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In Memoriam: Lucia Woods Lindley (1937-2020) — Friend, Photographer, and Philanthropist

In Memoriam: Lucia Woods Lindley (1937-2020) — Friend, Photographer, and Philanthropist

Tuesday, December 29, 2020

The Willa Cather Foundation has lost a dear friend and supporter in Lucia Woods Lindley, who passed away at her home in New York City on December 14, 2020, followed by her husband Daniel Allen Lindley, Jr. on December 18.

An active and generous philanthropist in Chicago, New York, and Nebraska, Woods Lindley is perhaps best known to Cather enthusiasts for her exquisite landscape and intimate interior photography in Willa Cather: A Pictorial Memoir. Published for the centenary of Cather’s birth in 1873 with the University of Nebraska Press, the book was a collaborative effort with her friend and Cather scholar Bernice Slote.

Ashley Olson, executive director, initially met Woods Lindley at a Willa Cather Spring Conference over a decade ago: “What first struck me about Lucia was her sophistication and charm; she was also very astute.”

As a former member of the WCF Board of Governors, Woods Lindley encouraged the Foundation to accept the gift of the Red Cloud Opera House and to embark on a major campaign to restore it. Years later, she encouraged the construction of a state-of-the-art archive as a major component of the National Willa Cather Center.

“Lucia had a vision for what the Foundation could and should be, and she wasn't shy about asking the tough questions, making critical assessments, and encouraging everyone involved to take things to the next level,” Olson added. “I have missed her phone calls, complete with her sharp-witted series of questions.”

Many memories and tributes have been shared with us, and to other foundations of which Woods Lindley gave her time and immense talents. Board of Governors member and retired English professor, Steve Shively recalls that both Dan and Lucia were “generous, convivial members” of the Cather community. “Lucia’s photographs have added to Cather’s work for many of us, and they have drawn new fans to the cause. Dan was a wonderful teacher and teacher of teachers…(they) brought a deep knowledge of Cather and her world to conversations and more formal occasions, and they were interesting, intelligent people.”

Woods Lindley’s contribution of $250,000 was the needed impetus for the 2003 restoration of the Red Cloud Opera House. Betty Kort, then board president, said at the time: “The gift will bring joy and the relief to the larger Cather community and validate the faith so many have placed in the project, With the renovation of the Opera House, we will be providing a center for the arts and education and preserving a historical site vital to Willa Cather’s development as an artist.”

At the time of her gift, Woods Lindley wrote that her decision “came from a love for Willa Cather’s writing” as well as “my family’s history with Cather and the WCPM, in particular, my father’s relationship with Mildred Bennett, my memories of Bernice Slote, Virginia Faulkner, Jo Frisbie and JoAnna Lathrop, respect for the Mountfords, the Obitz's, Helen Cather Southwick and others, out of my work in the area as a photographer and a board member, [and] many experiences in the larger Cather world.”

Woods Lindley was engaged in the early development of the Willa Cather Pioneer Memorial (now the Willa Cather Foundation). The Woods family had a long history with the Willa Cather Foundation and Woods Lindley was a member of the Board of Governors for more than twenty years. In 1974, the Woods Charitable Fund, started by her grandfather in Lincoln, Nebraska, provided a grant of $218,000 to enable the Nature Conservancy to purchase the 612-acre Willa Cather Memorial Prairie and to provide an endowment for its management and maintenance.

Advisory Council member Ron Hull described Lucia as “a unique, singular person, a perfectionist in every endeavor she chose to pursue.” He recalled that Woods Lindley “brought careful and inspired insight to the Cather Foundation Board of Governors, and her sense of style and sophistication significantly contributed to the work achieved.”

Woods Lindley’s evocative photography has been exhibited throughout the country and in London and a collection of her prints are housed at the Art Institute of Chicago

Her obituary states: “She was driven by her own exceptional standards of quality. Her devotion to the meaning of journey informed her life. She believed, with T.S. Eliot, that ‘We shall not cease from exploration,’ and she lived the truth of what Willa Cather wrote: ‘Seeking itself is the way.’ All of us who knew her will treasure our memories of that spirit in Lucia.”

Lucia and Dan were married for 42 years. Their combined creative, educational, and philanthropic endeavors were exemplary, and they will be missed by everyone in the Cather community.

A forthcoming tribute from Ann Romines on her friend Lucia Woods Lindley will appear in a future issue of the Willa Cather Review. Many people in the Cather community have recently made gifts to the Willa Cather Foundation in Lucia’s memory. If you are so inclined, you may donate here


OBITUARIES in The New York Times: