Elizabeth "Jing" Lyman, the "first lady" of Stanford University from 1970 to 1980 and an activist in her own right, died Thursday, Nov. 21, at Channing House in Palo Alto after a two-and-a-half year illness. She was 88.
Lyman, wife of Stanford's seventh president Richard Lyman, who died last year, was a key player in launching the university's institute for gender research.
She was "a social network unto herself, long before the invention of computerized social networks," said the institute's founding director Myra Strober, a labor economist and retired professor of education.
"It's not too strong to say that if it were not for Jing, there would be no Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford."
She arrived at Stanford in 1958 with her husband, who had accepted a position teaching British history, and four young children, aged 1 to 8 years old. The family was bound up with Stanford's for more than 20 years, as Richard W. "Dick" Lyman rose through the professorial and administrative ranks.
As the university's "first lady" from 1970 to 1980, she was known for her ready smile, quick wit and warmth, and as a skilled and gracious campus hostess. Friends described her as energetic, ebullient, efficient and generous with her time.
In 1976, the New York Times said Lyman was "admired for the way she has carved out a position for herself" as the wife of a university president.
"She travels with her husband, is active in fundraising, gives speeches to alumni groups and speaks out on issues such as fair housing, volunteerism and equality of opportunity for women," the newspaper said.
Friends and family said Lyman was known for her knitting, which accompanied her everywhere, including meetings and sports events. At her 80th birthday party, people wore their own Jing-made sweaters.
The Lymans left Stanford in 1980 when Dick Lyman became president of the Rockefeller Foundation. They returned in 1988 — moving to downtown Palo Alto — when he was asked to develop a forum for interdisciplinary research on international issues, now known as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies.
Jing Lyman was born Elizabeth Schauffler in Philadelphia on Feb. 23, 1925. But for reasons her mother was never able to explain, she said "Ah, the Lady Jingly Jones" when she was presented with her daughter eight hours after her birth, Lyman said. It was the name of a character in an Edward Lear nonsense rhyme.
Lyman attended high school at the Putney School, a boarding school in Vermont. She met Dick Lyman at Swarthmore College, where she earned a bachelor's degree in English, with a minor in history, in 1947. The couple married that same year.
She battled a local discriminatory housing initiative in the early 1960s and later became a national figure in community development and women's economic empowerment.
Among the many groups she helped organize and sustain were Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing, Stanford Midpeninsula Urban Coalition, Women and Philanthropy in Washington, D.C. and the National Coalition for Women's Enterprise in New York.
She was a member of the Women of Silicon Valley Donor Circle of the Women's Foundation of California in San Francisco and a trustee and member of the executive committee of Enterprise Community Partners in Maryland.
Reflecting on her life's work in a 1998 interview with the Palo Alto Weekly, Lyman said she had the ability to "get people from different walks of life, perspectives, ethnicity and gender together to serve valid community purposes over the long term. I try to help others achieve a sense of mission and focus, and to create sound organizational structures, so they can hang in there even when things start to fall apart."
Lyman told the Weekly that everyone needs to belong to something bigger than themselves. "It's participation in something bigger than self that we find self," she said.
She is survived by her sons Christopher "Cricket" Lyman of Searsmont, Maine, Timothy Lyman of New Hartford, Conn.; daughters Jennifer P. Lyman of Washington, D.C., and the Rev. Holly Lyman Antolini of Cambridge, Mass.; and four grandchildren.
Memorial services are pending. In lieu of flowers, Jing Lyman requested that donations be made in her name to the Enterprise Community Partners, an affordable housing advocacy organization, or to the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford.