Lt. Col. (Ret) William “Ebola Bill” Harrison Lyerly, Jr. 67, passed away December 26, 2020 in Sarasota, Florida. He was born August 5, 1953 in Frederick, Maryland to the late William Sr. and Faye E. (Gunn) Lyerly.
Bill graduated from Thomas Johnson High School in 1971 and received an appointment to the United States Air Force Academy, Class of 1975 (“Best Alive”), which kicked off his 42 years of government / military service. He had a life-long affinity for helping people, so after an assignment to Myrtle Beach, SC, he transferred into the Army to pursue a career in medicine. He was assigned to Walter Reed Medical Center where he interned as a medical technologist and met his wife of 42 years, Sylvia.
His career then took his family to Nairobi, Kenya where he worked “on the ground” on visceral leishmaniasis. Back in the states, his time at USAMRIID in Ft. Detrick, MD introduced Bill to medical intelligence where he worked in a BSL-4 lab with the incurables such as Ebola (hence his call sign), Marburg, Dengue and other hemorrhagic fevers. As a result of these experiences, he was tapped as a consultant by the State Department / United States Agency for International Development to work on AIDS prevention and other programs in over 35 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. He then worked for the Department of Health and Human Services, setting up global and domestic programs in Emergency Management and Preparedness. After 9/11, Bill was an integral part in helping form the Department of Homeland Security where he led WMD Operations / Incident Management and Global Health Security.
Bill also earned both his Master of Arts in Management and Healthcare Administration from Central Michigan University and his Master of Public Health in Epidemiology from Johns Hopkins University along with completing post-graduate coursework in Disaster Management, Epidemiology, Immunology, Infectious Diseases, and International Health.
He was, as he put it, “forced to” retire in 2016 due to health concerns. Even in retirement, Bill continued to serve others through a role with Global Research & Discovery Group as Chief Strategy Advisor and member of the Board of Advisors for Impact BioMedical, Inc.
Bill will be inurned at USAFA and a celebration of life will follow in Maryland at a later date following the pandemic. Memorial contributions may be made, in Bill’s honor, to the Wounded Warrior Project online. Family would love for memories to be shared online at http://www.mfhcares.com through Maloney Funeral Home.
Maloney Funeral Home | January 2021
Kirsten Lyerly: Despite our every effort to find silver lining in 2020, it somehow struck again. After a near-perfect Christmas, this morning, our Dad, Husband, Pops, Friend, Confidant, Advisor and Dad-joke extraordinaire, William Lyerly, joined the angels in heaven.
While we are absolutely crushed and still in shock, we won’t do him the disservice of sitting around being sad. So in every effort to honor & celebrate his completely full and admirable life, we’d appreciate (instead of condolences or flowers) that you share a fun story or fond memory you have with him so we can celebrate the amazing man we love and will miss dearly. With love, the Lyerly/Ballew family (December 26, 2020)
Update: I wanted to give a cool update that is further testament to my Dad’s spirit and character. We received a call this evening from an organ donor non-profit associated with the medical examiner’s office. They said he was a candidate to help 50+ people, including giving two people the gift of eyesight. We happily obliged. Gave us amazing solace in that he is still somehow managing to continue to help other people even from the other side. (December 27, 2020)
I received a harsh reminder today (27 December) not to take a single day for granted. Bill Lyerly - "Ebola Bill" - USAFA class of '75, passed away yesterday. I am in shock. Bill was one of those rare souls that could brighten anyone's day – no matter how dark the circumstance. Dedicated, smart, adventurous, loyal, and cursed with one of the "punniest" senses of humor the good Lord could bestow upon a man. Bill was the one who gave me the call sign "Pogo" as we crossed the terrazzo heading to our new quarters in the "New Dorm" after Doolie year. It stayed with me my entire Air Force career and beyond. Bill was a friend to all he met. I know he loved his family as surely as they loved him. His classmates, his colleagues, his family, and his friends – we will all miss him. God speed, Bill.
– Hugo Posey
I just heard from our Classmate David Hicks [Hickman]. So sad to pass this along, but our classmate “Ebola” Bill Lyerly passed away yesterday morning. No details other than over the last few years he has been in poor health, but good spirits.
Bill and I were lab partners in Life Science back in the day. We dissected a Rhesus monkey together and gave him a nickname that neither one of us could remember lately. No surprise there. Bill always wanted to be a medical doctor, but ended up getting his PhD and doing research in the virus area, beginning with the Ebola virus.
He retired a 3-Star equivalent from the Gov’t and had a major impact on many of our nation’s policies concerning natural disaster planning and virus studies. He was a very smart guy and had a great sense of humor. 75 Best Alive, Bill.
