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John Arthur Lindberg (Lindy)

LindyFebruary 13, 2023

John Lindburg was born January 26, 1944 in Washington D.C. to Earnest Harry and Virginia Goss Lindburg. He prepared at Lake Forest High School in Lake Forest, IL and entered Yale in September 1962.

John Lindburg loved to be with people as much as we who knew him loved his friendship. We are all, on some level, lone long-distance runners through our lives and Lindy valued privacy. Yet he was a tireless team player, participating in joint efforts to make this world a little better at the end than he had found it at the start. At Yale, while immersing himself in Latin American studies, he joined the Apollo Glee Club and the Yale Russian Chorus, and was equally at home on the baseball diamond, the basketball court, and the football field where he played for Silliman and captained the team in 1965. In his career, he quickly realized that a white-shoe law firm was not for him and that his heart lay in something much bigger than himself: public diplomacy, first with the U.S. Information Agency, then with Radio Free Europe / Radio Liberty. “I was passionate about providing legal and policy advice to journalists and others who were trying to report on events in countries which have little or virtually no free press,” he wrote in our 50th class reunion book.

“John Lindburg was a giant of U.S. international media,” wrote RFE / RL CEO Jamie Fly. “A word that friends and former co-workers keep repeating … is ‘beloved.’” Ted Kaufman, a longtime friend and staff person to President Biden, who served out Senator Biden’s Senate term in 2008, wrote: “John was definitely one of the best of us.”
Right out of Yale his year in Venezuela as a Fulbright Scholar was an experience to which he often attributed his lifelong interest in international affairs. Then, with a Columbia University SIPA degree in international affairs and a JD from George Washington Law School, he was ready for public service, which included Legal and General Counsel positions with USIA, the Board for International Broadcasting, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, RFE / RL and even a stint with the National Gallery of Art.

Private about his inner life, he was gifted with a rare sense of humor which, he often said, is indispensable in overcoming life’s travails. His irrepressible humor and generosity brightened many other people’s lives. He readily responded to those reaching out to him for help. And who else would hand a total stranger in a dentist’s office his beautifully engraved “Stop Talking” card at just the right moment? Or pay for his beloved chicken pot pie lunch with a $1,000,000 bill? At Christmastime, year after year, he was the well decked-out Santa in the lobby of his Washington, DC apartment building, handing little children presents he had bought himself. He bantered with waiters, bank clerks, the old lady who sat down next to him on a park bench and others whose paths he just happened to cross. Of course this led to countless “adventures.”

People quickly sensed his empathy, opening up to him at the drop of a hat. Before he knew it, strangers were telling him their troubles, asking for help and advice, even to write their resumes. He did what he could but found it was not always easy to extricate himself from situations where his wisdom and time available fell short. “I was just on an errand,” he would say, “when this lady said to me …” So “Keep out of trouble” were parting words his friends often used with him, entirely without noticeable effect.

Values and character always trumped resumes for him and he was a kind and loyal friend with an exceptionally sound moral compass. His mind given to reflection, conversations with him went to the heart of the matter and left you feeling comforted and hopeful just by knowing that he felt as you did and you were not alone.

In our 50th Reunion Book he wrote “I now more fully appreciate that life is a precious time-limited gift. Thus, it is important to keep in mind what truly matters, to be grateful for what we already have, and to slow down enough to enjoy it. Caring relationships count a great deal. So too does pursuit of avocation. Also, a sense of humor can provide valuable perspectives on the twists and turns of life’s journey wherever we find ourselves.”
On December 31, 2022 The New York Times published his letter to the editor, “Zelensky Gives Us Hope.” It is emblematic of John Lindburg that, having noted that “the past six years have underscored our profound loss of trust in basic values and institutions,” he ended on a note of hope: “Mr. Zelensky reminded us of who we are and what we stand for.”

— Robert Van Leeuwen

Remembrance by Clarence Davis

John Lindburg and I first met at Yale in the fall of 1962. We were both from public high schools in the mid-West. He was singing Russian, I was learning to speak Russian, so we had some things in common from the start. We lived right across the hall from each other in McClellan Hall on the Old Campus. Then we both ended up in Silliman College. There we became members of a small not-so-secret society we dubbed Wine and Song. I guess trouble getting dates was the origin of that. The main thing we did was to enjoy each other’s company.

One of the fun things we did was to play “midnight football” in the Silliman quad (the porter/guard went off duty at that hour). Lindy was a wide-out and defensive back, although pass defense generally centered on the one light in the middle of the quad. You couldn’t see the ball anywhere else. I played tight end and pass rusher. Denis Gray was the quarterback. Eventually we were told to stop because we were wearing out the grass.
Our senior year at Yale, the Wine and Song group wanted to leave a little bit of a memorial behind and so we decided to make a film as part of the celebration of Silliman’s 25th anniversary. John Lindburg played a major role in development of the idea, and he played one of the star secret agents in the film. Denis Gray and I wrote the script for what became a 38-minute-long silent parody of the James Bond films that were popular in 1966, accompanied by Kas Kalba’s original songs. Since the fourth Bond film, Thunderball, had just appeared, it was only natural that our epic was entitled “Bladderball,” after the silly game that was played on the Old Campus every autumn.

I directed and played the evil Dr. Bladderball, whose son, (played by Vince Wilcox, who was also the cinematographer) is rejected by Yale, leading Bladderball to kidnap President Kingman Brewster (played by himself and two stand-ins) in order to force Yale to admit Bladderball Jr. The kidnap scene involved the storming of the presidential office by more than forty of Bladderball’s evil minions. Who could deal with such villainy? Certainly not the campus police, including future law school dean Elias Clark, then Master (Head) of Silliman College. No one could do it other than James Bland (played by Don Gastwirth) and Wellington Duet (a riff on The Man from Uncle’s Napoleon Solo), played wonderfully by John Lindburg.

Lindy was a natural for that part, with a comedic sense and timing that worked in every scene in which he appeared. He balanced beautifully with Don Gastwirth, and his scene ordering milk at the Old Heidelberg bar (bartended by renowned philosophy professor Paul Weiss), spotting lurking SPHINKTER (Bladderball’s Society Promoting Heists in Negotiable Kash to Encourage Richness) agents, telephoning James Bland for Assistance and fighting unsuccessfully with Denis and John Ehrhardt were filled with comic bits that were Lindy’s invention.

John also sparkled in the surveillance scene at Grove Street Cemetery, as he did in his mugging discomfort at encountering Roberta Ward’s Sue Perseks, and his antic response to being ‘tortured’ by Dr. Bladderball. He never needed a second take. His reactions, including his shocked reaction to James Bland’s secret weapon, still make me chuckle after more than fifty years. He nailed the comedy every time.

I really believe that if John had preferred, he could have become a fine actor, combining youthful good looks, a wonderful personality, and superb ability to play comedy. He was always available for filming his scenes and made producing the film a real pleasure. I will always treasure all of my memories of him. He was a wonderful human being.

— Clarence Davis