Richard and Nancy Lyon
Match Made at Harvard
In so many ways, Richard Lyon and Nancy Dillard were a mismatched pair from the start.
They began their lives 2,000 miles apart — she in a wealthy Dallas suburb, he in working-class Mansfield, Conn. Richard, born in 1957, was the oldest of three children, born to an insurance salesman and his homemaker wife.
Young Lyon grew up with striking good looks — ginger-colored hair, olive skin and handsome Middle Eastern features that he got from his Lebanese mother.
His childhood lacked any apparent trauma. He seemed like a normal American kid.
Good grades came easy, and Lyon attended the University of Massachusetts on academic scholarship, graduating in 1979. He was then admitted for graduate studies at the Harvard University School of Design, where students learn architecture, landscape architecture, urban design and urban planning.
That fall, his looks caught the eye of a classmate named Nancy Dillard, a petite, dark-haired woman with a radiant smile.
In nearly every sense, she came from a different world.
Her father, William Wooldridge Dillard, was a native of Memphis who married a stewardess and settled in Dallas, where he earned a fortune as a real estate developer during the early business boom years of the Big D.
Nancy was born in 1953, the youngest of four children. She and her siblings, Susan, Tom and Bill Jr., were raised by nannies amid country club affluence in Highland Park, a ritzy section of Dallas.
Nancy was an attractive teen, but she rarely dated in high school. Some saw her as emotionally distant. She had legitimate reasons for this that would come to light much later.
She went far away to college — to Hollins University, a tiny, exclusive women's school in Roanoke, Va. She graduated in 1975 with a degree in liberal arts, and then spent two years as a museum guide in Washington, D.C.
As her 25th birthday approached, Nancy Dillard understood it was time to choose a career path that went beyond the minimum-wage museum gig.
She decided to study landscape architecture, combining her interests in building (from her father's influence) and the outdoors. She spent two years studying design at the Graduate School of Fine Arts at the University of Pennsylvania, and then enrolled in the graduate design program at Harvard.