Dedicated to his craft, he continued working until his last month, overseeing programs through his company, Moreno/Lyons Productions, which he co-founded in 2004 with his wife, producer Aida Moreno. In recent years, they completed two major, independent mini-series for public television that Stephen developed, produced and wrote: THE MYSTERY OF MATTER: SEARCH FOR THE ELEMENTS, a 2015 three-part docudrama on the history of chemistry funded by the National Science Foundation and the American Chemical Society; and ACROSS THE PACIFIC, a 2019 three-part docudrama about the early days of global aviation, created in association with the Pan American Airways Foundation with funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities and others. Steve’s incisively written reenactments about historical figures, his interviews with experts, and innovative animation made science and history compelling and lucid. THE MYSTERY OF MATTER was honored with an Emmy for Lighting Direction and Scenic Design for its historic recreations. (Both series are available via public television, major streaming services, and libraries.)

Previous Moreno/Lyons productions include a 2007 NOVA episode, PERCY JULIAN: FORGOTTEN GENIUS, about a pioneering Black American chemist, for which Steve and his team were honored with an American Association for the Advancement of Science award for science journalism and an Emmy for Lighting Direction and Scenic Design. For both PERCY JULIAN and MYSTERY OF MATTER, Steve developed print and video curricular materials for teaching chemistry nationwide. In 2005 the Chemical Heritage Foundation awarded him the John C. Haas Fellowship in Public Understanding of Science. Stephen was a member of the Writers Guild of America, East and the Directors Guild of America.

Early in his career, Steve worked as a reporter at several newspapers, among them the Daily Hampshire Gazette and the Louisville Courier-Journal, covering politics, science, medicine, and the environment. He spent several years writing about environmental issues, working closely with legendary environmentalist David Brower, the first director of the Sierra Club, founder of the Friends of the Earth, and a valued mentor. Stephen edited several books of nature photography by Brooks Atkinson and edited a 1978 book, “Sun: A handbook for the solar decade”.

In 1986 he was awarded a Macy Fellowship in science broadcast journalism at WGBH in Boston, which led to a position developing projects as a Senior Editor for the PBS science series NOVA. There, he contributed to programs ranging from Mt. Everest to the Kennedy assassination to the Loch Ness Monster, among many other topics.

At WGBH he met and fell in love with producer Aida Moreno, the original executive producer of ANTIQUES ROADSHOW and the creator of CHAMPIONSHIP BALLROOM DANCING; they were married in 1988. His 32-year marriage to her, and their three children, brought him the greatest joys in life. He was an exemplary husband and father and supported his family with unwavering love and attention, in trial and triumph. Happily, he and Aida saw their eldest son married this past August in an intimate church ceremony.

His family and close friends will always remember his serious demeanor and fierce intellect, leavened by a genuine underlying personal warmth and wry sense of humor. He was an anchor —grounded, patient, hardworking, and kind. As a young man, he shepherded his younger brother Andy through his last year of high school to graduation after their father’s untimely death.

An avid runner and decades-long player in a serious pick-up basketball league, Steve was a fan of all sports, but especially baseball. He was a team owner in a fantasy baseball league with his brother Andy, and he was an unstoppable force in Scrabble.

He is survived by his mother, Sheila O’Donnell Lyons of Stonington, CT, his wife Aida Alves Moreno of Arlington, MA, and his children: Daniel and his wife Erika, John Emmett, and Katherine, all of Boston. The second of six siblings, he is also survived by Robert, Elizabeth, Margaret, Andrew, and Charles Lyons.

Stephen will be interred at Mount Auburn Cemetery, and a memorial celebration of his life will be held at a date to be determined. Donations in lieu of flowers may be made to Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in his name.

8 Comments

  1. Bob Nesson on December 20, 2020 at 4:39 pm

    Like Peter and James, I worked down the hall from Steve and Aida. Steve, always quiet and polite and sweet — but behind the thin wall separating their space from my edit room, I could hear them arguing over Steve’s brilliant ideas — usually with passionately staked-out positions.

    I miss Steve and his brilliant and passionate voice.

  2. Judith Vecchione on December 14, 2020 at 9:39 am

    So sorry to hear this. I knew Steve through GBH and Filmmakers Collaborative, always admired his intelligence, his ability to make difficult subjects sing in words and on film, his commitment to sharing and knowledge. Aida, my thoughts are with you and the family in this tough time.
    Judith

  3. Peter Frumkin on December 10, 2020 at 3:31 pm

    I also had the pleasure of working down the hall from Steve for several years. It was always a treat to cross paths with him. He was knowledgeable and passionate about the things that mattered to him and ever-willing to share his passion. The world is indeed poorer for his passing. My heart goes out to Aida and their kids.

  4. Greg Fitzgerald on December 9, 2020 at 1:02 pm

    The Macy Fellowship brought in some amazing and talented journalists. I was leading the radio instruction part of the program and recall Steve being really excited about the prospect of applying his writing skills to broadcast. He’s left a great track record of high-quality science programming.

  5. Joel Olicker on December 9, 2020 at 11:16 am

    I first worked with Steve during his Macy Fellowship in 1986, editing a number of his stories for the “New England Science Journal” (I think that was the name) — the excellent GBH science magazine series produced by the fellows.

    Steve was fascinated by the process of production and was a deeply ethical and committed journalist. His serious exterior would always yield to his genuine warmth and eagerness to connect. His class included Gino Del Guercio, Evan Hadingham, Joe Levine, and Elisa Ely, all of whom remained close as they went on to stellar careers.

    My heartfelt condolences to Aida and his family.

  6. Hilary Finkel Buxton on December 9, 2020 at 7:46 am

    I was so fortunate to work with Steve on his recent release, ACROSS THE PACIFIC. Such a loss. I have a tremendous amount of respect for his dedication to his work and his passion for filmmaking. Sending condolences and comfort to Aida and her family.

  7. James Rutenbeck on December 8, 2020 at 4:55 pm

    Steve and Aida had an office next door to mine for several years, and though I never worked with him, I was always cheered when we bumped into each other in the hallway or kitchen. Steve was passionate and deeply informed about whatever he was working on, but he also brought a feeling of camaraderie and goodwill to our conversations. I know Steve will be missed by the colleagues and friends who knew and loved him, and I want to express my deep sympathy to Aida and their children.

  8. Patricia Garcia-Rios on December 8, 2020 at 4:03 pm

    I only worked with Steve once (on the research for the remarkable “Percy Julian” documentary) but kept running into him after that, and considered him one of the most knowledgeable, committed, and truly generous writers and producers I have ever known. And thorough — man, was he thorough. A real loss for all of us, and for public television.

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