Veterans’ advocate receives Quinn Award from UMass

A South Boston native who has spent the past four decades tirelessly advocating for veterans has been given the Robert H. Quinn Award for Outstanding Community Leadership.

Thomas J. Lyons, a Wakefield resident who works as manager of community services at MassHousing, received his honor at the university’s recent community breakfast. The award was established in honor of Robert H. Quinn, a former speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, former Massachusetts attorney general, and former chair of the UMass Board of Trustees.

Lyons has made it his mission to pay tribute to and secure services for veterans ever since enlisting in the U.S. Marine Corps with five of his neighborhood friends in 1967.

“They went to Vietnam. Three of them did not return home,” UMass Boston Chancellor J. Keith Motley said. “Our recipient did. He returned a decorated combat veteran. He returned as a soldier with a new mission— to serve our nation’s veterans and to honor the memory of those friends from Southie.”

Lyons led the effort to build a South Boston Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial – the first of its kind in the nation when it was unveiled in 1981 – paying tribute to the 25 sons of South Boston who died during that war. He founded the Semper Fidelis Society of Boston, a Marine Corps organization, and served as Boston’s deputy commissioner for veterans’ services and executive director at the New England Shelter for Homeless Veterans before joining MassHousing.

“Simple ideas do have the power to change lives. … All I’ve tried to do is step up where I can and hope that it made a difference,” Lyons said. “And so far I have not been disappointed.”

The Quinn Award is presented annually by UMass-Boston to honor individuals whose contributions have significantly improved the quality of life in the Greater Boston area. “Bob Quinn has served this Commonwealth well,” Chancellor Motley said. “And he continues to inspire us today.”

Also honored at the breakfast was Jeanette Ives Erickson, senior vice president for patient care and chief nurse executive at Massachusetts General Hospital, who received the Chancellor’s Award for Longstanding Community Commitment and Service.

Under Erickson’s leadership, the Clinical Leadership Collaborative for Diversity in Nursing was formed between Partners HealthCare System and UMass-Boston’s College of Nursing and Health Sciences. To date, 37 racially and ethnically diverse undergraduate nursing students have participated in this scholarship and leadership development initiative.