A memorial service for Elizabeth “Jing” Lyman, widow of the late Stanford President Richard W. Lyman and a key player in the creation of the university’s institute for gender research, will be held at 2 p.m. on Feb. 10 in Stanford Memorial Church.

Jing Lyman portrait

Jing Lyman, former ‘first lady’ of Stanford, was a career volunteer for a variety of causes. (Image credit: L.A. Cicero)

Jing Lyman died Nov. 21 at Channing House in Palo Alto after a 2½-year illness.

She was 88.

Jing 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 history was bound up with Stanford’s for more than 20 years, as Richard W. “Dick” Lyman rose through the professorial and administrative ranks.

Jing Lyman played an instrumental role in creating what is now the Michelle R. Clayman Institute for Gender Research at Stanford. The institute, established in 1974, is now considered one of the nation’s most distinguished research centers devoted to gender research.

“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,” Myra H. Strober, professor emerita of education at Stanford, said in February 2011, when she introduced Lyman at the year’s first lecture of the annual Jing Lyman Lecture Series.

“Jing was a key player from the beginning,” Strober said. “She told me: ‘You’re going to have to do some serious fundraising to get this going – not only from foundations, not only research grants, but also from private supporters – and I know just the people we need to ask.'”

Strober said Lyman was “a social network unto herself, long before the invention of computerized social networks.”

As the first lady of Stanford 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. You could feel that joy every time you visited Hoover House. All of the dinners Jing and Dick gave there were joyful.”

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.”

Living on campus

For the first few days after moving into Hoover House, which has more than 20 rooms, no one could figure out which bells or telephones were ringing, and the family was “always answering the wrong door,” she told the Palo Alto Times. “It’s an awful long way from anywhere to anywhere,” Lyman said. “I’ve done a lot of trudging back and forth.”

She told the Palo Alto Times that she wanted to change the image of the house from “the sacrosanct fortress on the hill” to “an expression of a vital part of the university.” She turned the living room into a showcase for displays of paintings and sculptures of faculty, students and staff.

But Lyman also said she was determined to maintain the family’s free and informal lifestyle. She told the Palo Alto Times that the living room gave the erroneous impression of being settled, but the children’s rooms and playroom looked “marvelously disheveled.”

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.

During many family vacations on an island in Penobscot Bay, Maine, Lyman painted, primarily landscapes, using watercolors, gouache or acrylics.

Friends and family said Lyman was known for her knitting, which accompanied her everywhere, including meetings and sports events. Lyman told people about her knitting, which began in high school: “This is how I focus.”

“She used to knit during meetings, engendering reactions ranging from bemusement to moral outrage,” said Christopher “Cricket” Lyman. “The sweaters that resulted were masterful examples of the technique in almost every regard – with the almost universal exception of sizing. Her sweaters were frequently several sizes too large for their intended wearer. Like Jing, they were often larger than life.”

Still, at Lyman’s 80th birthday party, which attracted more than 80 guests, everyone wore their own Jing-made sweater.

The Lymans left Stanford in 1980 when Dick Lyman became president of the Rockefeller Foundation. They returned to Stanford in 1988 – moving to downtown Palo Alto – when he was asked to develop a forum for interdisciplinary research on key international issues and challenges, a center now known as the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies. Richard W. Lyman died May 27, 2012.

In 1991, the Stanford Alumni Association gave Jing Lyman the Degree of Uncommon Woman Award and her husband the Degree of Uncommon Man Award, to honor their “unique and outstanding service to the university.” The degree is not given annually, or even at regularly prescribed intervals, but “only when it is truly appropriate to honor someone for rare and extraordinary service to the university,” according to the Alumni Association.

In 1997, Stanford honored the couple again with the opening of the Richard W. Lyman Graduate Residences and the Jing Lyman Commons, an apartment complex on the west side of campus near Governor’s Corner.

Born in Philadelphia

Jing Lyman was born Elizabeth Schauffler in Philadelphia on Feb. 23, 1925.

Her parents named her Elizabeth after a beloved aunt. 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 during a joint 2010 interview with her husband at their Palo Alto home. “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.”

When she was 8 years old, the Schauffler family moved to Washington, D.C., during the administration of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Her father worked for the National Labor Relations Board, and her mother worked for the federal Resettlement Administration.

Lyman said she used to roller-skate with friends on the marble terrace of the U.S. Supreme Court building – escapades that got her in trouble with the park police but resulted in a friendship with Chief Justice Charles Evans Hughes.

When she was 13 years old, Lyman spent a year studying at the Institut des Jeunes Filles, in Switzerland, at the urging of an aunt who lived in Paris and wanted Lyman to learn French. She arrived in 1938, the year before the outbreak of World War II. Lyman said she and her father “had a wild trip across France” when they fled Paris in 1939, heading for Bordeaux and a ship bound for the United States.

Lyman attended high school at the Putney School, a boarding school in Vermont known for its academics and its working farm. She met Dick Lyman at Swarthmore College, a small liberal arts university near Philadelphia, while they were both students. He had just returned to Swarthmore after serving three years in the Army Air Forces Weather Service.

As Dick Lyman loved to tell the story, he noticed a “gorgeous creature falling asleep in the Friends Library” and asked a friend who she was.

Jing Lyman earned a bachelor’s degree in English, with a minor in history, in 1947.

That same year, the couple married in an outdoor ceremony on Great Spruce Head Island, in Penobscot Bay, Maine, and moved to Cambridge, Mass., where Dick Lyman began his doctoral studies at Harvard. While they lived in Cambridge, Jing taught carpentry classes at the Shady Hill elementary school.

A ‘career volunteer’ for varied causes

Speaking to Stanford alumni and parents in Los Angeles in 1977, 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.”

During her lifetime, Lyman evolved from a faculty wife and community volunteer – she battled a local discriminatory housing initiative the early 1960s – to a national figure in community development and women’s economic empowerment.

In a 2010 interview in their apartment in Channing House, Jing Lyman said that the only pay she ever received for her advocacy work was an honorarium for working as a consultant for a nonprofit organization in Washington, D.C., in the early 1980s.

“That’s why I always said I married a man who could support my habit, because I never earned any money,” she said, smiling at her husband sitting opposite her.

Her volunteer work spanned a wide array of causes. Lyman battled discriminatory housing practices on the Midpeninsula; 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 (Palo Alto), Stanford Midpeninsula Urban Coalition, Women and Philanthropy (Washington, D.C.) and the National Coalition for Women’s Enterprise (New York).

Most recently, she was a member of the Women of Silicon Valley Donor Circle of the Women’s Foundation of California (San Francisco) and a trustee and member of the executive committee of Enterprise Community Partners (Maryland).

In 1998, Lyman, reflecting on her life’s work, told the Palo Alto Weekly that 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 Palo Alto 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.

In addition to her son Cricket of Searsmont, Maine, Lyman is survived by son 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.

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.