“Turning lemons into lemonade” means transforming a not-so-great situation into a grand occasion. In the case of Lindalyn Bennett Adams, she turned lemons into lemon pie, with folks lining up for second helpings.
If Lindalyn were to read the above description, she’d laugh that funny giggle, take a deep breath and with a twinkle in her eyes scoff at the idea that she had done anything out of the ordinary.
How wrong she would be. But, let’s be fair and explain why.
Born in Wichita Falls on Independence Day (aka July 4) in 1930 to LaNette and Charlie Bennett, Lindalyn quickly settled down in Dallas three months later. Her childhood was pretty darn normal. She attended Highland Park schools and SMU, where she pledged Kappa Kappa Gamma and met a young fellow by the name of Reuben Homer Adams Jr. He had already served in the Navy during World War II, having signed up at the age of 17. Before Lindalyn could graduate, Reuben proposed and they wed in 1949 before heading to North Carolina, where Reuben was enrolled in the Duke University School of Medicine.
But before all that happened, Lindalyn’s father Charlie, who had owned the Novelty Peanut Co., had been the man in Lindalyn’s life. As she recalled, he was “a fun-loving, larger-than-life character whose interest in history sometimes bordered on obsession.
“During a family car trip to Washington, D.C.,” she recalled, Charlie “insisted on visiting virtually every battlefield, monument, notable birthplace and historic site between Dallas and the nation’s capital. The trip took 12 days, one way.”
That trip was the beginning of her love and dedication to preserving history. More about that later, though.
Returning to Dallas in 1953 as a doctor’s wife and a mother, Lindalyn took on the additional role of volunteer. As a member of the Junior League of Dallas in the 1960s, she discovered that a little park across the street from one of Charlie’s candy factories was starting to be transformed. Not only did she volunteer to help, she rallied friends to join her. The result was Old City Park.
It was also on November 22, 1963, when a major turning point changed both the city of Dallas and Lindalyn’s level of volunteerism. The Kennedy assassination sent the city reeling. The Texas School Depository Building stood abandoned, casting a shadow on the city’s reputation. The site of the assassination became the city’s No. 1 tourist attraction. Lindalyn, who was chairing the Dallas County Historical Commission from 1975-1983, admitted, “I really have to tell you, I was offended that that’s all they really wanted to see in our city.”
But in typical Lindalyn fashion, she decided to do something about it. Instead of tearing down the building and acting like it had never existed, she worked with city leaders to establish the Sixth Floor Museum. As the Museum’s original project director, Conover Hunt, told the Dallas Morning News in 2013, “Lindalyn knew how to deal with the old guard leadership. It never would have happened without her personality and position. She was one of them.”
It took more than a dozen years, but in 1989 the Sixth Floor Museum opened, and Dealey Plaza was designated a national historic district four years later.
But all her time wasn’t spent on preserving the Texas Book Depository and creating the Museum. She became the first woman president of the Dallas Historical Society, raised three sons, chaired the Crystal Charity Ball in 1976, joined Pierce Allman and Jennie Reeves in launching La Fiesta De Las Seis Banderas in 1985, was a charter member of the Women’s Auxiliary of The Salvation Army and the fourth president of Old City Park, received the SMU Distinguished Alumni Award, despite never having graduated, and was one of the original members of the then-Baylor Health Care System Foundation’s (today’s Baylor Scott and White Dallas Foundation) board of directors in 1978, when she chaired Baylor’s Labor of Love campaign, raising $5.3M to help fund the James M. and Dorothy D. Collins Women and Children’s Center.
According to the Preston Hollow Advocate, “When Boone Powell Sr., CEO at the time, asked her to join the board, she tried to tell him she was too busy. He simply said, ‘I’ll see you Thursday.”
It was around this time that another major turning point in Lindalyn’s life took place. In 1982, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. With the same determination she had applied to her volunteer work, she and Reuben – who had been Baylor University Medical Center’s chief of obstetrics and gynecology from 1970 to 1992 — tackled and beat the disease.
And, like the challenge of turning the nightmare of the assassination site into a memorial, she took on the battle against breast cancer. First as a volunteer board member, and then as part of a small group that in 2000 started the Celebrating Women Luncheon. Over the years, the event has provided $36M for research, community outreach and expanded technology for the fight against breast cancer.
However, the first luncheon took place just one month after Reuben’s death in 2000 at the age of 73. His passing was a blow to his colleagues and especially to Lindalyn and their sons (Charlie, Bill and Richard). As UT Southwestern Medical Center’s Dr. Norman E. Gant Jr., said, “Everybody adored the man. To put it mildly, students loved Reuben Adams.”
At the age of 70, Lindalyn found herself without her soulmate. She could have easily slipped into the role of respected community leader and loving grandmother and enjoyed the countless accolades and awards (the Linz Award, the Junior League of Dallas’ Lifetime Achievement Award and Sustainer of the Year, the Oak Cliff Lions Club Humanitarian Award, etc.), but she wasn’t finished — not by a long shot. She got a job. Or rather, she was drafted into taking her first paying job.
Baylor Health Care System President/CEO Boone Powell Jr. recognized the talent, reputation, relationships and dedication instilled in Lindalyn and knew she would be a perfect match for Baylor’s Foundation’s staff. When Lindalyn got her first paycheck in 2001, the always-been-a-volunteer asked, “Are you sure?”
And, she was still making the rounds around town. Only instead of dancing with her beloved Reuben, she was on the arm now of a handsome young fellow — her grandson Carlton Adams. Even celebrities such as Jamie Lee Curtis broke away from the herds to spend a brief moment with Lindalyn.
In recent years, Lindalyn has added still another item to her resume — font of knowledge. Everyone from city leaders and philanthropists to longtime admirers and students learning the ropes of volunteerism have sought her wisdom. She willingly shared her recipe for success — equal parts experience and understanding blended with a good helping of charm.
But that’s not to say that Lindalyn was some vaunted dowager, who couldn’t make an “oops” every now and then. For instance, in 2010 the Dallas Historical Society had a sold-out event where Angus Wynne III, Lindalyn and musician Phil Collins had an onstage conversation. Over the years, the rock musician and Lindalyn had become fast friends, thanks to his collecting of Alamo memorabilia and Texas history. She even had one of his gold records in her office. But before they chatted in front of a sold-out audience, Lindalyn and Phil recalled their first meeting in the Virgin Islands, way back in 1982. When Phil told Lindalyn that he worked with Genesis, she thought he was associated with some sort of religious group.
Yesterday, on September 8, Lindalyn passed away at the age of 91 as her granddaughter read Psalm 23. Ironically, it was on September 10, 1949, that she and Reuben were married; it was also on September 11, 2000, that Reuben died. One can’t help thinking that, just perhaps, Lindalyn couldn’t wait two more days to join Reuben for their 72nd anniversary.