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Richard Chilton: Memories of Linda Osmundson — a national treasure

in The Bay and the 'Burg/Top Headlines by

The late Linda Osmundson, a pioneer advocate for women in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, was one of the more remarkable, quiet, unassuming and tenacious women I’ve ever known.

We met a half-century ago, in high school, at a new campus five miles south of Santa Maria, California, known at the time as “The Valley of the Flowers.” She was from Lompoc, a community where the true acres of flowers were grown for seeds and cut blooms sent all over the world, and where Vandenberg Air Force Base, the West Coast’s Cape Canaveral, is situated.

Prior to Spanish exploration and settlement, this land was Chumash country, a fishing and small acreage Native People whose spiritual practice was deeply connected with the Earth, the Sea and the Sky. For the Chumash, Point Conception some 20 miles south is considered to be “the “Western Portal,” where the spirits leave the Continent, much as the high mountains of the Adirondacks in upstate New York is considered by the Mohawks to be “The Eastern Portal,” where the spirits enter.

So the locale where Linda Osmundson’s family lived before we were to meet had a thousand-year history of spiritual meaning, much of it based on natural healing. This is what is meant when the Indigenous People of North America speak of Mother Earth, a propensity of natural healing through a respect and relationship with all things.

As my maternal grandmother was likewise a Christian Scientist, I am familiar with and understand such choices. Isolated by coastal mountains and short plains to the sea, for however long a young Linda Osmundson lived in this locale, I believe her sense of the power of prayer was made steadfast by her time in a place of such resilience as it was by Mary Baker Eddy’s writings, the Founder of Christian Science, and the practices of the Mother Church.

Linda and I came to a high school with which we were unfamiliar, as I had moved from suburban Los Angeles to live with my step-grandfather in a small 1880s railroad town east, and over the mountain from Lompoc. While we shared a few classes, it was during meetings of our school’s chapter of Junior State of America (JSA.org), then known as Junior Statesmen, where we came to know each other.

Formed in the 1930s, JSA was then a predominantly West Coast organization for students interested in government and politics. The group holds local, regional and state conventions, the latter often in state capitals twice a year over a weekend. At these conventions, topical resolutions expressing views on any subject, on gun control or legalization of marijuana, or the war in Vietnam or Iraq, are debated and voted upon.

Both Linda and I were among the more active members, and as I recall she was already demonstrating her conscientiousness and leadership qualities in being Chapter Treasurer, common for girls at the time.

While I don’t recollect the subject I do remember one time during a State Convention at the Capital building in Sacramento where she stood up and gave a rousing defense on some issue. I distinctly remember she was calm, well-prepared, articulate and cute. While I was never serious about dating, we enjoyed each other’s company, especially our discussions on current events.

In 2005, another high school classmate asked me to come to New England to help her start a nonprofit organization. However, I was not prepared for my friend’s physical and mental state, for she, too, like Linda, had been a victim of domestic violence. My long ago classmate was one of the first women in the country to go into the Victim Protection Program under the new Federal Domestic Violence law, receiving an entirely new identity as a result.

A professional with two master’s degrees in her former life, she was now on permanent disability with Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome and a service dog. Besides completing research in preparing her nonprofit, we talked many hours about our past and current lives, and learned by circumstance that Linda was Director of CASA. As I happened to have relatives in Venice, I made it a point to visit were I to be in Florida.

The opportunity came twice, and after 40 years Linda Osmundson and I renewed our friendship. She picked me up at the Tampa airport and invited me into her home. Over meals we prepared together, swims we took together in her pool, and walks through her neighborhood to the shores of Tampa Bay, we spoke of our past and current lives, her views on feminism, community organizing, fundraising, art and politics.

Like everyone, I marveled at her athletic abilities.

She gave me a tour of CASA, introducing me as an old high school classmate and friend, perhaps one of the few who had reconnected with her I don’t know, and spoke endlessly of her dream for a l00-bed shelter. We spoke of people we mutually knew or had met in women’s advocacy, and with typical humility, even after 19 years, she spoke of her predecessor the late Sylvia Tucker in almost reverent terms, questioning whether she was “holding the reins as well” as Ms. Tucker had.

The loss of Linda Osmundson at age 66 is not just for CASA or Saint Petersburg or Pinellas County or Florida or for the regional south, but for the nation and the world. Her clear, resonant voice speaking up and out for women everywhere was indeed, a national treasure, and for all of us who knew or met her, we can celebrate her life by living ours accordingly.

***

Richard Chilton, a writer and researcher, is Project Facilitator of the Omaha Tribal Historical Research Project (OTHRP), Official Cultural Authority of the Omaha Tribe of Nebraska and Iowa, a Federally recognized tribe.

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