Obituaries

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Carolyn Lynch, 69; philanthropist with a passion for bridge

Carolyn Lynch at The Bridge Spot in Woburn in May. Bridge was her favorite pastime, and she was a grand life master.
Suzanne Kreiter/Globe Staff/File
Carolyn Lynch at The Bridge Spot in Woburn in May. Bridge was her favorite pastime, and she was a grand life master.

Carolyn Lynch attended a school where her father served as principal, giving her insights into education through a direct family connection. No surprise, then, that as she and her husband, Peter, aimed much of their philanthropy at improving learning, one program was designed to help principals mentor each other.

“The isolation is inherent in the job, and we’re hoping to eliminate that,” she told the Globe in 2010 when they launched the Lynch Leadership Academy at Boston College’s Lynch School of Education.

As leader of the Lynch Foundation, she took a comprehensive approach to choosing beneficiaries of her family’s philanthropy, visiting grant finalists to understand their aspirations.

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Mrs. Lynch was just as detailed when she turned playing bridge into a passion. Drawn by the game’s intellectual challenges, she won national championships, attained a grand life master ranking, and traveled internationally to tournaments.

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“It makes me happy,” she told the Globe earlier this year. “If you gave me a dish of ice cream or the ability to play bridge for an hour, I’d choose bridge every time, even though I love ice cream.”

Mrs. Lynch, who was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia about two weeks ago, died Thursday of complications from the illness. She was 69 and lived in Marblehead.

Along with Peter Lynch, who guided the Fidelity Magellan Fund from a $20 million portfolio to $14 billion before retiring to focus on family and charitable giving, Mrs. Lynch was one of Greater Boston’s most visible and generous philanthropists. Yet she brought to her work a down-to-earth sensibility honed during a childhood in an educator’s household. Her father had been her chemistry teacher, too, and she graduated in a high school class of only 40 before attending the University of Pennsylvania.

“The whole city is mourning,” said her longtime friend Jack Connors, a philanthropist who was a founder of the Boston advertising firm Hill Holliday. “Carolyn led by example and gave so much of her time, talent, and treasure to create opportunities for the least fortunate among us. It’s hard not to love someone like that, and she was admired for her generosity, her intelligence, and her wonderful heart.”

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Robert Kraft, owner of the New England Patriots, said that “Carolyn was a very regal lady who exuded class. She had a passion and love of life and humanity that she exhibited in everything from her beloved children, grandchildren, and especially her love of Peter. Her leadership of the foundation did so many great things for so many people that we don’t even know about, but most importantly, her leadership did so much for the youth of Boston, both with the charter schools and the Catholic schools.”

Mrs. Lynch and her husband endowed a lab in her name at the University of Pennsylvania, and the Lynch School of Education at Boston College, her husband’s undergraduate alma mater, is named for them, but much of their philanthropy benefited students in urban programs, charter schools, and Catholic schools from Beverly to Dorchester to New Bedford.

“Carolyn Lynch dedicated her life to helping children realize their potential, especially those coming from underprivileged circumstances,” said Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley. “Through her passionate commitment to education, Carolyn provided countless young women and men the opportunity to achieve new levels of success.”

The oldest of three daughters, Carolyn Ann Hoff was born in Philadelphia and spent her early childhood in rural Pennsylvanian communities before moving with her family to Felton, Del., south of Dover.

She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied physics and physiology. As a sophomore she met Peter Lynch, a graduate student at the Wharton School. “She was wicked smart,” he recalled.

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“The hard part was winning her, because there was a lot of competition,” he added. “She was really gorgeous. I had to fight off a lot of guys to win the battle. She was just amazing.”

Their time together at Penn was comparatively brief because he left to serve as an Army officer in Texas. “I wrote a postcard every day,” he said. “I actually wrote a letter to her to propose.” They wed in 1968.

She initially took a medical research job in Delaware and then was a physical therapist until after her second child was born. She worked with children with cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy, and with veterans who had undergone amputations.

In 1988, she became president of the Lynch Foundation. Institutions and programs she and her husband endowed include the Carolyn Lynch Laboratory at the University of Pennsylvania and the Lynch School of Education at Boston College. “For us, BC’s special strength is that it’s helping children to succeed at the primary and secondary levels,” she told the BC Chronicle in 1999, when she and her husband contributed $10 million. “BC generates teachers who do this every day.”

Boston College was one of three institutions that awarded Mrs. Lynch an honorary doctorate. “Carolyn believed in the importance of education and was deeply committed to its advancement,” said the Rev. William P. Leahy, BC’s president. “Along with her husband Peter, she has left a lasting legacy.”

She was “one of the original social entrepreneurs,” Connors said. “She went out to find the best and brightest ideas and figured out how to encourage collaboration.”

In addition to her husband, Mrs. Lynch leaves their three daughters, Mary Lynch Witkowski of Brookline, Annie Carolyn Lukowski of Los Angeles, and Elizabeth de Montrichard of Boston; two sisters, Melanie Rapp of Dover, Del., and Madalin O’Brien of Reading, Pa.; and five grandchildren.

After an accident left her less able to get out for a while, Mrs. Lynch rekindled an interest in bridge. She originally took it up in college because “it was cheap. It was free. It was the only thing we could do that didn’t cost a dime,” she recalled earlier this year.

She approached her daily two hours of playing and tournaments with a goal of making fewer mistakes than the day before. “Every time I sat down to play I was happy,” she said.

Such pleasure and persistence brought her the highest ranking in the American Contract Bridge League, the game’s North American governing body. “Some people read books. Some people take walks,” she said. “I play bridge.”

Sacha Pfeiffer of the Globe staff contributed to this report. Bryan Marquard can be reached at bmarquard@globe.com.