Doug Lyall, whose persistence in seeking answers and then legislative change after his daughter Suzanne disappeared in 1998 led to major new missing persons laws, has died.
Lyall, who was 73, died Wednesday at Saratoga Hospital. He and his wife of 50 years, Mary, lived just outside Ballston Spa in the town of Milton, and were the founders of the Center for Hope in Ballston Spa, through which they sought to help and support other families with missing children, especially college-age children.
Many families don’t know where to start in advocating for their cases, Lyall once told a Daily Gazette reporter. He said having a missing child is like the sensation of briefly losing track of a child in a store or at the mall, but having it all the time.
“When their daughter Suzanne Lyall went missing in 1998, Doug and his wife, Mary, turned their sadness and quiet desperation into a positive force for change,” said state Assemblyman James N. Tedisco, R-Glenville, who worked with the Lyalls on several legislative issues.
Suzanne, a 19-year-old student at the University of Albany, was last seen March 2, 1998. She went missing after leaving her part-time job at Crossgates Mall; she never returned to her dormitory room. Her disappearance remains unsolved despite tremendous publicity at the time and the Lyalls’ tenacious efforts over more than 15 years to bring attention to the case.
The Lyalls soon turned to advocacy work, and in 1999 were able to win passage in the state Legislature of the “Suzanne’s Law Campus Safety Act,” which requires that all colleges in the state have plans for investigating student disappearances and violent crime on campus.
Later, the couple’s work led in 2003 to a federal “Suzanne’s Law” that requires police to notify the National Crime Information Center within 24 hours when someone between the ages of 18 and 21 goes missing.
The Lyalls were also behind the planning and installation of the Missing Persons Remembrance Monument next to the State Museum in downtown Albany in 2006, and the annual Missing Persons Day ceremony held there.
Most recently, Lyall successfully pushed efforts to put pictures of missing persons and short descriptions of their cases on drink coasters used in eating and drinking establishments, in hope that that might generate leads.
Lyall was trained in counseling at Springfield College, and prior to his daughter’s disappearance worked at the Wilton Developmental Center and Capital District Psychiatric Center.
He achieved his legislative successes with a low-key style that included an ironic sense of humor, despite the horrendously painful event at the center of his life.
In addition to Suzanne, he and Mary have another daughter and a son, and one granddaughter.
“I will never forget your kindness, gentleness, wicked sense of humor and your strength over the years as you & Mary sought the answers to help you find your beloved Suzanne,” wrote one of the people who comments on the Lyalls’ Facebook page.
Calling hours will be 2 to 5 p.m. Monday at the William J. Burke & Sons/Bussing & Cunniff Funeral Homes, 628 N. Broadway, Saratoga Springs. A funeral service will be held immediately afterward at the funeral home. Burial will be private.
Donations may be made to the Center for Hope, 20 Prospect St., Ballston Spa NY 12020.