Joe Lyman

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On Monday, Aug. 19, Joe Lyman of Washington, D.C.

He was 100 years old and practiced law well into his 80s in the District of Columbia and elsewhere. Lyman was born in Boise, Idaho, in 1912 where his father was an engineer on the government’s Arrowrock Dam on the Boise River. He was one of five siblings with three brothers and a sister. He moved to D.C. as a toddler and attended D.C. public schools, graduating from the Central High School in 1931 where he was an award-winning diver in interscholastic competitions on the swimming team in 1929 through 1931.


Lyman attended Brown University on a full athletic scholarship and was awarded numerous medals in competition before graduating in 1935. He might have been selected for the 1936 U.S. Olympic team but was disqualified because he had accepted payment for some exhibition diving he had done, a violation of the Olympic rules. Lyman then transferred to George Washington University Law School but passed the D.C. Bar before graduation and began practicing law before completing law school. He worked in the then-small Civil Rights Division in the Justice Department where he was a special assistant attorney general who in 1941 prosecuted one of the last cases in the U.S. about slavery and violation of the 13th Amendment. When World War II began, he enlisted in the U.S. Coast Guard where he attended officers’ candidate school. He served aboard an anti-submarine patrol craft protecting convoys in the South Atlantic and was discharged in 1948 with the rank of lieutenant.

After the war, now married to Sylvia Silk from New York City, a girl he had met while he was doing exhibition diving, he returned to Washington and went into private law practice. Lyman is probably best remembered in the legal profession for his work on employment issues involving self-employed sales people in the direct selling industry. Over the years he represented the Direct Selling Association, appliance and home services salesmen and shrimp fisherman. He also argued cases in the federal courts, up to and including the Supreme Court. He was in private practice handling both criminal and civil cases with an expertise in tax law. Lyman’s last law firm was Lyman and Rales where he was also of-counsel to Washington’s Danaher Corporation.

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Joe and Sylvia were founding members of the Indian Springs Country Club, and he described himself as a not very outstanding golfer. His wife, Sylvia, and son, Michael, both predeceased him. He is survived by a younger sister, Florence Kougell of Queens, New York, as well as nieces and nephews.

Memorial contributions may be made to the Temple Shalom Endowment, the Jewish War Veterans or another veteran’s organization or a charity of your choice.


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