Lynette Williamson was no sparrow, despite identifying with the common, humble bird just as Hamlet did while trying to accept his fate.
An English teacher and mentor for thousands of students who cycled through her classroom and her debate team at Analy High School in Sebastopol over a 30-plus-year career, Williamson was a masterful speaker and thinker. She set young minds afire with literature and her signature wit.
“There is special providence in the fall of a sparrow,” she wrote, quoting William Shakespeare’s protagonist in an essay published on Salon.com three days before her death.
Williamson died Saturday at her home in Monte Rio, surrounded by her family. She was 55.
In the last months before she died, Williamson wrote the essay reflecting on how she had coped for 18 months with the nerve disease ALS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. She typed the piece with the thumb of her non-dominant hand, pounding into the keyboard at a rate of three words per minute the thoughts and literary quotes still racing through her vibrant mind as the disease took its toll.
‘Do not seek to be master of all ...’ she wrote, recalling something else she’d read.
“At first I assumed those words hearkened from the New Testament or possibly the humanist Shakespeare,” she wrote in the essay.
“But when Google insisted that Sophocles quilled those lines, I found myself sharing the tragic stage with Oedipus as his brother-in-law Creon admonishes him for failing to learn that fate cannot be circumvented.”
For the students who sat in her classroom and whom she coached on the debate stage, her tough, no-nonsense influence looms large. Williamson’s calm-under-fire style is guiding Marie “Mimi” Pinna, 21, through finals week at UC Davis, and she described her former teacher’s poise when under stress.
“Even in the most crowded, sweaty room with hundreds of annoying teenagers and parents, she’d be standing there and would look like she was in a bubble of comfort, totally Zen,” said Pinna, a 2014 Analy High graduate.
Williamson showed Nate Rosen, 24, of San Francisco how to use his hyperactive mind as a tool rather than a distraction.
“The way she handled kids like myself, she used a beautiful blend of sarcasm and humor to connect with us,” said Rosen, a 2010 Analy graduate with a linguistics degree from UC Santa Barbara.
Her influence pushed Robin Sheehan, 30, of San Francisco to shed a cloak of shyness and craft arguments on the debate stage, lessons that propelled her through law school at the University of San Francisco.
There are countless others.
“From the time we hired Lynette, you could tell she was something special,” said Martin Webb, who retired as Analy’s principal in 2008 after 36 years at the school. “She took that debate program over and ran with it.”
Williamson was born Lynette Marie Kay in 1961 to Jeanette and Daniel Kay in San Francisco. She grew up in Novato, attending school at Our Lady of Loretto Church and then St. Vincent de Paul High School in Petaluma.
“She was an overachiever from day one, winning every academic trophy out there,” said her younger sister, Nadine Finn of Petaluma.