Jing Lyman, activist and wife of former Stanford president, dies at 88

Called 'social network unto herself,' she helped start women's research center

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."

Lyman 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, Lyman 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.

"She loved to laugh," said Strober, who met Lyman in 1972 when Strober was an assistant professor. "She laughed at life itself. She loved to laugh when she was excited. She loved to laugh when she discovered a new intellectual insight. Life was just joyous for her and her laughter was a reflection of that."

Strober said Jing Lyman always insisted that visitors wear nametags at functions at Hoover House, the Stanford president's residence.

"Jing knew so many people and so many people knew her that she was fearful lest she momentarily forget someone's name," Strober said. "It was a metaphor for who she was. She wanted to respect and acknowledge every person as an individual."

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.

"The name stuck and I was called Jingly as a kid," Lyman said in a 2010 interview. "Later, I shortened it to Jing. I changed schools several times, and every time I changed schools I tried different diminutives of Elizabeth -- Liz, Libby, Betsy, Bess. I'd last about two weeks and then I'd decide it wasn't me."

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.

Lyman described herself as a "career volunteer," defining the concept as "a significant life work that demands focused energy, develops increasing competence and results in a recognizable sphere of influence."

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.

Lyman worked to increase philanthropic funding for programs aimed at girls and women nationwide and promoted self-employment, entrepreneurship and job creation for women of all ages, cultures and income levels in the United States and abroad.

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.

— Palo Alto Weekly Staff


Like this comment
Posted by Henrietta J. Burroughs
a resident of Charleston Meadows
on Nov 25, 2013 at 10:52 am

It is so sad to hear that Jing Lyman has died. Through her participation in activities to benefit others, she really practiced the idea, that is attributed to her, about belonging to something bigger than one's self. If what she said is true: "It's participation in something bigger than self that we find self," then she found herself many times over and she came face to face with someone who epitomized the best.

Like this comment
Posted by Nora Charles
a resident of Stanford
on Nov 25, 2013 at 3:46 pm

What a life beautifully lived! I wish I'd known her.

Like this comment
Posted by Joy and Herb Kaiser
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 26, 2013 at 9:18 am

The Palo Alto Weekly's obituary conveys a true picture of the Jing Lyman we have known since student days at Swarthmore. Jing was so much and more--a dynamo:fairness and social justice with no boundaries. And almost always with a smile. That was Jing! "Ms. Voluntarism". She knit her way across air-miles and air-miles en route to Board meetings or for site visits and through hours and hours of Board discussions -- and always had the relevant comment or insight. In 1985 when we wanted to start a non-profit to support black South Africans in health care training(MESAB, Jing gave us invaluble advice how to proceed -- and opened doors to potential support.

The world is poorer without Jing.

Like this comment
Posted by Pat Krackov
a resident of The Greenhouse
on Nov 26, 2013 at 9:22 am

I had the privilege of participating with Jing in the Women of Silicon Valley Donor Circle. She always asked the "hard" questions, and made the rest of us think. She was patient and inclusive, and yes, she was always knitting.

She was quite a woman. What a loss to know she is gone.

Like this comment
Posted by Edith Eddy
a resident of Midtown
on Nov 27, 2013 at 7:09 pm

As fellow Swarthmore "Quaker Matchbox" couples, Jing and Dick welcomed my husband Jeb and me to Stanford and Palo Alto when we first arrived in 1971. Over the years Jing was friend, mentor, cheerleader and model, and I will be forever grateful for her generous spirit, her enthusiasm and courage, and her abiding interest in other people and their causes. She loved life, fought fiercely for women and girls, and added value to every organization she worked for.

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