– Bill Murray
Bill Lyerly's passing was Saturday, 26 December at his daughter's home where he and Sylvia (his wife) were celebrating with their daughters and grandchildren. Bill has had a lot of health issues and began feeling very poorly around Thanksgiving. He was hospitalized twice between then and Christmas. He apparently had an inkling something was very wrong as he had some very serious conversations with his girls about their lives and how they were doing. Bill had gotten up around 0530 to go to the bathroom and collapsed on the bedroom floor on the way back to bed. Sylvia immediately went to his aid and had one brief conversation before Bill was gone.
Bill will be cremated in Florida, where his daughter Heather lives (Sarasota) and will eventually be interred at the Academy. A memorial will be planned when the Pandemic subsides, and possibly when/if our class reschedules something for this year as has been discussed.
– David Hickman
This is heartbreaking news. I was shocked and saddened when I heard that Bill had passed away. We were lifelong friends from when we met at age 18 at USAFA to the present. We stayed in close contact over the years and enjoyed many good times together. I have so many stories to share, all involving laughter and good humor. So many good times at USAFA, Annapolis, OC, waterskiing on the Chesapeake, the Washington Naval Yard Officers Club, Phillips Crab House, Baltimore Playboy Club, my house in Crofton, his house in Riva... and much more. I couldn’t have asked for a better friend in good times and bad. I will always remember his smile and his laughter. I know how much he loved his family and I will miss him dearly. His wonderful family is in my thoughts and prayers.
– Michael Heil
I am so sorry to hear this. He always had a great combination of wit and wisdom.
– Jim Marshall
Absolute blindside. Bill helped me restore one of my Vettes during our 2nd class year. Shocked.
– Otto Dieffenbach
A sad day. We will all remember him fondly.
– Sandy Terry
I am so very shocked and sadden to hear of Bill’s passing and my thoughts and prayers go out to his entire family. He was a great friend. I knew him back in our academy days and had many a lacrosse catch with him even after we graduated and lived in Annapolis.
At one time he credited me with putting the lacrosse stick in his hands, and not that long ago we talked about the ladies in our life that carried on the lacrosse tradition. Both of us having Z cars, Bill would tell about when he was still a maintenance officer in the Air Force, how some of the technicians that worked for him put a “device” under the hood of his Z that would trick the police radar detectors (not that he would ever speed in his Z).
Many times Bill would have a lot of us over watching Saturday Night Live. Almost without fail, when the host ended the opening with “live from New York it’s Saturday night” Bill and the rest of us would look up and there would be Sylvia having just fallen asleep.
Bill did trust me enough to watch his pets when they went away. So my wife and I had his Red Setter Smiley and their cat at my house. My wife had baked two fudge pies and were out on the counter cooling. A while later I went to check on them and noticed a whole pie and half of the other was eaten. I looked at Smiley believing he was the guilty one. But no, there was the cat meowing away in the corner with a very extended belly and fudge all over his mouth and whiskers. Last time I babysat Bill’s pets.
You were the best Bill. May you Rest In Peace.
– Gary Janelli
The times I am reminded of my mortality are sobering. Yet, I look at the opportunities I have been blessed with to know great people like Bill, who made a difference in the world around me. I am left with the hope that in the time remaining, I can live up to the dreams and goals of such men and women. When you “touch the face of God,” say “hi” to our other classmates, Bill. God bless and keep you.
– Keawe (Michael Anderson)
He was, indeed, an intellectual giant, and one whose work improved all our lives in ways most of us cannot understand. In social settings in the last 20 years or so, I’d think “don’t encourage him” because he WOULD give you the detailed back story to what could have been a simple answer to a simple question like “what IS SARS, Bill?” He had a good sense of humor about that and life. RIP, Bill; your brothers miss you.
– Dave Wallace
Sad news passed to me via email below from our classmate Bill Murray today. Time is the enemy classmates. I just this past Tuesday talked to our classmate Dr. Bill Lyerly. We shared a great many laughs about “the dark ages” at USAFA and walking horizontal. ‘75 Best Alive (small but elite!).
– Mark Beesley
I guess we’re getting old. Had some great times with Bill and Sylvia at our periodic gatherings. RIP brother.
– John Charlton
We will miss him. Please keep him and his family in your prayers.
– Al Bready
Bill (from CS-40) was such a regular through our squadron hallway when he was on crutches during 3 degree year to get to the elevator that for the longest time I thought he was in my squadron (CS-33). Through the years we stayed in regular contact and he was a constant lunch buddy in the early 2000s. He never failed to make me laugh. I miss kind, happy, dear friend Bill Lyerly.
Bill, you are one of the very best of '75! You've left a legacy that will be hard to equal by anyone, of any class. Until our rejoin my friend.
– Jim Carlson
Bill was a great person, friend and fellow USAFA ‘75er. I will remember him fondly always! He was able to make you laugh and smile even while sharing his vast knowledge on serious topics. He will be missed but we can keep his outlook alive in us always.
– Robert Awtrey
He was a good friend over the many years and I still remember our times in Barbarians Sq and then Frat 5. He will truly be missed and I'm praying for his family!!
