Joan Ortego Lyons, 81, died peacefully from complications of uterine cancer at 11:05 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 13, 2014, at her home in Mandeville.
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Visitation will be 5-8 p.m. Monday at Chauvin Funeral Home in Houma and from 9 a.m. until funeral time Tuesday at St. Francis de Sales Cathedral. A Mass of Christian burial will be at 11 a.m. Tuesday at the church, with burial in Holy Rosary Cemetery. A memorial service in Mandeville is planned at a later date.
She is survived by her husband of 63 years, former Houma Mayor and Terrebonne Parish President, Edward "Bubby" Lyons; children, Tommy (Becky), Edward Jr. (Cecily), Jeff (Jo Anne), Leslie Patterson (Joey), and Ben (Tanja); grandchildren, David and Katherine Lyons, Edie, Noelle and Trey Lyons, Robbie, Cliff and Sarah Lyons, Tim and Chris Patterson, and Chase, Landon and Ana Lyons; great-grandchildren, Jeffrey, Eben and Daniel Lyons, and Cliffie Lyons; sisters, Mary Ortego Samaha, Phyllis Benton Garrett, Judy Benton Jones (Carl); brothers, Ronnie Ortego (Eliska) and Jerry Benton; and dozens of nieces and nephews.
She was preceded in death by her mother, Margaret Rigamer Benton; father, Simon Ortego; stepfather, Esco "Joe" Benton; brother, Esco Benton Jr.; brother-in-law, M.J. Samaha; and sister-in-law, Lillian Benton.
Born in New Orleans, raised throughout the state as her stepfather worked the oil fields, she met her future husband while a senior at Terrebonne High School in Houma in 1950. Within two years she was married, and became the backbone and support for her husband's business and political career.
While raising five children, she was also a surrogate mom to her entire East Houma neighborhood, with always an extra plate at the table. She was a room mother, catechism teacher, choir member and volunteer.
Her love of travel led to her co-chairing the "Twinning" effort between Houma and Cambrai, France. She was an early proponent of local tourism, serving 10 years on the Houma-Terrebonne Tourist Commission.
Joan eventually started her own business, Bayouland Tours, teaching herself to type, then use a computer, studying Spanish, and knowing no obstacles. She continued to plan and accompany tours into this year, as her daughter, Leslie, took over the business.
Her bus tours were legendary for their hospitality and attention to detail, travelling to destinations throughout the United States, with Joan leading the way and Bubby entertaining with songs and stories.
The family's closeness to the Rev. Joseph Armshaw, of the Redemptorist order of priests, led to a position on the board of the Holy Redeemer Seminary in Lacombe. Through the Rev. John Vargas they discovered Parras, Mexico, and their trips there were numerous, and friendships made, priceless. Joan did missionary work there, and had loved the country and its people.
After moving to Mandeville in 1995, she served as leader of the Faith and Fun Senior Fellowship group at Our Lady of the Lake, their church parish. She became a "First Lady" again when Bubby was asked to serve as interim Mandeville Mayor in 2009. Her later years were spent with family nearby, as four of her children eventually joined them on the Northshore, living in Mandeville and Abita Springs.
"Granny" was a tremendous cook, and it was a great honor to serve her, and hear "this is good, what did you put in it?" She much preferred meals at home to eating out, but she loved ordering Trout Jimmy at Sal and Judy's in Lacombe, and was one of Paul Prudhomme's early patrons at K-Paul's, singing his praises.
The final two weeks of her extraordinary life were filled with love, peace and her acknowledgement that she was ready to meet her Lord and Savior, and not afraid to die. Family and friends are comforted knowing she lived seven fruitful and active years after her initial diagnosis with the disease, following two years of chemotherapy, defeating great odds and fighting for every additional minute with her family and friends.
Accordingly, she has requested friends and family wishing to make contributions in her memory be directed to the Samaritan Center in Mandeville, or the Food Banks in Houma and Covington.
To send condolences, please visit www.chauvinfuneralhome.com.
Chauvin Funeral Home in Houma is in charge of arrangements.
Chauvin Funeral Home - Houma
5899 Hwy 311
Houma, LA 70360
Published in Houma Today & The Daily Comet from Aug. 15 to Aug. 18, 2014