Jerry Lyst · 2013
His career as a journalist spanned more than 50 years, garnering not only multiple awards for his reporting and writing, but also three Sagamores of the Wabash from three Indiana governors. John “Jerry” Lyst’s work and persona captured the respect of readers and other journalists throughout the country.
Of his five decades in the newspaper business, 45 of them were spent as a respected reporter, business editor and editor of The Indianapolis Star. He was also a correspondent for The New York Times and The Wall Street Journal.
Lyst was known for his calm, self-effacing, sage-like demeanor and shock of thick white hair. He was considered not only a gentleman, but a gentle man and was often sought out for his leadership.
As a long-time editor of the Star’s editorial pages, Lyst was able to articulate his passion for Indiana, said Timothy A. Franklin, a former Star editor and one of numerous people Lyst mentored.
“Put simply, Jerry Lyst was the conscience of the state and its people. He used his lofty platform not as an ideological cudgel – although he did have strong views – but as a home for practical solutions and real answers to the questions facing Hoosiers.”
The man Sharon Lyst says was her husband’s best friend – fellow journalist and retired Star managing editor Lawrence S. “Bo” Connor – recalled in his letter of support the many years Lyst wrote without error or complaint.
“Jerry rarely had a harsh word for a reader, news source or co-worker, even when he had reason to be critical,” said Connor. “He was always willing to listen to his staff and others.”
Lyst often spoke of the responsibility of the press.
“Newspapers and news people have an important and continuing role to play every day in reinforcing our sense of community, our shared values and our visions for a just and democratic future,” he said during an interview in 1994 for a Star article about him winning a Community Appreciation for Service in Public Enlightenment and Relations (CASPER) award.
In addition to his newspaper executive roles, he was a past president of the Indianapolis Press Club and its foundation, and served on the boards of numerous journalism and education organizations.
Lyst was born on March 28, 1933, in Princeton, Ind., to John Henry Mulhall II and Margaret McQuinn Mulhall. After his father’s death, his mother later married Herschel Lyst, who adopted him. He attended Shortridge High School and Lawrence Central High School, graduating with the class of 1951. He attended Indiana University at Bloomington in 1955, majoring in journalism and economics.
In 1955, Lyst joined the Star as a police reporter, but the following year, he was drafted into the U.S. Army, where he served two years as an armored tank radio operator and later as editor of the Seventh Army Sentinel, a weekly newspaper.
Back home after an honorable discharge, Lyst returned to the Star and covered the Indiana General Assembly, county government and other news of the day. Some of the major stories he covered included voter fraud and the State Fairgrounds Coliseum explosion.
He became a financial reporter, then business editor in 1968. For several years, he wrote a daily column called “Money, Jobs & People” while also covering stories about Hoosier and national business and financial news.
Lyst wrote an award-winning series of columns on the problems Hoosiers faced finding jobs, the difficulties faced by African-American business people and the African-American middle class. Some of his columns were syndicated by the North American Newspaper Alliance. He traveled widely to report on Alaska, Eastern Europe, the Soviet Union and Israel, winning awards for this work.
He was an active advocate for a free press and served on the boards of several organizations that made this cause a priority. They included the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, the Center for Media and Public Policy, and the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank. He was a board member of the American Society of Business & Economic Writers and later became a member of the Indianapolis Literary Club. He was also one of 12 American editors who judged the annual Korn/Ferry International Journalism Award for Excellence in United Nations Reporting.
Another of his passions was mentoring young journalists. He took on the job of grading the works of college students who participated in the Indianapolis Press Club’s annual Thomas R. Keating Feature Writing contest, and he was a director of the Indiana University School of Journalism Alumni Association.
Lyst and his wife spent most of the 53 years of their marriage living on Indianapolis’ Northside. They had four daughters, one of whom, Audrey Kay Lyst, died of an illness in 1984, the first year she was in college. Other daughters, Shannon Margaret Lyst and Ellen Kay Eaken, live in Indianapolis, and Bettina Anne Nolan resides in Raleigh, N.C. Lyst lived to enjoy his four grandchildren, Thomas Nolan, John Henry Nolan, Daniel Eaken and Laura Eaken, before his death on June 20, 2009.
In a retirement tribute published in the Star, Lyst was lauded for his “quiet wisdom” and “unwavering dedication to the art of listening.”
After retiring on May 19, 2000, Lyst enjoyed many days of sailing. He became a member of the Indianapolis Sailing Club and was commodore of the Cruising Club for two years, enjoying trips throughout and outside of the country. He was a member of Northminster Presbyterian Church and Friends of the Indiana State Archives.
The Indianapolis Star published an editorial dedicated to Lyst entitled “The professional” to recognize the many years of his service. It described him as a person who combined forceful opinions with genuine humility, strong words with unstrained charm and clear beliefs with fairness.
The editorial also described him with these words: “Compassion. Grace. Fairness. Wisdom. Lyst embodies those qualities and more. He is the consummate professional.”
By Eunice Trotter, American Senior Communities