On Deadline: Dick and Jing Lyman personified 'the power of one,' multiplied
The death of Richard W. Lyman May 27 is more than the passing of a former Stanford University president and noted historian — even one who was said to be the man "who saved Stanford" during a decade of political tumult and financial crisis for the university.
His death also marks the sad break-up of one of the most remarkable couples I've ever known, simply "Dick and Jing" to their friends and many admirers and associates.
Jing, at 87, survives Dick, along with their four children. Yet she stood out in her own right, before, during and after the decade Lyman served as Stanford's president, 1970-1980. Her advocacy of women's rights and fair housing was in distinct contrast to most Stanford "first ladies," a role she also fulfilled with graciousness and energy.
While Dick Lyman dealt with student demonstrations, destructive sit-ins, ending "the Indian" as Stanford's mascot, and rebuilding Stanford's financial-support base, Jing Lyman became deeply involved in woman's rights and gender equality, as well as having a lesser known but high-impact role in fair housing.
Both were lightning rods for controversy, and demonstrated personal courage to match their convictions. Separately they demonstrated the power of positive actions to effect change, and their mutual support multiplied their effectiveness.
As a couple, married in 1947 in Maine, their mutual commitment to building a better, more intelligent and kinder future easily matched their sense of history and caring for people.
(Details of their lives are available online, including at www.paloaltoonline.com for Dick and gender.stanford.edu for Jing).
But their presence at Stanford and in the Palo Alto community touched so many people that personal memories tend to overshadow their formal histories. They emanated goodwill, a vital core of their leadership.
I got to know them while reporting for the former Palo Alto Times during the 1970s, when I covered demonstrations and sit-ins at Stanford — including spending considerable time inside the occupation of the office of former Stanford President J.E. Wallace Sterling, before it was later torched.
Lyman as president took a hard line against destructive demonstrators while defending freedom of speech, including the right of students to invite Angela Davis to speak.
In other words, he outraged the extremes of both left and right.
Meanwhile, Jing established her own strong presence in equality for women and equality in housing. I had repeated contacts with her as a reporter covering such issues, and was impressed with both the strength of her convictions and her eloquent effectiveness.
She came by her social consciousness naturally: Her mother worked in the Franklin Roosevelt administration helping to resettle rural families displaced by the Great Depression. Her great-great grandfather was a cleric in Vermont who founded one of the first co-educational schools in America, and a great aunt founded a girls' school for French war orphans.
The Lymans relocated from the East Coast to the Stanford/Palo Alto area in the late 1950s, when he accepted a position at Stanford teaching British history — beginning his rise to academic prominence and leadership.
Jing was propelled into political activism in the mid-1960s by Proposition 14, a state constitutional amendment to overturn the 1963 Rumford Fair Housing Act, named for the only Northern California African-American member of the state Legislature. The initiative measure, sponsored by the California Real Estate Association and endorsed by the California Republican Assembly and ultra-conservative John Birch Society, was to overturn the Rumford Act and allow landlords to rent — or more to the point NOT rent — to anyone. The amendment won by a 2/3rds vote, but was declared unconstitutional by the state Supreme Court in 1966 and the U.S. Supreme Court in 1967, leaving Prop. 14 as an historical footnote.
But Jing's activism had been activated. After she organized a Midpeninsula group to fight Prop. 14, she recruited about 1,500 persons to join the newly formed Midpeninsula Citizens for Fair Housing, or MCFH, which still exists.
One MCFH program was called the "sandwich test" of fair housing practices throughout region. The test typically consisted of a white couple, an African-American couple, and a second white couple — matched economically and in family composition — visiting an apartment complex or real estate firm about an hour apart, and filing reports on what they were told and how they were treated.
A surprisingly frequent result was that the minority applicants reported being treated with extreme courtesy while being told there were no vacancies or quoted rents substantially higher than those quoted to the white couples. I once wrote that the sweet hypocrisy resembled a "marshmallow wall."
The testing resulted in increased enforcement of fair-housing laws by the state and huge changes in rental practices.
But Jing's activism on housing was overshadowed for many by her advocacy of women's rights and her deepening involvement within the Stanford community as her husband assumed the presidency.
She became a leader in the Stanford Faculty Women's Club, hosting meetings at her home and pushing programs to help women qualify for education and jobs, and advocating promotion of women to tenure-track positions. During Dick Lyman's presidency, she hosted hundreds of receptions at the Hoover House on campus. And he supported her in return.
"I didn't want to put Dick or anyone else in an awkward position," she said in a 2010 interview. "But he was incredibly supportive. I've always said that he was a feminist long before I dared call myself one."
She was a co-founder and active fundraiser for Stanford's first Center for Research on Women in 1974 and beyond, which later evolved into the Clayman Institute for Gender Research. Both organizations created lecture series in Jing's name, one of the many honors bestowed on her and Dick — including parallel designations by Stanford as "Uncommon Man" and "Uncommon Woman."
Yet one incident stands out to me as demonstrating their lifelong interest in the well-being of people. In 1996 I helped arrange an appearance at Gunn High School by Mary Pipher, author of the pivotal book, "Reviving Ophelia," on the erosion of self-image among adolescent girls. On my way to the lecture, I met Dick and Jing walking away. It was a full house at Spangenberg Auditorium. Appalled, the next day I arranged for a VHS tape to be delivered to them at home.
There will be many Dick and Jing stories shared by friends, family and associates far closer to them than I. But this demonstration of continuing interest in the well-being of girls, long into their "retirement" years, is a testament to the enduring humanity of their rich lives.
Former Weekly Editor Jay Thorwaldson can be emailed at email@example.com with a copy to firstname.lastname@example.org. His blogs can be read at www.PaloAltoOnline.com, under Town Square.