BY KATE MILEWSKI
TRAVERSE CITY – Paula Schmaltz Lyons and her daughter, Brianne Elizabeth Lyons, were supposed to be traveling home to Traverse City from South Africa today.
Instead, they’ll be mourned at a memorial service on Monday.
Paula, 58, and Brianne, 29, died in a car crash near Rustenburg, South Africa, on Oct. 19. Matt Lyons, Brianne’s father and Paula’s former husband, said a truck “evidently veered into their lane and hit them head on.” The family was notified by the U.S. consulate in Pretoria, he said.
Brianne had been in the Rustenburg area doing mission work for Youth with a Mission, an international Christian volunteer organization. Grace Lyons said her sister had long been involved with missionary efforts, and spent time in Ireland, Romania and most recently, South Africa. Brianne graduated from Traverse City Christian School in 2001.
“She just felt the call for it,” Grace said. “She was doing what she loved to do.”
Brianne was artistic in spirit and loved to cook and spend time with friends.
“For a couple of years she was a nanny,” Grace said. “She loved kids. She was always kind of waiting for the right guy and to have a family.”
Paula was a therapist at Community Mental Health in Traverse City. She made her first trip to South Africa several weeks ago to spend time with Brianne. The two were to travel back at the same time and planned to arrive in Traverse City today.
“She had always wanted to go visit Brianne and see what she was doing,” Grace said. “She finally got the opportunity.”
Bradley J. Will, supervisor of emergency services and outpatient therapy at Community Mental Health, said Paula talked for months about the trip.
“She told us way back in the spring that she was thinking about the trip … and she kept us apprised of all the progress she was making getting her passport, getting the shots, getting the suitcase and packing her bag,” he said. “This was the trip of a lifetime.”
Paula returned to college several years ago, and earned a graduate degree in counseling through Western Michigan University at the Northwestern Michigan College University Center.
“She had always wanted to get her master’s,” Grace said. “Her final step was she went out and did it.”
Will described Paula as gentle, with a big heart and ready smile. Her CMH clients have been notified and many are expected to attend a memorial the agency will hold this afternoon for clients and staff.
“A lot of them we’ve talked to have said they plan to come,” Will said. “I guess it’s important to them and it’s important to us, as well. We need this.”
Grace said she could talk to her sister and mother about anything.
“She was my only sister, that special bond,” she said of Brianne. “There were things she could have taught me or told me that I’ll never be able to hear.”
Of her mother, she said, “She was somebody I could always call and talk to if I needed something.”
Paula Lyons also had a son, Timothy, 26.
A memorial service for mother and daughter will be held at New Hope Community Church in Williamsburg on Monday at 3 p.m.
City editor Kathy Gibbons contributed to this article.