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In Memoriam: Lynda Wheelwright Schmidt
July 29,1931–October 23, 2023
This is an essay unlike any other among the dozens of essays on our Jungian Center website. It is a eulogy honoring the life of a woman who played a central role at our Center but always behind the scenes. It has three parts: a short sketch of Lynda’s life, based on comments she made to me over our 38 years of working together; her activities related to the Center; and what Lynda meant to me personally.
A Sketch of Lynda’s Life
The marriage of Joseph Wheelwright and Jane Hollister was an odd pairing–a Harvard man, scion of the Boston Wheelwrights and the daughter of a California pioneer settler and ranch owner. Their friends thought the marriage might last six months, but it lasted over 50 years. Two years after their nuptials in 1929, while living in Peking (Beijing), Jo and Jane had their first child, Lynda. When Jo decided to take up medicine, they moved to London, where Jo began medical school at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital. In this interval Lynda’s brother John was born, and that, plus the stuffy civility of the culture, sent Jane into a post-partum depression that verged into catatonia. Having heard of the amazing cures being achieved by a Swiss psychiatrist, Jo took Jane to Zürich for treatment by Carl Jung.
Initially Jung resisted, as he liked to work with people at or after mid-life, and Jane was in her 20’s, but Jo insisted. At things turned out, both Jo and Jane got into analysis with Jung and became Jungian analysts. Neither parent being able to tend to Lynda, she was sent back to Jane’s mother on their coastal California cattle ranch.
This began one of Lynda’s favorite periods in her life–brought up essentially by Mother Nature, sent out to play each morning by her grandmother, living more or less in the wild with other kids, taught about horses, animals and ranching by the vaqueros, the ranch hands who gave them minimal supervision. (In the early 1990’s Lynda and Jane co-authored The Long Shore, a book about their experiences growing up on the 39,000-acre Hollister Ranch).
When World War II began in 1939 the Americans were advised to leave Switzerland, so Jo and Jane returned to San Francisco, where they turned their years working with Jung into a dual practice of Jungian analysis, Jane working under Jo’s license due to the wartime shortage of trained providers. With both parents busy, Lynda was sent to a private school.
When Lynda was around 14, Jane encouraged her to spend time with a girl around her own age who needed a friend. Many years later, Lynda told me, she thought of this relationship as her first experience as a therapist. This was not the only relationship her parents encouraged.
During the war, Klaus Schmidt had been left an orphan when his family tried to escape Nazi Germany by fleeing to Switzerland. The Swiss, concerned to maintain their neutrality, refused to admit adults and Klaus had the traumatic experience of watching his parents forced back to certain death. He was taken in by a Swiss family, friends of Jane and Jo, and when Klaus expressed interest in moving to America, he came to live with them in San Francisco. Jane knew that Klaus had to learn English and the ways of our culture, so she suggested Lynda help him, as they were close in age. In time, this led to a romance and marriage. It was a pairing that repeated the type of Jane and Jo: the woman being an Introvert, the man an Extravert.
Klaus became a successful businessman and later in life had a position teaching business at San Francisco State University. Meanwhile, the societal expectations of the 1950’s happy housewife lifestyle pressured Lynda to conform, and she did so for a while, but did not find it either pleasant or fulfilling. She and Klaus had two daughters, and motherhood presented another challenge as Lynda had never had a consistent experience of mothering in her own life.
Eventually Lynda decided to go to college, to UC Berkeley. This was in the 1960’s, an era when the place was a hotbed of radicals, protest and student demonstrations, with the UCB campus being a center of unrest. “Consciousness raising” was a theme of the time, and Lynda was not immune: she and Klaus worked out a reconfiguration of her life and marriage, as she got a Master’s degree in social work, took training with her parents’ colleagues at the Jung Institute and became a certified Jungian analyst.
Both Jane and Lynda were oddities as Jungian analysts: they were Sensation types, the personality preference that can be organized, practical and tend to details. With most of their colleagues strong Intuitives, and male, the women at the Institute got tasked with Sensate-type jobs, over and over, for decades.
That Lynda was able to stave off burnt out for years may have been due to her travels with Klaus. As an Extravert, Klaus loved to travel, Lynda, not so much, but they got around to the usual tourist places, London, Beirut, Jerusalem, the USSR, Switzerland to visit Klaus’ “family” there, as well as to exotic locales, like Siberia, Lahore, Islamabad, Rawalpindi, and the western Himalayas. Lynda wrote a book, Time Out of Mind: Trekking the Hindu Kush, about their exhausting experience hiking for weeks in the highest terrain in the world–a trip that, at age 45, was taxing in the extreme.
Three years later, Lynda came to realize that their trek timed a mid-life crisis for her, which Jung knew can come along with ambivalence about life and work. It was shortly after this realization that Lynda wrote up their adventure, and they began planning for a life reorientation.
This would involve a relocation and they chose the coast of Maine for its quiet introverted energy, which would give them respite from the many work demands they had in California. They both planned to retire to a quiet town “Down East,” and worked with an architect to reconfigure a house on the shore of Penobscot Bay. The move occurred in the summer of 1983, and Klaus retired to become “house husband” and general Mr. Fix-It, while, to Lynda’s surprise, she found people on her doorstep asking for Jungian analysis even before she had unpacked her office. Her practice resumed, but without the hectic pace and spate of Sensation duties she had before. They still traveled, and Lynda enjoyed repeated holidays with her mother and other family members on horse trips in the West.