– Jim Dill
As some of you know, I spent over 20 years of my career in the DC metropolitan area (Bethesda, MD). One of the best parts of that was extended proximity to Bill Lyerly and his awesome family. I actually worked with one of his daughters, Kirsten, doing pandemic preparedness across Africa - a region Bill loved dearly. That brought the opportunity to have him as a consultant teaching our African partners in 2015, following the West Africa Ebola epidemic. Bill, Kirsten and I enjoyed the warm weather, and warmer hospitality, in Accra, Ghana.
Like many of you, I spent wonderful evenings at the Lyerly's home, which became sort of a second home for me as I was (insanely) a geographical bachelor 7 of those years. As we all shared a fondness for Public Health, dinners and cocktails, Bill, Kirsten and I would meet frequently at evening One Health (the union set for human, animal and environmental health) presentations. Bill and I also shared some good times at the Washington Football Team games, previously referred to as "the Skins." And then there were a few DC Dark Ages parties, but no details or photos, of course.
Bill was a great person, with a wonderful family, and loved little more than spending time with his family or classmates. He leaves a huge vacuum in our lives, and I look forward to the rejoin.
– Charlie Beadling
Some of the best memories of our cadet summer programs were getting to know and form lasting relationships with classmates who weren’t in our squadrons or regular academic/athletic circles. Bill Lyerly and I had that experience via summer SERE. We were Cadre Instructors the summer of ’74. After the early phase ended, we were supporting the trek driving a jeep up and down Rampart Range Road looking for lost stragglers or injured cadets. Technically we were on “Safety Patrol.” We’d received special driving licenses to drive the jeeps, but the four-wheel drive on the gravel road was a new experience to me. We traded off driving/radio operator duty. As we took to the jeep for a safety patrol I was the driver and still recall mentioning to Bill to “put on your seatbelt, we’re going to have some fun.” Yes indeed, the fateful words.
Bill was a funny guy, engaging and gregarious even as a cadet. We had enjoyed getting to know each other over the course of the SERE program, and had a good degree of trust. The jeeps were fun to drive – open cabins, not much power, and I recall we were told to keep a speed limit of 20 miles per hour. Much like the 55 MPH national limit at the time, no one drove just 20 MPH in the jeeps. As it turned out that day, there was reason to keep the speed down. Within about five minutes of setting out (with our seatbelts on) I went into a turn too fast, overcorrected, and sent the jeep into a four wheel slide off the road and into the woods. The second or two in midair did slow time down a bit – I had a vision of all the “cadet good deals” I was going to miss by killing myself (and Bill) prematurely.
We hit a thick pine tree square on and came to an immediate stop. Fortunately, the seat belts worked as advertised. We were restrained in our seats, even though the impact caused the windshield to separate outwards and shatter. Had we not had our seatbelts on, we likely would have been thrown through the broken glass. Other than being stunned, we seemed to be OK. I immediately asked Bill if he was fine, and he said his elbow had hit the radio and he’d lost feeling in his hand. To his credit, rather than hitting me with his other good hand he laughed it off and suggested we get help.
I recall making my way back to the road and reporting we’d had a jeep accident (ironically while on “Safety Patrol”). Obviously the initial concern was that we were OK. Beyond that, I knew this was not good news for my cadet career. The Cadet Wing Safety Officer, Captain Pace, was in charge of the summer programs and ordered me to his tent to explain the accident.
The Jeep had been totaled – trying to say it looked worse than it was didn’t seem to be the right thing to say. Pace was enraged and noted that I had ruined his perfect summer safety record (I seem to recall he threw a Dixie cup towards me but I can’t confirm it after 47 years). My greatest regret was injuring Bill’s arm, and I kept checking up with him as the summer program ended and the fall semester started up. Ever the biological scientist, Bill noted that nerve regenerated slowly, and sure enough over the next six months the feeling returned down his arm and back to his hand.
The incident had bonded us. Over the years this was the standard “cadet story” we’d recall together when we met at reunions or functions. To his credit, Bill never held it against me, and continued to laugh the story off. Aside from his arm injury, we discovered after the accident that a single lap seatbelt that restrains you in a sudden stop will leave marks – I had the ugliest black and blue bruises on my hips for weeks and I’m sure Bill did too. He was properly held harmless in the accident – it was all my fault. I hoped that perhaps with the return to classes that any Form 10 write-up from the summer might get lost in the system, and I heard nothing initially.
Then one day during the noon meal march-in to Mitchell Hall we got an “Eyes Left” command and there it was, towed onto the Terrazzo and sitting in all its broken glass and bent frame glory – my wrecked jeep – a reminder to the Cadet Wing of the need for vehicle safety. This seemed ominous to me, and it was. My CDB notice came shortly and I received a standard punishment suite: two months loss of off base privileges, lots of tours and confinements, and loss of use of my new car. Still, the fact that Bill’s arm healed was the important thing, and I’ll see his smiling face updating me on his nerve’s regeneration whenever I think of him. He was great classmate and I’ll miss him.
– Hugo Gray