Jane Tunstall Lingo, an alumna and staff member for 50 years, died at 83 of breast cancer in the early morning of Feb. 23.
Lingo passed away at Lynn House, a senior citizen apartment and assisted living center in Alexandria where she was recovering from a hip injury since September. She was GW’s longest-serving employee, and her death was memorialized Friday by the campus’ flags being lowered to half-staff.
Vice President of Communication Michael Freedman, who worked with Lingo and oversaw the department she was in, said she was dedicated to the University.
“There was nothing that I knew of that she cared about more than GW,” Freedman said. “This was her professional life and this became part of her personal life.”
Born on Sept. 7, 1924, Lingo was an only child and spent her youth in the Adams Morgan home in which she grew up. She attended Gunston Hall, a private school for girls in D.C., with classmate Margaret Truman, the daughter of President Harry Truman.
The women went on to attend GW together, and were friends throughout college. Lingo was a frequent guest at the White House, where she would go to participate in sing-alongs and other Truman family activities.
A French language and literature major at GW, she was the president of the French Club, as well as a member of the Glee Club, Mortar Board, Phi Beta Kappa and the Pi Beta Phi sorority.
Lingo graduated from GW in 1946 and spent a decade traveling and volunteering, including translating letters from French to English for the Red Cross. She spent one fall working in GW’s Office of Admissions and also worked as a publications assistant at the Korean Pacific Press.
As a young adult she volunteered at the D.C. office of the United Service Organization, which President Roosevelt created to provide morale, welfare and recreational services to the troops during World War II. Her mother was the director of D.C.’s USO, and her father had a career in the Navy.
In 1956 she returned permanently to GW and would come to take on various roles dealing with public relations, specifically community relations. From 1956 to1964 she worked as a staff writer in the Office of Public Relations at GW. After 1964 she served as the assistant director of university relations at GW, where she worked until this fall when she went on medical leave.
Known as the “grand dame” of the University, she is said to have had a motherly presence at GW, presiding in her own way over the administrators in Rice Hall. But she was also in many ways a revolutionary, and was one of the first women to be admitted into the National Press Club when it opened its doors to females in 1971. She was a longtime member of the American News Women’s Club, serving as president from 1990 until 1992, and a member of the Women’s National Press Club from 1964 until 1985, when it merged with the National Press Club.
Lingo was a member of the National Society of the Colonial Dames of America, a group dedicated to furthering an appreciation of American heritage through historic preservation, patriotic service and educational projects. She was also a guide at the Dumbarton House, a historic estate in Georgetown.
The alumna was honored at last year’s Commencement as a way to mark her 60th anniversary of graduating from GW. Friends, community members, administrators and staff spoke of her loyalty and dedication to the University.
Beloved by Foggy Bottom activists and University administrators alike, Lingo is said to have had the ability to diffuse conflicts with kind words and a polite manner.
“She was sort of a diplomatic envoy from the University to the community groups,” said University President Stephen Joel Trachtenberg. “You could never get mad at her and no one ever raised their voice at her.”
Trachtenberg has asked that a memorial service for Lingo be coordinated by the University. The date and location are not yet known.
Local residents said she would attend all of the meetings of the Foggy Bottom Association, the Friends Group and the Advisory Neighborhood Commission, always taking notes in large letters in her reporter’s notebook. As a community news editor for By George, she wrote a series of stories profiling longtime community members.
“Jane was in everything. She went to more meetings than anyone else went to in their lives,” Foggy Bottom resident Rita Champagne said. “This was her neighborhood here.”
Lingo frequented the Foggy Bottom clean-ups put on by the University, helping to tidy up the neighborhood with students and community members. She went to the yearly cookouts in the park next to the Foggy Bottom Grocery, where she would take pictures and chat with neighbors. And when there was a fire at St. Mary’s Court senior center in 2005, she helped bring residents to shelter in the Marvin Center.
Lucille Molinelli, a community member who was close friends with Lingo for more than 30 years, said when her husband died, Lingo came over to her home on F Street to comfort her.
“She was certainly a gem of a lady-most-rare. She created good relations with people, Molinelli said. “Goodness knows we need more people like her.”