From the beginning, long before she attended the University of Pennsylvania on an academic scholarship, Carolyn Lynch saw firsthand the impact education could have on lives. Her father was an educator, and at different points had been her chemistry teacher and her school principal. She graduated in a high school class of only 40.
Years later, when she and her husband, Peter, had the financial means to make a philanthropic difference, she focused much of her efforts on education. As president of the Lynch Foundation, she searched for programs that would have the biggest impact, many of which involved schools. She and her husband also endowed a laboratory in her name at the University of Pennsylvania, and the School of Education at Boston College, her husband’s undergraduate alma mater, is named for both of them.
“Carolyn was one of the original social entrepreneurs,” said her longtime friend Jack Connors, a philanthropist who was a founder of the Boston advertising firm Hill Holliday. “She wasn’t satisfied with writing generous checks. Instead, she went out to find the best and brightest ideas and figured out how to encourage collaboration. … She didn’t do any of this the easy way; she personally visited the schools and programs who were finalists for Lynch Foundation grants and made sure that she understood their strengths.”
Less than two weeks ago, Mrs. Lynch was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia, and died this morning of complications from the illness. She was 69 and lived in Marblehead.
Content to work tirelessly and quietly, she left the spotlight for her husband, who shepherded the Fidelity Magellan Fund from a $20 million portfolio to $14 billion before retiring in his mid-40s to focus on their family and philanthropy.
After their three daughters were grown, Mrs. Lynch invested more time on charitable giving, and a longtime passion for playing bridge. She became a grand life master, the highest ranking players can achieve in the American Contract Bridge League, the game’s North American governing body.
“I’m really pretty happy with my life, but I’ve never done anything I’m really great at,” Mrs. Lynch told the Globe earlier this year. “I’ve always been kind of average, so it’s odd to be 60-something-years-old and find out you’re good at something.”
Those who knew Mrs. Lynch well, however, saw her as anything but average.
“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. Our world is a better place because of her efforts so generously given on behalf of others.”
Until her second child was born, Mrs. Lynch had been a physical therapist, working with children with cystic fibrosis and cerebral palsy, and with veterans who had undergone amputations.
In 1988, she became the leader of the Lynch Foundation. The institutions and programs she and her husband supported and 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 Boston College Chronicle in 1999, when she and her husband contributed $10 million to the school. “BC generates teachers who do this every day.”
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., a dozen miles south of Dover.
At UPenn, she double-majored in physics and physiology. As a sophomore, she met her future husband, who was engaged in business graduate studies at the Wharton School, and whom she married in 1968. “She was wicked smart,” he recalled.
“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.”
In addition to her husband, Mrs. Lynch leaves their three daughters, Mary Lynch Witkowski of Brookline, Annie Carolyn Lukowski of Los Angles, and Elizabeth de Montrichard of Boston; two sisters, Melanie Rapp of Dover, Del., and Madalin O’Brien of Reading, Pa.; and five grandchildren.
A private service will be held.
“The whole city is mourning,” Connors said. “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.”
A full obituary will be available in the print version of The Boston Globe.
Bryan Marquard can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.