Boyd, a force in local politics for more than four decades, died Sunday at age 79.
He received a doctor of jurisprudence degree from the University of Tennessee in 1957 and began practicing law in Kingsport that same year.
He was 1998-1999 president of the Kingsport Bar Association and practiced law until his death.
But to many throughout the region he was best known as Judge Boyd, serving as Sullivan County’s top elected administrative official from 1966 to 1986. That position today carries the title county mayor, but during Boyd’s tenure it was first county judge (pre-1980), then county executive.
Boyd did not seek re-election to the post in 1986, but several years later mounted a successful run for a slot on the Kingsport Board of Mayor and Aldermen. Voters returned Boyd for a second term on the BMA, but he resigned before that second term was over.
Boyd’s lengthy experience in county government and his ability to bring people together were key elements in spurring cooperation between the city and county, said Dave Light, former community relations director and assistant to the city manager for Kingsport.
“That gave us a link,” said Light. “It helped us build a better relationship with the county commission. He was key in that effort, in getting everyone to see that cooperation was for the common good and that when we cooperate, we all benefit. I’d say that was Lon’s philosophy of government: ‘Let’s cooperate and work together as much as we can.’ I know many times when he said ‘Let’s sit down and talk about it.’ That was his hallmark. ‘Let’s work our way through this.’”
One thing city leaders were trying to work through during Boyd’s time on the board was how to rejuvenate Kingsport’s opportunities for economic growth.
Boyd was passionate about the subject and supported difficult decisions needed to try and make economic development move ahead, Light said.
“He wanted desperately to be a part of revitalization efforts and economic growth,” Light said. “He helped lay the groundwork for some of the good progress that the city is enjoying today.”
Light said Boyd will undoubtedly be remembered for the strong relationship he shared with his wife of more than half a century, Betsy.
“They were definitely a team and a pair,” Light said.
“They did everything together,” said Tommy Olterman, who’d known the Boyds for more than 40 years.
Olterman said the judge always put family first.
“He was a tremendous family man,” Olterman said. “He had a heart bigger than the Atlantic Ocean. There were so many good things he did that people didn’t know. That was one thing that was special for him. He always raised money for families in need at Christmas — he’d go around and collect money from all his buddies. It was a big thing for him.”
Boyd served in the U.S. Navy — he was a Navy Frogman, class six, during the Korean War.
“He loved his military,” Olterman said. “And, of course, one of his claims to fame was he served with Rudy from the ‘Survivor’ television show.”
Olterman served as a county commissioner from 1980 to 1986.
“I was the youngest member of the county commission at that time,” Olterman said. “Lon was a good leader for Sullivan County. He taught me that the big picture of the county was what’s important for everybody — not just the district you represent. He taught me that when you’re in that position, you’ve got to take care of the big picture and everybody is a taxpayer.”
When Olterman married about 31 years ago, Boyd was a member of the wedding party.
Olterman and his wife later named their son Derek Boyd Olterman to honor Boyd’s influence in their lives.
“He was just a unique fellow,” Olterman said.
Boyd is survived by his wife of 51 years, the former Betsy Lee of Asheville, N.C.; a sister, Shirley Boyd Page, Kingsport; nephews, Dan Page and wife, Christy of Kingsport, Dr. David Page and wife, Lisa of Knoxville; a brother-in-law, Howard Hensley, Kingsport; nieces Laura Hensley and husband, Brent Brazier of Moorpark, Calif., Alice Hensley Pope, Michelle Boyd Cline and husband Michael of Kingsport; a sister-in-law, Harrold Lee Vaughn of Charlotte, N.C.; nephews, Vernon Vaughn and wife, Mary of Gastonia, N.C., Lee Vaughn and wife, Carla of Bristol, Tenn., and Steven Vaughn and wife, Caroline of Charlotte, N.C.; eleven great-nieces and great-nephews.
There will be a graveside service Thursday at 1:30 p.m. at Oak Hill Memorial Park with a memorial service to follow at 2 p.m. at First Presbyterian Church. The Rev. Dr. David A. Cagle and the Rev. Craig Foster will officiate. The family will receive friends following the memorial service at the church.
Memorial contributions may be made to Dobyns-Bennett High School Lon Boyd Scholarship Fund, Activities Office, 1800 Legion Drive, Kingsport, TN 37664; or UDT-Seal, Naval Special Warfare Foundation Building Fund in the name of Lon Boyd, P. O. Box 5965, Virginia Beach, VA 23471; or First Presbyterian Church, Music Ministry, 100 West Church Circle, Kingsport, TN 37660.