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Grace H. Lyon, founder of Timonium travel agency, dies

Grace H. Lyon founded a Timonium travel agency and worked in the industry for more than three decades.
Grace H. Lyon founded a Timonium travel agency and worked in the industry for more than three decades. (HANDOUT)

Grace H. Lyon, who founded a Timonium travel agency and worked in the industry for more than three decades, died May 27 at Gilchrist Hospice Care after suffering a fall. She was 95 and lived at the Blakehurst Retirement Community.

Born Grace Harrison in Seattle, she was the daughter of Clifford Harrison, a sports editor for The Seattle Times, and his wife, Harriet Hulett. After graduating from a local high school, she earned a bachelor's degree at the University of Washington.

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Family members said she was a pioneer in the travel industry in her hometown. She was hired as a passenger agent for United Airlines at Boeing Airport during World War II. At the time, such jobs were traditionally held by men.

While at the ticket counter she met George Taylor "Tad" Lyon Jr., a young naval officer from Havre de Grace who was traveling to an assignment in Alaska.

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"He tried to get a date and she turned him down," said her son, Robert W. Lyon of Ambler, Pa. "A friend then arranged what was supposed to be a blind date. Only it was not a blind date from my father's standpoint."

The couple married within about six weeks. His parents, who crossed the country via trains to be at the wedding in Seattle, encountered travel restrictions during the war and made it to the church the morning of the ceremony.

After her husband's military service, the couple moved to Towson and lived on Brook Road and later West Joppa Road. They raised five children there.

By 1960, Mrs. Lyon founded a travel agency with fellow members from Towson Presbyterian Church. She drew upon former business contacts at United Airlines.

"Her love of travel, combined with an entrepreneurial spirit, led her to found Valley Travel and later Hunt Valley Travel," her son said.

"She sold shares to members of the church, who were also friends," said Ann Remington, a Cockeysville resident who was a vice president of the business. "She was a warm, smart lady. She recruited a marvelous staff. We did all kinds of travel arrangements and once did much of the travel work for McCormick and PH&H."

Mrs. Lyon built her staff around the needs of working mothers. She had her children assist in the delivery of travel documents.

"She made allowances, and she adopted a four-day workweek for the office," said her son. "She enjoyed travel so much it was contagious. She was a people person, and service to her clients was important to her. Her business instincts were remarkable."

"Grace got to know us well. She truly cared," said Sherry Darney, a former employee who lives in Glenmont, Pa. "In the time I worked for her, I had four children. She had four baby showers for me. The four-day week allowed us to spend more time with our families."

Mrs. Lyon traveled the world and led trips she arranged. Her son said she was an early adapter of technology and embraced computer ticketing systems. She sold the business in 2000, when her firm was doing $12 million in annual sales.

"My mother had the gift of hospitality and was always planning events for her family and friends, which inevitably included her delicious pies," her son said. "At Thanksgiving, she would make five different pies so every grandchild would have the kind they preferred."

Her husband of 61 years, an advertising executive at Calvert Associates, died in 2005.

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A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. July 6 at Towson Presbyterian Church, 400 W. Chesapeake Ave., where she and her husband were church elders.

In addition to her son, survivors include three other sons, George Taylor Lyon III of Hunt Valley, Cary H. Lyon of Phoenix in Baltimore County and James C. Lyon of Towson; a daughter, Cathy Isphording of Lutherville; nine grandchildren; and six great grandchildren.

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