Remembering Justice-in-Education Scholar Richard Lynch

by Nicole Callahan

At the end of William Shakespeare’s Henry VIII, the brilliant, powerful, and deeply complicated Cardinal Wolsey comes to a critical moment of self-recognition. He meditates there on the cruel and paradoxical cycles of the life of man, how “to-day he puts forth / The tender leaves of hopes; to-morrow blossoms, / And bears his blushing honours thick upon him; / The third day comes a frost, a killing frost, / And, when he thinks, good easy man, full surely / His greatness is a-ripening, nips his root, / And then he falls” (HVIII, III.ii).

Richard “Rick” Lynch, one of our deeply beloved Justice-In-Education Scholars, passed away on July 3, 2018. Home for just over a year, he had completed Humanities Texts, Critical Skills with great success, and was enrolled in University Writing and University Studies for the summer session, approaching the course and the work with his usual dedication and commitment. Rick had also earned his parole on June 14th, ten days before his 49th birthday on June 24th.

By any definition, as Shakespeare wrote, Rick’s “greatness [was] a-ripening,” and the devastation in our community over his loss speaks to the incredible impact he had on each of us. Rick was an essential part of our JIE family. At the beginning of our class, Rick wasn’t quite sure, as a fellow scholar remembers, “about all this ‘Columbia Shit.’” Quickly, however, he transitioned from, in another student’s words, from the guy who “chewed gum at the back of class… to the scholar whose perspective I was always eager to learn from.”

He was always early to class, and he and I would sit there across from each other, on the hard benches in the hallway of Philosophy, talking about his deep revulsion at the actions of Humbert Humbert, or how many years the most recent writing assignment had taken off his life. Sometimes he’d tell me an inappropriate joke, or ask me a question about Columbia, or about my life, and then we’d go in to class. As many times as I tried to get him to sit next to me at the table, he liked his corner by the door, his book on his knee.

Rick was the Greek chorus of our class, the brave and honest man who would never back off from confronting us with ideas we might be trying to avoid. We could count on Rick, as a classmate put it, for “his hilarious bluntness, for saying the things we were all thinking, but were too embarrassed to say out loud.” Even when he knew that what he had to share would be unpopular or controversial, he shared it with grace, with care, and with humor.

I know that, just as he was to me, Rick was incredibly thoughtful and generous and loving with everyone, a deeply soft-hearted man underneath his gruff exterior. He’d notice when anyone even quietly cleared a throat in class, and then, as a classmate said, “he proceeded to offer me cough drops every single class after that, and sometimes even gave me several handfuls of them or brought an extra bag just for me. I am finding cough drops all over the place until this day.” He often brought bags of snacks to class, passing them off to another student to bring in because he didn’t want the credit or the attention. Another JIE scholar who had just come home was looking for a job in the music industry, and Rick, as soon as he found that out, called up old contacts and set up a job for his fellow student.

Rick was also, in the words of one of his classmates, both “unbelievably candid and so, so enigmatic. It’s those juxtapositions—the fact that you can’t quite figure him out, but still understand him—that makes Rick so special. I’ve never met anyone like him in my life—someone with absolutely no filter, but absolutely no ill will in his heart.” As well as we thought we knew him, as much as he let us in, there was still so much we didn’t know and so much he didn’t share. But the one place he never held back was in showing his love for and appreciation of this community that we all built together.

And because he would have laughed and grimaced at me for including even more Shakespeare, for too much emoting, and for going on at length (like one of my overwhelming e-mails), I’ll end with this blessing from Act IV, scene ii of Cymbeline:

Fear no more the heat o’ th’ sun
Nor the furious winter’s rages;

Thou thy worldly task hast done,
Home art gone and ta’en thy wages…

Fear no more the frown o’ th’ great;
Thou art past the tyrant’s stroke…

Fear no more the lightning flash,
Nor th’ all-dreaded thunder-stone;

Fear no slander, censure rash;
Thou hast finished joy and moan…

Quiet consummation have,
And renowned be thy grave.

If you have memories of Rick to share, or would like to see what his classmates of have shared, please click here.

Image Credit: Alexandra Zarins Rolls