Dover education, nursing stalwart Joan Lynn remembered

Joan Lynn passed away June 5 at 89 in Courtland Manor Nursing Home in Dover, where she had resided for about two years.

DOVER — Joan Lynn didn’t necessarily seek the limelight.

“Although she was raising six kids off and on over a 30-plus year period of time, she was still achieving goals and objectives that … were more in the background,” said her oldest son, Pat Lynn Jr. “I helped write the obituary and so that’s sort of the way that [we] wrote it, was to give people an insight to the lady they didn’t know. At the time, it wasn’t a big deal, until you start reflecting back on the accomplishments. And then letting people know, ‘Hey, this is who she was.’”

Mrs. Lynn passed away June 5 at 89 in Courtland Manor Nursing Home in Dover, where she had resided for about two years. She had a lifelong passion for education, rising from what Mr. Lynn described as “somewhat of a hard life early on” to someone instrumental in nursing instruction with deep ties in the community.

“Education was important to them, both [of his parents]. To them, education was a sense of achievement because I know, from my mom’s perspective, she was the first and only person in her family that got a college education,” Mr. Lynn said.

If her name is familiar, it is tied to the former Dover High School site (where two new middle schools are being constructed) at Pat Lynn Drive, named for her husband and longtime Dover High principal, Patrick Lynn Sr. While she was involved with the high school’s education, her time spent in nursing also lent itself to Delaware State University, where she helped the nursing program achieve accreditation.

Sean Lynn, the youngest, served as a teacher four years before going to law school and then eventually become a state representative. Teaching, he noted, was a family business.

“That definitely left an indelible mark,” he said.

She was born in 1930 to Joseph and Margaret Toomey in Scranton, Pennsylvania.

After graduating from West Scranton High School in 1948, she enrolled at St. Mary’s Hospital Nursing School and later took a position at Princeton Hospital as a registered nurse. She worked at the hospital from 1951 to 1953 and, during that tenure, assisted on a relatively famous patient — Albert Einstein.

Mrs. Lynn went on to serve as a nurse in the U.S. Navy in 1953 as an ensign, eventually rising through the ranks to lieutenant junior gr

Pat Lynn said she was the operating room nurse for the minor surgery on Mr. Einstein.

“She was a little bit quieter about that part of her life. We’d have to kind of pull it out of her. It wasn’t something that she’d go around — like if you met a movie star or something — bragging about that. That wasn’t really her thing,” he noted. “But occasionally she’d like to remind us. In our lives, we’ve met several famous people, doing the things that we’re doing in our lives, and she’d always bring that one up if we were getting a little bit too big for our britches and telling our stories.”

She went on to serve as a nurse in the U.S. Navy in 1953 as an ensign, eventually rising through the ranks to lieutenant junior grade. While stationed in Portsmouth Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Virginia, she supervised Petty Officer Patrick H. Lynn. The pair married two years later, and were married for 40 years, and had six children — four sons, Pat Jr., Kevin, Brian and Sean; and two daughters, Mary Jackson and Rebecca Stewart.

In 1955, Mrs. Lynn left active duty and served in several nursing positions in Virginia, as well as filling an instructor role. She later enrolled in the College of Misericordia to complete a bachelor’s degree in nursing in 1962.

When Mr. Lynn Sr., was hired as a teacher in the Capital School District — then known as Dover Special School District — their family moved to Dover.

She stayed involved in the Dover community, volunteering as a nurse at Holy Cross Elementary School and with the Dover High School Band. Meanwhile, she worked part-time in the ICU at then-Kent General Hospital before earning a master’s in nursing at the University of Delaware.

“I tell people kiddingly, I’m probably one of the few offspring that can say they attended both of their parents’ graduations,” Pat Lynn noted.

Mrs. Lynn was drawn to education not just for herself, but for others, too. She went on to serve as a nursing instructor at UD through the mid-1970s, then to teaching at Wesley College. She eventually joined Delaware State University — then Delaware State College — where she helped the university achieve its first national accreditation for undergraduate nursing program.

In 1994, she became the primary care provider for Mr. Lynn Sr. during his battle with terminal cancer. He passed in 1995.

Sean Lynn explained that he was a teenager when his father passed and his mom stepped in to fill that void and instilled a sense of perseverance and setting one’s mind to goals.

“At this point in my life, I’ve probably been without my dad longer than I was with him. Getting through college, getting through law school, my career, these are all things that my mom helped me with and pushed me, and was a mentor and a friend in that regard,” he said.

She retired from the university in 1986, but stayed invested in education, eventually joining Polytech’s Adult Education department in 1996 to teach in its certified nursing assistant program. She retired in 2010.

Joan Lynn poses with husband Patrick Lynn. The two were longtime educators, with Mrs. Lynn have served as a nursing instructor at several higher education institutions and Mr. Lynn was the longtime principal of Dover High.

“She was born in 1930, so you’ve got to think about how much history she saw,” Sean Lynn said. “My mom grew up the year after the stock market crash; she lived through World War II. She served during Korea. This is a person who lived through things we read in history.”

Her ties to the community ran deep: she was a 56-year member of the Holy Cross Catholic Church, serving as a Eucharistic minister; she was a member of the Walter L. Fox American Legion Post No. 2, the Irish Society of Delaware, Sigma Theta Tau Nursing Honor Society and the DHS Band Boosters.

Sean Lynn explained that his mother’s father struggled with addiction and her mother had mental health issues. Despite her difficult childhood, “she went out and basically made something of herself,” Pat Lynn said.

As coronavirus lockdowns picked up around the state, Courtland Manor quarantined its residents and the family was unable to see Mrs. Lynn. When she began having health complications, she was taken to the hospital and placed in ICU where three of her children were able to visit, Pat Lynn said. Later, when she was being taken back to Courtland Manor by ambulance, the family was able to see her briefly during the transition. When her health began to decline in early June, two of her children was able to be with her at the end.

“We won the lottery in terms of parents,” Sean Lynn said. “It’s not lost on me how incredibly fortunate I was to have her in my life.”

The mathematician in the family who helped with homework and instilled an appreciation for faith in the family, there was a vast sea of lessons she left for her children, Pat Lynn said.

“To me, it wasn’t anything that stood out. It was a lot of little things,” he said. “She wanted us to stand on our own two feet, not to be dependent on others, make our own way into the world and essentially just be good people and to care for others.”