I wrote this piece on September 20, 2001, at the request of the Writers Guild magazine, Written By, to remember my friend Lynn Angell. She and her husband, Frasier co-creator David Angell, died when terrorists crashed their plane, American Airlines Flight 11, into the World Trade Center. The Pasadena residents had just moved to Cape Cod and were headed back to L.A. for the Emmys. On September 11th at happy hour, we, Lynn’s friends, are making cosmopolitans and toasting her; I’m adding to the remembrance by posting this story I wrote a decade ago (which I also posted last year). She was just one of thousands who died that day, but she was special to many in Pasadena, most notably the kids at Hillsides, so I’m singling her out.
Comedy writers despise a courtesy laugh: the mirthless chuckle that acknowledges the form of a joke, but not the content. That’s one reason the writers who knew her appreciated Lynn Angell. Her laugh was genuine and unrestrained. “It wasn’t just from the throat,” said Frasier writer Tom Reeder, her friend of many years. “It came bubbling up from somewhere deep inside her.”
For every comedy writer who loved Lynn’s laugh, there are a dozen people who just plain loved Lynn. We came into her life at different times and in different ways, but once there, we remained there forever. And I’m talking about a whole lot of people. The family and friends from her Birmingham, Alabama, childhood and her Auburn University days. The friends from her summertime waitress jobs on Cape Cod, where she met a quiet, funny guy (no, that’s not an oxymoron) named David Angell. The friends from their newlywed years in Rhode Island, when she was getting her master’s in library science. The teachers and hundreds of children at Campbell Hall, the Studio City school where Lynn was the librarian from 1977 to 1988. The staff and hundreds more children she helped in immeasurable ways as the (volunteer) head librarian at Pasadena’s Hillsides, a residential facility and school for abused children. And the many of us who met her in sitcom land, where she was quietly present as the rock on which David Angell built his life.
Lynn was a rock, if an exceptionally beautiful one, with her thick mane of blond hair, her contagious smile, and her flawless skin. (She was, as Dave would often joke, the queen of emollients.) It wasn’t just her laugh that was genuine and unrestrained, it was her whole self. “This was a person who knew from childhood what was right and what was wrong,” said Sally Hackel, who became fast friends with Lynn when her husband, Dave, began writing for Wings in 1989. Always poised, pulled together, and gracious, Lynn may have looked on the outside, as David Lee said at the memorial service, “like a cover girl for Republican Housewife magazine,” but on the inside she blazed with a passion for social justice.
On a recent ski trip, she told a group of her women friends, myself included, a painful story that she rarely talked about. It was 1964, at the height of the Civil Rights movement, and there was talk of an attempt to integrate the white churches. Fifteen-year-old Lynn Edwards set off for church one Sunday with her parents and her brother Tom, and as they walked up to the church, they watched as a black family, dressed for church, approached the front steps. The black family was met by a phalanx of grim church leaders, who turned them away. Lynn ceased to be a Southerner that day, and 36 years later, when she told us this story, she wept with the same sadness and rage she felt back then.
What Lynn didn’t tell us—what Lynn didn’t tell anyone except Dave, her accomplice in quiet goodness—were the countless things she did to make life better for people who had been treated unfairly. Oh, sure, we knew about her years at Hillsides and that she and Dave had built its library, but we didn’t know, as close friend Sally Reeder discovered while doing research for her eulogy, that she’d helped so many children personally: paying for dental work, renting a tux so a boy could go to his first prom, setting up an apartment (dishes, towels, spatulas) for an 18-year-old girl who’d matriculated out of the foster-care system but had nothing and no one. Lynn and Dave didn’t talk about the ways they shared their unimagined prosperity. They just did it.
They also did a whole lot of laughing. “No one loved to laugh more than Lynn,” said Sally Hackel. “Between Dave and Dave, they would make us laugh until we couldn’t breathe.” At the memorial service, Dave Hackel said that every time the two couples went out to dinner—which they did often—Lynn was afraid they’d be kicked out for making too much noise. But then she’d be the one laughing loudest.
Laughing was also the purpose of a special form of golf played weekly for years by Lynn, Sally Hackel, and Sally Reeder. Dubbed “nurturing golf,” it was guided by 14 rules, which Lynn committed to paper. Here are just two. Rule #4: “If one of the players hits a really bad shot, the perfect response is to imitate that shot as closely as possible.” Rule #7: “If your outfit is the cutest, you get an extra mulligan. If your socks particularly pull your outfit together, you are treated to lemonade.”
This innate joy and love of life made Lynn a kid magnet. She never gave birth, but she had dozens upon dozens of children. They’d sit on her lap and hang around her neck at library storytime, and they’d go home and read the books she picked out for them. They were always first in her mind. Last June, for example, when she and Dave had just sold their Pasadena house and moved to Cape Cod, she wrote personal postcards to each of Hillsides’ 66 students.
Here are a few more things you should know about Lynn Angell: She loved ice cream. She loathed George W. Bush. She read constantly, everything from third-grade chapter books to Slate.com political articles. She made a fabulous cosmpolitan. She hated talking about money, but loved sharing it. She adored building and decorating houses. She was cursed with a slow metabolism, but blessed with a love of good food and wine. She pined for New England when they were in Los Angeles, and was thrilled to have put down permanent roots in Cape Cod. She was a cross-country skier. She fired off letters to congresspeople and newspaper editors when something made her mad. She hated getting up early. She loved planning and going on trips. She honored her dreaded 50th birthday by hiking in the Alps. She would have loved that in the week following her death, the TV kept scrolling out that she was 41 (she was 52). She converted to Catholicism when she married Dave and went to church with him every Sunday, even when she was angry at the church for some of its policies.
Above all, the thing about Lynn was that she loved Dave. Because there were so many other Davids in their life, she often referred to her husband as “my Dave.” She said it for clarity, but I think it was symbolic. They were crazy about each other. He made her laugh. She made him proud. Neither could imagine a life without the other.
In the days after their death, Lynn’s mother, Marilyn Edwards, liked telling the story about Lynn and Dave’s wedding day, 30 years ago. “That day I told her it had taken her 22 years to become an angel,” she said. Thirty years later, as Clarence in It’s a Wonderful Life would say, this angel got her wings.