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Rev. Henry Lyons
[Times photo: Fred Victorin]
The women of Henry Lyons

© St. Petersburg Times,
published February 9, 1999

Talk about awkward. There was the Rev. Henry Lyons, leader of the National Baptist Convention, facing grand theft and racketeering charges in a Pinellas courtroom. His wife, Deborah, sat stoically behind him; co-defendant and alleged mistress Bernice Edwards a few feet to the left; and a third woman, Lyons' former secretary, was on the witness stand testifying about her own relationship with the pastor. Add in two other women who had affairs with Lyons and the cast of characters gets confusing.


Deborah Lyons

Deborah Lyons is the reverend's third wife. It is not clear when they started dating, but they were married in June 1972, two months after his divorce from his second wife. They were married after Lyons became pastor of Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church in St. Petersburg, where the deacons made it known they expected their minister to be married. Irate that Lyons was cheating on her, Deborah set fire in July 1997 to the Tierra Verde home he owned with Bernice Edwards. That started Lyons' legal mess. Deborah Lyons since has said she supports her husband and forgives him for his infidelity.
[Times photo: Mike Pease]

photoEarlene Battle

Battle says she met Lyons at a revival in Jacksonville in 1987 and that he provided her with private spiritual counseling. Soon after, she says, they became romantically involved, though she broke off the relationship when he became physically abusive. She became depressed and suicidal, and Lyons paid some of her resulting medical bills. As part of her mental health therapy, she wrote a book about her romance with Lyons. Called Torn: Between the Pleasures of the Flesh & the Will of God, it is registered with the U.S. Library of Congress. Battle says Lyons bought the rights to her book for $200,000 -- to keep it out of publication. She says she hasn't seen much of the money. The last check she received from Lyons -- for $500 -- came in June 1997.
[Photo: Times files]

Bonita Henderson

Henderson met Lyons in 1990 and later was hired as his administrative assistant. About a year later, she says, they began a four-year affair. Lyons even paid the rent for her Tampa apartment, she says. When the affair ended and two months after she left her job, she says, Lyons wrote her a check for $150,000 from his secret Baptist Builder Fund. Prosecutors say it was hush money -- to keep her quiet about the affair and his business dealings. Two weeks ago, during Lyons' trial, Henderson testified that she still has his robe, slippers and other clothes.
[Times photo: Brian Baer]

photoBree Jones/Bernice Edwards

In 1992 a Milwaukee pastor introduced Lyons to Bree Jones, whose real name was Bernice Edwards. Authorities in Milwaukee know her as an embezzler and con artist. She went to work for Lyons, and by 1994 was making regular visits to Florida and accompanying him on National Baptist Convention business trips. Later they jointly purchased a $700,000 Tierra Verde waterfront home and a time-share condo in Lake Tahoe. A St. Petersburg jeweler testified that he sold jewelry to them and thought they were married. Once, he testified, he dropped off jewelry for Edwards at a room at the Don CeSar resort. She greeted him at the door and asked him to talk quietly because Lyons was inside asleep. Lyons has steadfastly denied that his relationship with Edwards was romantic. His close friend Wilkins Garrett said that he did not believe Lyons had an affair with Edwards because she was "too damn ugly."
[Times photo: Jim Stem]

photoBrenda Harris

This is the only woman Lyons has acknowledged as his mistress. He met her in 1994 when she was working for the San Diego convention and visitors bureau. In September 1995 he hired her to be director of conventions for the National Baptist Convention. When she moved to Nashville, he co-signed a lease for her home. They vacationed in New York, at the Waldorf Astoria, and on the trip, prosecutors say, he bought her a mink coat and hat. Her secretary told authorities that Harris said she and Lyons liked to smoke marijuana in the bathtub. The NBC provided a promise of financial support that allowed Harris to buy a $340,000 house in Nashville. Her neighbors thought she and Lyons were married. A women's group's newsletter invited neighbors to join in a "just desserts" social "along with your hosts Brenda and Henry." Harris told her secretary she was in love with Lyons. Harris has since apologized to Deborah Lyons.
[Times photo: Jim Stem]


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