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Lynn Wolff, 60; brought color and zest into lives of others

Ms. Wolff cofounded Copley Wolff Design Group. Among her projects was the Therapeutic Walking Trail at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.
Ms. Wolff cofounded Copley Wolff Design Group. Among her projects was the Therapeutic Walking Trail at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital.Copley Wolff Design Group

When Lynn Wolff planted anything in a garden – a robust flower or something with a more tenuous future – she would stand upon finishing and address her work with a voice that was always poised to fill a room with laughter. “Good luck,” she’d say. “Do your best.”

She offered the same encouragement to people and projects she encountered while cultivating a lifetime of friendships and creating some of the region’s most welcoming spaces. As president and a principal of Copley Wolff Design Group in Boston, the landscape architecture firm she cofounded, Ms. Wolff created a portfolio that ranged geographically from the Wharf District Parks in the Rose Kennedy Greenway to the David Goudy Science Park at the Montshire Museum in Norwich, Vt., overlooking the Connecticut River.

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The emotional scope of her work was as far-reaching. On Wednesdays, she arranged flowers that greeted the poor and homeless who gather at Women’s Lunch Place in the Back Bay. She designed a healing garden at the University of Vermont Medical Center in Burlington and the therapeutic walking trail at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown.

Until her firm got involved at Spaulding, architects initially “didn’t realize the value of the site in their mission,” she told Healthcare Design magazine in 2013. Ms. Wolff, whose own life was nourished by a love of the outdoors, infused the finished project with an opportunity to “get the patients outside and interacting with the community” – crafting a space with benches overlooking the water and flowers in warmer months.

Ms. Wolff, who combined a seriousness of purpose with a serious pursuit of fun, died March 20, the day after turning 60, in Kaplan Family Hospice House in Danvers of cancer that had metastasized. She had lived in Boston for many years.

Her husband, David Newton, who met Ms. Wolff when they started out at Cornell University, recalled that even then “she was a dean’s list student, but she never missed a party.”

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Therein lay Ms. Wolff’s magnetism, from childhood through running a design firm. A driving force at Copley Wolff, she was a mentor to designers and taught by example. “She brought a complete compassion to the work itself,” said the firm’s cofounder, John Copley. “Her design work was based on how people were going to use spaces. She really was a conduit for our clients’ expectations.”

In the office, she also “was the minister of fun, and she was the queen of color,” Copley said. “There are 10 different colors on the walls, and that’s because of her.” When birthdays of employees rolled around, she insisted that each wear a crown while eating a slice of cake. One Christmastime when higher-profile clients visited, she cleared off tables and “people who were captains of industry and consultants had little scissors and glue guns to make ornaments for Christmas trees,” Copley recalled.

“It was always fun to be with Lynn because you knew you were going to get into a little bit of trouble and have a lot of fun and were going to have a lot of great stories after it was done,” said Cary Friberg of Moretown, Vt., who had been Ms. Wolff’s roommate at Cornell.

During college “she attracted misfits,” Friberg added. “She attracted them, she looked for them, and she loved befriending them. She really didn’t go for finding the prettiest and the most handsome necessarily. It really was the most interesting people she wanted to be around. I think they blossomed when they were around her.”

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Ms. Wolff, Friberg said, “was absolutely beautiful to behold and she had a huge laugh and a very big smile. She just had it all and people wanted to be around her.”

The youngest of four children, Ms. Wolff grew up in Delmont, east of Pittsburgh. Her mother, the former Jacqueline Moyer, was a guidance counselor, and her father, John Wolff Jr., was an engineer who work-ed in computer management.

As a child, Ms. Wolff loved flowers and drew daisies on everything. “From the time she was a little girl, she had a sense of color, of shape and form, and of design,” said her sister Jill Bruno Hatzis of Shelton, Conn.

“She also had a knack for developing friends of all types from all walks of life from early on, and all through high school and college,” added Jill, who said of Ms. Wolff and her husband, David: “I honestly don’t know of any other two people I’ve met who have the quality and number of friends that they have. It’s just remarkable.”

On Ms. Wolff’s first day at Cornell, David Newton introduced himself after spotting her across a cafeteria. Somewhat reluctantly, she agreed to accompany him and his friends out that evening. They proceeded to date for a decade that included meeting his parents at Thanksgiving their freshman year. As a landscape architecture major, she drove a 1964 red pickup truck, and his parents “kind of assumed she’d show up with overalls on and a pitchfork,” he said. Instead they were bowled over by her beauty. “She’s unbelievable,” his father said after Ms. Wolff drove off. David proposed on St. Patrick’s Day in 1984.

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They skied at Sugarbush Resort in Vermont, near a vacation home, and spent time at Kings-wood Lake, east of New Hampshire’s Lake Winnipesaukee.

The Therapeutic Walking Trail at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown.
The Therapeutic Walking Trail at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital in Charlestown. Luke O'Neill

Ms. Wolff graduated from Cornell in 1978 with a bachelor’s degree in landscape architecture and received a master’s three years later from the Harvard Graduate School of Design. She served as president of the Boston Society of Landscape Architects and as a commissioner of the Boston Civic Design Commission, and was a fellow of the American Society of Landscape Architects.

“She had a way of making people happy around her,” her husband said, adding that at work and in all parts of her life “she loved nothing more than to make things beautiful.”

In addition to her husband and sister, Ms. Wolff leaves two brothers, John III of South Burlington, Vt., and Jeffrey of Fox Chapel, Pa. Family and friends will gather to celebrate Ms. Wolff’s life at 11 a.m. April 30 in Old South Church in Boston, a date chosen to ensure spring flowers will be in bloom.

“I feel so lucky and so grateful that she was in my life,” said Jennifer Volpe, who met Ms. Wolff 30 years ago through their husbands.

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“It’s a terrible loss, but I feel lucky still. I think she really taught me how to be a good friend,” said Volpe, who added that Ms. Wolff “was so accomplished in everything she did, but she was so encouraging of other people with what they wanted to do, or where they wanted to go in their lives. I know everyone thinks their best friend is special, but she really was in all ways.”

Adventurous even in illness, Ms. Wolff signed up with Friberg nearly a year ago for a yoga meditation retreat to be held in January. The catch? It was in Guatemala. “That was typical Lynn: ‘An adventure? Let’s go,’ ” Friberg said. By departure time, her health had declined and getting there meant two plane trips, journeys by van and boat, and bouncing along cobblestone streets in a tuk-tuk “grinning at each other from ear to ear and thinking, ‘Wow, this is nuts,’ but there we were,” she said.

With only a few weeks left to live, Ms. Wolff shopped and had spa treatments, listened to birds and shot photographs – inspiring those she met and, as always, her longtime friend. “She did everything,” Friberg said. “She never said no.”


Bryan Marquard can be reached at bryan.marquard@globe.com.