Hyson recalled as a doer, a giver
BY JEFF HAWKES, Staff Writer
A school board president, community center director and youth mentor, Tom Hyson, 68, had many roles. He even showed up on occasion as McGruff the Crime Dog.
But whatever Hyson chose to do, he put his heart into it, and the Lancaster community is all the richer, say those who knew Hyson as a colleague, a neighbor and a friend.
Hyson's unexpected death at his North Shippen Street home Thursday morning caused friends to reflect upon the Lancaster native's contributions and his commitment to community service.
"He saw things that had to be done, and he did them and moved on to the next project," said the Rev. Louis Butcher of Brightside Baptist Church, who knew Hyson since childhood.
"I think his legacy is everything he gave to help poor neighborhoods have a fighting chance," said Jane Pugliese, who collaborated with Hyson when she headed the Inner City Group, a community development organization for the city's southeast.
A 1962 McCaskey High School graduate, Hyson served in the Marine Corps, seeing two tours of duty in Vietnam. For 13 years he was a state trooper in Philadelphia, Reading and Harrisburg. For four of his 13 years with the state police, he worked as an undercover narcotics investigator.
Hyson then made a career change more suited to his desire to help people. He held positions at the Boys Club and Girls Club of Lancaster, including director of its day treatment program and director of its community center in Columbia.
Then, in the early 1990s, Hyson was Lancaster's first community-police liaison (a position that required him on occasion to don the McGruff outfit), working with residents at a time of heightened anxiety over drug trafficking.
During that time, Hyson served two four-year terms on School District of Lancaster school board. Butcher recalls Hyson as an enthusiastic first-time candidate in 1989, knocking on doors and talking to voters about improving the graduation rate and holding teachers accountable.
"Above all, he was dedicated to assuring the greatest opportunity for all children to reach their full potential," said Carl Pike, who served on the school board with Hyson. During his tenure as board president, Hyson led by example, Pike said. "He respected all people," Pike added. "No challenge was too difficult to overcome."
On the school board, "he truly represented us," said Darlene Byrd of South Ann Concerned Neighbors, recalling Hyson's push to have meetings in neighborhood schools.
"He always encouraged us to present our concerns," Byrd added. "He was empowering the residents."
Hyson resigned his police position in 1992 to take the helm of the Crispus Attucks Center at a dire time. Within three years as executive director, Hyson grew the center from a one-employee operation to a center with multiple programs and a staff of 14.
In 1995, the center's basement became a homeless shelter for as many as 29 people, and its kitchen was feeding thousands. Hyson also started the annual Martin Luther King Jr. Day breakfast, now attended by hundreds of community leaders.
"He was a relentless drum major" for Crispus Attucks, said Cheryl Holland-Jones, the executive director. "His passion was helping people."
Holland-Jones recalled how Hyson would give a speech by pulling out a slip of paper onto which he had jotted a few points and then speaking from his heart with infectious enthusiasm.
In 1999, Hyson joined the staff of the state's Weed and Seed program, which targeted crime reduction and prevention efforts in selected, problem neighborhoods across Pennsylvania, including southeast Lancaster. Hyson eventually became the program director, and he helped shepherd more than $5 million in state funds into Lancaster projects, including renovation of Roberto Clemente Park and renovation of the General Cigar building into apartments.
"I know anything he got called upon to do, he said, 'I'll do it,' " said Ted Darcus, a former Boys Club executive and city council member. "Who can now mimic this man? Who can now step up and do that kind of job?"
"It will be very difficult to replace him," agreed Nelson Polite Sr., a former city council president.
The recently formed Lancaster African American Festival committee is planning a Black History Month event on Feb. 23. Among the planned activities: an award presentation to Hyson for his years of community service.
Committee member Byrd was in disbelief Friday that Hyson won't be there to receive the award. But she said she feels at peace because Hyson died knowing how much he was loved.