When Klaus died a few years ago, Lynda lived alone for the first time in her life, an interval in which she was able to relish the solitude which is so energizing to an Introvert. She continued her practice right up to the end, only cutting back a bit on the frequency with which she talked with her clients (mostly by telephone). She is survived by two daughters, several grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Lynda Schmidt and the Jungian Center
As a member of our Board of Advisors, Lynda Schmidt was my go-to person for Jungian wisdom and insights, given her fifty-plus years as a Jungian analyst. Every essay I wrote for our site I would send to Lynda to vet before it got posted, to be sure it was accurate. Often Lynda would make cogent comments, flesh out a point, and always–thanks to her Sensation type–she would find typos. If our published essays had few such mistakes, we have Lynda to thank. Sometimes Lynda would pose a question that got me thinking and that would lead to another essay.
Several years ago, when Lynda mentioned her mother’s journal, then languishing unpublished in the library of the Jung Institute, I saw an opportunity to enrich our curriculum while also satisfying Lynda’s longstanding desire to have the journal see the light of day. We collaborated on that gargantuan project which took nearly a year to complete, and Lynda made substantial contributions not only of time and effort, but also financially, to the subvention that saw Jane Wheelwright’s journal published and delivered to all the Jung Institutes in the world. Thanks to her interest and support (in all forms), we were able to use Jane’s journal in several courses. Lynda was also consistently generous in supporting the publication of others of our books.
The above speaks to what Lynda Schmidt has meant to the Jungian Center and to all those who value what we do here. We are much in her debt.
What Lynda meant to me personally
For 38 years Lynda Schmidt was my rock–the one person I could count on for stability and objective guidance. That I survived, thrived and took up the work I have is due in a major way to Lynda.
In 1983, when I had the first of my voice-over dreams–predictive and directive–telling me that I would give up everything and my life would be transformed, I was in disbelief, but, as things got worse (more dreams, more things falling away) and I went to every therapist, counselor and even the psychiatrist in Bangor (!!), they all told me that, if I wanted to work with dreams, I should find a Jungian. None of them knew of one in Maine.
It took two years and my attending the Way of the Dream conference at Bowdoin College in May of 1985 before I finally found a Jungian network. Chandler Brown told me she had heard an analyst was moving to Maine and she took my phone number and followed up soon thereafter with Lynda’s phone number. When I arrived on Lynda’s doorstep a few weeks later, as I noted above, she had hardly unpacked her office, and had been planning to retire.
Just as the initial dream warned, all the features of my life continued to fall away, but now, in Lynda, I had a toe-hold on reality. I would come each week, dozens of dreams in hand, desperate for guidance, eager to learn about Jung, devouring his books like a starving person gobbles food. Lynda’s responses–full of her knowledge of myths, legends, fairytales, her familiarity with alchemy, and her relaxed confidence born from many years’ work with other people experiencing a major life shift–gave me hope that I too would eventually get through the turmoil.
The dreams led me, in time, to move a lot of different places in the United States. In each place I would find a Jungian analyst, but kept working also with Lynda, as she was the stabilizing presence and confidant whom I had come to trust implicitly.
When my life finally became settled in Vermont, a whole series of dreams in July 2005 laid out the Jungian Center and I set about creating a non-profit organization to comply with my dream guidance. Lynda was very supportive and agreed to join our Board of Advisors. We continued to “meet” via phone each week, in part to discuss dreams as well as essays I would write and send her each month (the tech guys telling me I had to provide new “content” for the search engines).
I was immersed in writing an essay this past Sunday when I got the call telling me Lynda had had a stroke, was in the hospital and the prognosis was not good. A stroke? Hospital? It was a nightmare, right? When we last spoke, Lynda had sounded so much better (after a long bout with digestive difficulties)–how could she be…..
I still cannot believe she won’t be on the other end of the phone for our weekly call, that we won’t get to commiserate about the state of the world, or grumble about the delusions rife in our society. When will I relinquish the habit of saying to myself that “I’ve got to tell Lynda about…”?? Denial, as they say, is not a river in Egypt.
I take several lessons away from this tragic experience and grievous loss. First, to cherish life every day, and the lives of those I hold dear, as in the blink of an eye, they may be gone. Second, to take photos of people that I love, as now I wish so much I had a full-face photo of Lynda to treasure. And third, to relish the challenge of assimilating all the things I had projected on to her–my teacher, guide, spiritus rector, and mother confessor. She was such a wonderful person and, as much as the Jungian Center was so fortunate to have her part of our endeavor, I was even more blessed to have her as an analyst and friend.
Sue Mehrtens is the author of this and all the other blog essays on this site. The opinions expressed in these essays are her own and do not necessarily reflect the views or opinions of other Jungian Center faculty or Board members. Honesty, as well as professional courtesy, require that you give proper attribution to the author if you post this essay elsewhere.