bonita lyons

The Center for Academic Retention and Enrichment Services (CARES) is built upon the work of Dr. Bonita Lyons, who was known for her commitment to caring for and helping students complete their degrees at the UofM. Dr. Lyons, known to her students and colleagues simply as “Doc,” was a model of encouragement and perseverance, both in her professional life and in her life of faith. 

Dr. Lyons received both a bachelor’s and master’s degree in education in 1969 from the University of Mississippi and a doctorate in education from the University of Memphis in 1977. 

A lifelong educator, Dr. Lyons began working at the University of Memphis in 1985 and would go on to be named the Director of Academic Status and Retention Services (ASR) in 1992. She would hold this position until her retirement in August of 2008. She also served as a board member for the Mid-South Association for Training and Development and the Tennessee Board of Regents Ad Hoc Committee on developmental education.

Her work with students earned her several honors, including the UofM Student Affairs Division’s Pyramid Award in 2001 and the UofM Distinguished Professional Advising Award in 2003. Her impact on student athletes led to her induction into the UofM Athletics’ M Club Hall of Fame in 2009 when she was awarded the Ralph Hatley Silver M Award. 

These accolades, however, fail to demonstrate the impact Dr. Lyons had on her “children.” While Dr. Lyons had no biological children, she left a legacy among the students she mentored and treated as her own family. This legacy is evident in the sentiments shared on her Facebook page after she passed in May 2017.

“I am eternally grateful for the impact that you had on my life and the numerous lives that you touched, …and not to mention, the countless students that you helped graduate by your sheer belief in them!!!”, posted Jacqueline Faulkner-Orr, who worked with “Doc” in ASR and currently serves as the Vice President for Student Affairs at Southwest Tennessee Community College.

One of those students, Nyrone Hawkins, who now serves as President of the Robert & Clara Foundation, wrote, “Doc, you are truly a special lady. Your spirit will always live within me. As I think back over our history together, I am truly blessed. You were the embodiment of Christ’s love. You took young people full of potential and showed them unconditional love … you were the picture of His love to so many of your children.”

Venita Doggett, Director of Development for the UofM College of Education, shared: “One of the best decisions I ever made was to attend the University of Memphis. I received a full undergraduate tuition scholarship and worked 2-3 part time jobs to pay for books and other expenses. I am also forever grateful to Dr. Bonita Lyons because when I didn't have enough money to pay for books, she'd go with me to bookstore and buy them for me and any other student who needed help.”

G Guy, current Coordinator for CARES, remembers “After talking with a student Doc would sometimes walk from staff member to staff member and ask them to give any money they could afford to give. We would find out later that the money was always for a student who needed, books, food, or other incidentals.”

Years after her death, “Doc’s Kids” continue to post on her Facebook profile, a testament to her impact. Recently, Joann Lewis-Massey, Director of Business Diversity & Compliance for the City of Memphis, reflected on Dr. Lyons’ effect on not only her life, but the lives of her children, writing, “Wish you were here Doc to see the twins graduate and go to college. Generational changes you helped to create. Love you and miss you forever. #DocsKids”

CARES, which has evolved from a one-person office to a comprehensive student support program with seven full-time staff, continues Dr. Lyons’ work at the University. Through the establishment of the Dr. Bonita Lyons CARES Student Emergency Fund, “Doc’s” spirit of giving will benefit new generations of students. Created in memory of Dr. Lyons by her sister ZonaDale Taylor, the scholarship fund reflects “Doc’s” giving spirit and commitment to education. Just as she gave to so many in their time of need, the Dr. Bonita Lyons CARES Student Emergency Fund continues to provide emergency funding for CARES students to help them purchase books and other incidentals.


The Dr. Bonita Lyons CARES Student Fund is open to gifts from individuals and organizations. 

To contribute, visit Lyons Care Fund.

Or, send an email to cares-staff@memphis.edu with the subject line Bonita Lyons CARES Student Fund.