As Nathaniel Lynn shared the story of his wife and my former Journal Sentinel colleague Felicia Thomas-Lynn, he couldn’t help but talk about how they first met 37 years ago in high school.
“I was a sophomore and she was a freshman,” he said. “We met on the track field at William Henry Shaw High School in Columbus, Ga. She was a tremendous long-distance runner and I was a sprinter. Even back then, she knew exactly what she wanted out of life.” By age 15, Felicia had a passion for journalism and she would turn that into a career as a reporter at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.
Thomas-Lynn, 52, died July 10 at Froedtert Hospital after a battle with cancer. Her funeral is at 11 a.m. Wednesday at St. John AME Church, 3980 Steam Mill Road, Columbus, according to Sconiers Funeral Home. Burial will be at Green Acres Cemetery.
In addition to her husband, she leaves behind two children, Tatyana, 16 and Nathaniel, 13.
Thomas-Lynn’s death came as a shock to everyone in the newsroom and many of the people who she reported on over the years. I received emails from journalists as far away as Washington, D.C., and California.
Most of us remember her as a small, southern Energizer bunny, who carried a small container of Red Dot hot sauce in her purse. Thomas-Lynn wouldn’t bite her tongue when it came to expressing her opinion on news coverage, and this assertiveness served her well.
Along with her newsroom accomplishments, Thomas-Lynn served as president of the Milwaukee Press Club in 2001; president of the Wisconsin Black Media Association; and as an adjunct journalism professor at Marquette University from 2001-06.
“One of her best traits was her persistence,” said former Journal Sentinel columnist Eugene Kane, who worked with Thomas-Lynn from 1997 until she left the paper in 2008. “She was one of the leading black female journalists in the city if not the state,” he said.
Journal Sentinel Editor George Stanley called Thomas-Lynn “a caring human being who was always on the lookout for the neighbors around us who are making the world a better place.”
Former business reporter Tannette Johnson-Elie spoke of Thomas-Lynn as someone who was looked to in the community as a leader because of the roles she held in her church, as a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority and in several different journalism organizations.
Greg Stanford, a former editorial columnist with the Journal Sentinel, praised Thomas-Lynn for her work in creating an annual one-day workshop for high school students of color to get them interested in journalism.
"She brought new life to the Wisconsin Black Media Association, with her ideas, energy and efficiency," Stanford said. "I will sorely miss her."
Felicia was a perfectionist and consummate professional. She made it her mission to cover the minority community and show it in a positive light. When she was president of WBMA, she often pointed out how, as black journalists, we needed to make sure that we covered black and brown communities in totality and not just the bad.
Her dedication to WBMA — the state's largest minority journalism organization — earned the organization’s highest recognition as the National Association of Black Journalists chapter of the year in 2000, the only time in four decades that the chapter was recognized with that honor.
Most remember Thomas-Lynn for her “Faces of Hope” column, which profiled people and non-profit agencies that provided hope and help to those who needed it most.
“Faces of Hope was her ministry,” Nathaniel said. “She always loved pulling for the underdog and she loved giving recognition to those who otherwise would be ignored.”
When she wasn’t talking about journalism she was bragging about her family, from Tatyana’s mastery of the violin to young Nathaniel’s good grades. The younger Nathaniel enjoys anything sports, according to his father, and he wants to become a sports attorney.
“My wife loved family and she loved making sure that we were all OK,” Nathaniel said. “That’s how she lived her life. She refused to let anything stop her.”
When Thomas-Lynn was diagnosed with cancer, she decided to keep matters private because she didn’t want people to worry about her.
She was in remission but earlier this year the cancer came back; it had spread.
They made peace with it, and Thomas-Lynn would not let the family throw a pity party.
“Education was always important to us so she took Tatyana on a college tour of colleges on the East Coast in June. We went to Harvard, Union College and Loyola,” Nathaniel said. They also visited Boston College, Northwestern University, University of Rochester and St. Louis University.
Tatyana wants to be a cardiothoracic surgeon, and her mom wanted to make sure she stayed on track. Tatyana has attended the Marquette Health Careers Opportunity Program for two years, and this summer she is participating in Apprenticeships in Medicine through the Medical College of Wisconsin/Froedtert.
In March, the family also put everything to the side and took one last family vacation together.
“We went to Hawaii. She always wanted to visit there and we got that opportunity,” Nathaniel said.
Nathaniel lovingly called Felicia his little giant. She was a strong woman and strong in her convictions.
"She fought all the way to the end. She was my best friend."
In addition to her husband and two children, Felicia is survived by a brother, Clifford, of Los Angeles, Calif.