Tom Lyden has dedicated the past three decades to exposing crooks and con men, making him one of the trusted investigative reporters in the Twin Cities. Now he's taking time to dig deeper into himself.
On Thursday, Lyden will leave Fox 9 News. It's largely so he can be his 86-year-old mother's primary caretaker near Mariposa, a small, picturesque town in California, where the most buzzed about crime on any given afternoon may be jacked up prices at the local diner.
But the departure is also a chance for Lyden to go off the grid for a while and set up the next chapter of his life.
"I am really struggling with who I am when I'm not Tom Lyden, Fox 9 investigator," he said last week during a one-hour chat in the Star Tribune newsroom where he shed tears seven times. "I don't know. Maybe I'll find out."
Lyden, who turns 58 on Sept. 26, arrived in Minnesota in 1993 after a three-year stint as a crime reporter in Green Bay. When he drove into the Twin Cities for his job interview, he saw the skyline and wondered aloud if he might not be ready to make the transition. His companion informed him that they were only tooling through St. Paul.
"When we got to Minneapolis, I really thought I was in over my head," he said, fiddling with his sunglasses.
He quickly became a key player in Fox 9's evolution into becoming a major media force in the market. Some of the most significant stories during his tenure included an exposé on the practices of the River Road Fellowship cult and the failures of former Archbishop John Nienstedt. He also reported on national stories like Hurricane Katrina and the search for serial killer Andrew Cunanan.
"Tom means as much to us as he does to the rest of the Twin Cities," said Fox 9's general manager Mim Davey. "He may be the most deeply sourced reporter Minnesota has ever had. He's kind, but tough. He was the guy that regular people turned to when they had no hope."
Lyden had gotten into the habit of dealing with other people's tragedies without suffering much personal loss himself. But the death of his cat a few years ago affected him so sharply, he started going to therapy.
His dad, Thomas Anthony Lyden, died in January 2022 after an eight-month battle with lung cancer. A few months later, he lost his aunt, who had lived next door to his parents.
His first thought was to quit Fox and immediately become a full-time caretaker for his mom, Bobby (Barbara) Lyden, who suffers from severe hearing loss.
"I'm an only kid," said Lyden, who sold his Lake Harriet neighborhood home last year and moved into his aunt's home, along with his husband, Fred Ohlerking. "I always knew this was part of the bargain."
Davey convinced him to try working remotely, which he has done since his dad died. But it got to be too much.
"If you're a caregiver and your mind is on something else, you can become resentful," he said. "But now that I'm all in, it's easy and nice."
Several high-profile media personalities have recently left the market to focus on tending to loved ones. KARE 11's Pat Evans made that choice in 2020 and now lives in Palm Springs, Calif. Minnesota Public Radio's John Wanamaker, who is close with Lyden, is leaving the radio station this week to be closer to his parents-in-law in Iowa.
Lyden said recent events have played a role in how he approaches both his work and his life. His one-time rivalry with Jeff Baillon, a Fox 9 investigator who retired in 2019, has now transitioned into a friendship. He's less inclined to blow his top.
"I'm still very competitive, but some of the bull attached to competitiveness isn't there anymore," he said. "I don't think I'm as angry as I used to be. It does make for good TV, but once you're angry, you've lost the argument and the impartiality. I've kind of traded that for calmly hammering away with the same questions. That's much more effective."
It's unclear how much of the new tactics he'll apply to future stories. He may eventually produce some freelance pieces in the Mariposa area, which isn't far from Yosemite National Park and Sacramento. He's not opposed to focusing on less stressful stories, like travel tips for retirement magazines.
Those who know him best doubt he'll be able to stay away from hard news for very long.
"He'll be doing something in journalism in the very near future," Wanamaker said. "You cannot keep a guy like that down."
Davey is holding out hope that Lyden will someday return. In the meantime, she said her newsroom is committed to investigative journalism and that they are in the process of "rebuilding" its team.
Fox 9 is planning a special tribute to Lyden that will run during the 9 p.m. broadcast on Thursday. Lyden has put together a package that reflects on his 30 years in the Twin Cities and that also looks at how parental care has affected so many of his generation.
But Lyden won't be in studio. That would be too emotional.
"You saw me," he said, crying one more time before calling for an Uber. "That's what it would turn into."