Ali, the queen and another Kentucky connection

June 3, 2009

Pearse Lyons, the founder and president of Alltech, says he has arranged to take Muhammad Ali to England in August to meet Queen Elizabeth II.

His next mission: Persuade the queen to return to Kentucky in the fall of 2010 to attend the Alltech FEI World Equestrian Games.

Lyons talks with Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Windsor Horse Show last month. Alltech photo

Pearse Lyons talks with Queen Elizabeth II at the Royal Windsor Horse Show last month. Alltech photo

Lyons and his wife, Deirdre, met the queen for the first time May 15 at the Royal Windsor Horse Show, on the grounds of ancient Windsor Castle, the British monarch’s weekend home just west of London.

Nicholasville-based Alltech is the title sponsor of both the 2010 Games at the Kentucky Horse Park and the Alltech FEI European Jumping and Dressage Championships, Aug. 25-30 at Windsor.

Thanks to a new charitable foundation that Alltech has created with the Muhammad Ali Center in Louisville, Lyons said he has arranged to take the boxing icon to the horse show at Windsor.

After that, Lyons said, he hopes to take Louisville-born Ali to Lyons’ hometown of Dublin, Ireland, on Aug. 30 for a fund-raiser he is organizing for the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global and Charitable Fund.

Lyons and Ali announced the fund’s creation last month at Alltech’s 25th annual International Animal Health and Nutrition Symposium, which brought more than 1,200 people from around the world to Lexington.

Muhammad Ali and Pearse Lyons announce the charitable fund last month in Lexington. Photo by Charles Bertram

Muhammad Ali and Pearse Lyons announce the Alltech-Muhammad Ali Center Global and Charitable Fund last month. Photo by Charles Bertram

Alltech launched the charitable fund with a $50,000 gift, and Lyons said several companies have indicated interest in supporting it. The goal is to raise $500,000 before the 2010 Games. The fund will support higher education scholarships and mentoring programs as well as humanitarian and disaster relief.

Lyons said he spent more than an hour with the queen at the horse show, chatting while they watched children compete on ponies. He said he talked about his new partnership with the Ali Center.

“She seemed particularly interested in Muhammad Ali,” he said. “And she’s very much into philanthropic things.”

He also made a pitch for her to return to Kentucky, which she has visited at least five times since 1984.

Lyons thinks there’s an especially good chance she will attend the 2010 Games if her granddaughter, Zara Phillips, who won the eventing championship at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany, comes to Kentucky to defend her title.

Lyons could never be described as shy, but he said meeting the queen for the first time was intimidating, even though she was friendly and down-to-earth. Before they met, Lyons said, he thought a lot about how to begin the conversation.

“I told her, ‘Your majesty, I have been disappointed in you since 1953,'” Lyons said. “To which she replied, ‘Whatever for?’

“So I explained that as a young boy my brother and I went to London. My mum and dad were going on to France, and so they left us with an aunt of ours in London. And my aunt explained that she would bring us to see the queen and then we would have tea.”

It was the queen’s coronation day, but the Lyons boys just assumed they were having tea with her personally.

Instead, they were taken to the coronation parade, where they saw her ride by in a coach.

“I said, ‘I waved at you along with hundreds and thousands of others, and then we had tea in a tea shop.'” Lyons said.

“‘Oh, how disappointing,'” she said. “‘We shall have to rectify that.'”

Lyons doesn’t know if that means he will have tea with the queen when he returns to Windsor Castle in August. But if he has Muhammad Ali with him, the odds would seem better than they once were for an Irish lad of 8.