By JOHN LEHNDORFF
(April 23, 2017) She called me “Brother John.”
Not “My brother, John” but “Brother John,” as if it were a title, like “Friar Tuck.” It might have been my tendency to evangelize about pie. Barbara saw past what you looked like and acted and into your soul.
Barbara was 12 years older than me so my early memories were mainly of her coming back from college in the 1960s. I remember always jumping into her arms and giving her a fierce bear hug in the front hallway. The dinners around the family table in Fitchburg are legendary.
In a Christmas card a few years back she noted the family traditions of “laughter, feasting and gentle chaos.”
Somewhere along the line I passed her in age. Barbara was the youngest soul I ever knew. She was a happy kid when I drove her around town or the mountains.
She had great penmanship. She was an extraordinary gift-giver. She would do anything to help you.
She liked live but not necessarily recorded music. I remember listening to her play “Heart and Soul” on the piano. She harmonized aloud during festival concerts by famous singers including Emmylou Harris, Bobby McFerrin and Alison Krauss which sometimes made me cringe.
While I was writing at festivals, Barb was sitting backstage talking to musicians and their families extracting more intimate information than I ever did or would during a formal interview.
I was absolutely mortified by her public flossing habits.
She loved her kids, grandkids, siblings and family members more than herself. She was the one who always flew to the rescue when folks were in trouble.
She remembered birthdays. She absolutely loathed goodbyes – they were traumatic for her.
She started out a WW II premie baby daughter of a refugee from the Nazis and the daughter of Sicilian immigrant grocers. In those days mothers were not allowed to hold and touch their babies.
She was an internationalist and embraced friends and strangers from across the globe.
She started out as a Catholic and was righteous in defense of those who were voiceless. She believed in hope. She demanded that you try.
She came of age during a complicated era of war, social changes and life for women and men. She quietly broke barriers. She spoke truth to power in a fierce and relentless way as her employers well knew.
If you think it was interesting being her friend, you should have been her sibling. She kept wanting me to take personality tests, asked me probing questions and always encouraged me in my odd writing and radio career.
She believed in the placebo effect of a well-used magic wand. She loved visiting Japan and eating sesame balls. Wherever she travelled in the world she made permanent friends.
Barbara’s favorite place was around the table talking and my goal was always to make Barb laugh so hard she fell on the floor gasping. It often happened in restaurants. Catharsis happens.
I wrote a newspaper column about her once that began: “The most important things I know about giving parties I learned from my sister Barbara. When I was growing up my parents didn’t do a lot of entertaining. It was when I visited Barbara and her family when I was a teenager that I first understood why it’s fun to be a host. She enjoyed bringing together interesting people, friends and strangers alike, to eat, drink and commune casually. She showed me that the gregarious spirit of the host was the critical factor, that actually getting together was more important than how much you spent on the food or how much cleaning you did.”
As a holiday gift Barbara handwrote her recipes as well as those from my mom into a blank book and did it for each member of the family. That was Barb. There are recipes for artichoke soufflé, Japan, cold braised beef salad, dolmades and stuffed cabbage, ricotta pancakes, carrot cake and cheesecake. She called it “MY oral history!” I was supposed to add my own recipes. I didn’t because I don’t cook from recipes.
After telling me it would be a wonderful year for me in a card she wrote: “I am hoping for some civility, peace, moral responsibility and justice in the world.” Whatever our spiritual leanings I think we can all say an “Amen” to that.
We all will face challenges in the future, not the least of which is coping forever with the absence of Barbara in our lives. You may find yourself wondering to yourself, WWBD? What would Barbara do?
In a letter she sent me in 1985 she ended thusly:
“As Roosevelt said: Charge!!!” B
Barbara Alice (Lehndorff) King
Barbara Alice (Lehndorff) King of Reno, NV passed away March 3 at Renown Medical Center in Reno after a short struggle with brain cancer. She was surrounded by family, friends, and love in the weeks before her passing.
Barbara was born March 22, 1942 in New Haven, CT to Rose Mazzola Lehndorff and Peter G. Lehndorff, M.D. Barbara graduated in 1959 from St. Bernard’s High School in Fitchburg, MA. She received her Bachelor’s degree from Boston College in 1963, graduating Cum Laude. She earned her Masters in English Education from the University of Florida in 1979.
She was Emeritus Director of Academic Support Services at the University of Nevada, Reno, having worked there from 1984 to 2017. Barbara’s passion was in helping all students achieve success in their academic lives, most especially those challenged by disability or socioeconomic hardship. She received the Outstanding Program Award from NASPA for her development of the Rural Academic Assistance Program. She was also integral in the development of the Millennium Academic Persistence Program, to facilitate student success for Millennium Scholarship awardees.
Barbara created the Opening Ceremony for new freshman and their families, which continues to this day and includes a bag pipe performance, faculty in full regalia, speeches by a keynote and the University President, and a candle lighting ceremony. Up until retirement Barbara made annual trips to Japan to recruit international students on behalf of the university. In 2010 she was honored for her notable achievements at the annual ‘Honor the Best’ ceremony at UNR.
Barbara also taught at schools in Florida, Massachusetts and in Belgium. An avid globetrotter, she travelled the world for work, community service and adventure, visiting countries in Africa and in Europe, as well as Mexico, Japan, Nepal, Thailand and Turkey.
Barbara married Tom King in 1969 in Fitchburg MA. She is survived by her daughter, Nicole King and grandson Nate King, Berkeley CA; son Morgan King, daughter-in-law Leah King and granddaughter Frida King, Arcata CA; brother Peter Lehndorff, Hampden MA; brother John Lehndorff, Lafayette CO, and nephew Hans Lehndorff, Portland OR; sister Lisa Lehndorff, Lafayette CO; nieces Azalea Lehndorff of Calgary AB; and Sarah Porretta of Phoenix AZ. Barbara was pre-deceased by her parents, and by her brother, Paul Lehndorff.
A celebration of Barbara’s life took place April 2 at the University of Nevada, Reno. In her memory, the family suggests making a donation to Heifer International by going to https://fundraise.heifer.org/bking.