A Tribute to Kay Lindley

A virtual celebration and dedication of the Katherine W. Lindley Center for Law and Constitutional Studies, located on the third floor of the Chamberlain Center, was held February 1 and was attended by about 100 alumni, family, faculty, staff and friends. The Lindley Center is dedicated to Houghton’s pre-law students as a place for study and research, student-faculty meetings, pre-law events and home to a special pre-law library and law school preparation materials.

The space is named for Dr. Kay Lindley, who was a long-time professor of History and Chair of the Division of Social Science. A beloved professor and friend to many, she is fondly remembered for her contribution to the lives of over 100 Houghton graduates who, through her encouragement and rigorous preparation, went on to have careers in the legal profession.

At Houghton’s 1982 Homecoming, my grandmother Kay Lindley presented President Chamberlain with And You Shall Remember, the history of Houghton that she co-wrote with Dr. Frieda Gillette. A real live book, 152 pages, written by someone I loved! Grandma’s name, gold-foil-embossed on green hardcover! Grandma was always larger than life to me. She wrote books, yes, but she also listened to jazz, talked politics, won awards, made a mean granola, and studied and traveled to Russia and China, bringing back books and art and recipes. In leading tones, this giant half-asked, half-told us grandkids about our “love of learning” in such a way that you learned what schooltime vignettes you should share with Grandma and which would not pass muster.

As a boy, I assumed that everyone found Grandma larger than life and that’s why they liked her so much. But as I grew and eventually attended Houghton myself, I discovered that Grandma had a gift for giving herself completely to the person in front of her in a given moment. My freshman friends and I, goofy and energetic, visited and ate her chicken and dumplings. She listened, truly, with evident glee, to all of our silly stories and dumb jokes. My girlfriend Jill and I visited; Grandma had such interest in her field of study—math like Grandpa—and our budding connection. She encouraged both.

Grandma’s listening changed lives. She took young women seriously when many did not, reminding them of their God-given ability and duty. She listened carefully to sermons but was not afraid to disagree when popular Christianity simplified things at the expense of real people. She insisted her students—and her colleagues—had more to give than they realized, because they had revealed their strength and gifting in conversation with her.

Many 1970s-1990s alumni credit Grandma with inspiring them to a career in law. The Christian practice of law is intimately tied up with listening: to history, government, and texts and, ultimately, to people. The law reflects and shapes our cultural self-understanding and has a tremendous impact on whether the least among us can flourish or not. Grandma had opinions on how the law should relate to individuals’ liberties and responsibilities, and was not shy to share those opinions. But she inspired people of varied politics to go into law because she helped them to see that the law could serve human flourishing as well as any pulpit or lectern.

It is of course surreal and wonderful to see her name atop the entrance to the new pre-law center. Dark-wooded and reserved, it is tasteful, not frilly. It is ideal for energetic debate of the issues that will consume our attention in the next century, ideal for the listening that makes those debates fruitful instead of fatuous: listening to each other, to the books that line the walls, and to the spirit of Houghton and its people, who still create time and space for a genuine encounter with others, with ideas, with ourselves, and with God.

Michael Jordan ’99
Dean of the Chapel