By Joe Chuman
It is hard for me to imagine the world without Linda in it. Ethical Culture has been a mainstay of my life and for very many years Linda has been at the center of it.
Our relationship goes back very far. Linda joined the Society many years ago, but for a while she was not actively involved in the community and not well known. She was single and lived in a home in Ringwood, which was toward the outer periphery of demographic reach.
The Society was at a stage in which the organizational demands of sustaining our work were weighing very heavily on our volunteer members. Back then, I was actively involved in doing much of our routine office work. Only occasionally we would hire part-time secretaries.
But it became clear as we became increasingly active that we had to find a way to reassign much more work to the office. We needed to find someone who could manage our office on a more complete and continuous basis.
It was then that I thought of Linda. She had retired from her professional job, and something told me she was just the person to fulfill our administrative requirements. How right I was!
Linda was diligent, hardworking, and very devoted to Ethical Culture and its members. We are a small organization, but the work required mastering a large array of diverse tasks. And Linda took them all on. She became the first of several members, including Bea Gopoian and Tracey Kelley, to staff the Society’s office.
About 20 years ago, the Society developed a long-range plan. Noting our growing sophistication, the plan called for the new position of administrative director. Beyond office management, it required overseeing and assisting those committees devoted to planning the Society’s programs. The plan created a new organization, our Program Council, which meets monthly to give committee chairs a voice, coordinate programs, and resolve problems. It required someone to lead it, and Linda filled that role energetically and with the diligence that was so much a part of her character.
‘The working center of the Society’
In becoming our administrative director, Linda truly came into her own and became the working center of the Society. Her tasks were numerous and varied: facilitating rentals, negotiating problems with the day-care center that shares our tight quarters, recruiting volunteers for additional help, creating our weekly printed programs, handling endless emergencies, and myriad other tasks too numerous to mention. The chairmanship found Linda setting the agenda, directing the meetings, and keeping abreast of all the Society’s activities and working hard to fill in gaps. Whenever there was a need, she was there to meet it. No task was too small.
There was much more. For several years, Linda, Bob Gordon, and I served as an editorial committee for our newsletter, Focus. We met monthly to plan the subsequent issue, but Linda did the hard work of proofreading and meticulously laying out the copy. I long felt misgivings that the Society could not compensate Linda in proportion to the extraordinary work she did.
‘She knew us individually and cared about us’
But all this relates to the formal side of Linda’s relation to us. There is the human side, which resides with me more deeply. Linda was a constant presence in the community; she was always there. She knew us individually and she cared about us.
By her commitment, devotion, and hard work, Linda became a pillar of our Society. We have succeeded as a marvelously successful community, a sterling example of cooperative relations, because of the central role that Linda played in holding the Society together. It was not by just doing the necessary work, it was by forging caring and warm connections with our members.
At the same time, I believe that Linda received much from the Society in return. I think she found great personal meaning and purpose through her deep engagement with the Society and through her relations with all of us. Together with her family, the Ethical Society was a center of Linda’s life. She engaged with interest in our programs, and I was moved by her thoughtfulness and her interest and knowledge of the wider world.
‘Committed to helping our members in need’
On the personal side, she was often committed to helping our members in need. She was to me. When my wife, Linda, was ill in London with her last illness, Linda worked hard with Janet Glass, then our president, setting up and managing a fund to raise money to offset expenses I had incurred. There were scores of donations and it involved a lot of work. But what was most meaningful to me was the caring that lay behind Linda’s efforts.
The last time I saw Linda was in late June at a book party held in the backyard of my home. The book was a beautiful creation marking my life and career in the Ethical Society. It involved the hard work, creativity, and devotion of 50 members, and Linda was one of them. She took on the laborious task of reviewing and proofreading the entire text, and I was pleased to find that there wasn’t a single typo!
I was surprised and saddened that the end came for Linda more suddenly and much sooner than I had expected. We have lost a wonderful soul. Linda was hardworking, ethically sensitive, very smart, caring, and kind.
Linda leaves her children, Samantha, her son-in-law, Mark, sons Joshua and Matthew, and grandchildren Carolyn, Anya and Cayla, who brought her great joy.
We are a much better community because of Linda Bennett. I, we, owe Linda very much, and through her deeds and devotion she will always be with us.
Joe Chuman is the retired, longtime leader of the Ethical Culture Society of Bergen County.