Commentary: Lynn’s influence on this world likely won’t end with her passing

By Steve Brosnihan
Posted 4/30/21

A high school classmate, Lynn Allienello, passed away recently at age 59. I didn’t know her well during school days, nor in the years since, yet I feel profound heartbreak over her loss.

At …

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Commentary: Lynn’s influence on this world likely won’t end with her passing


A high school classmate, Lynn Allienello, passed away recently at age 59. I didn’t know her well during school days, nor in the years since, yet I feel profound heartbreak over her loss.

At our graduation ceremony at Pierce Field in 1979 I sat in red gown and mortarboard feeling unsure about where I was headed from East Providence High School. I was a distracted eighteen year-old, dreading the ramifications of transition. My focus was on matters more relevant: what my friends and I would be doing later; my girlfriend; my car; baseball—everything but what was happening in the moment.

At one point an elegant young woman got up on stage and conquered the challenges of outdoor performance—and my inattention—by beautifully playing guitar and singing, “To Sir With Love.” I’m sure the song, familiar to me from oldies radio, has been sung at countless graduation ceremonies since Lulu first scored with it in 1967—but no performance could mean as much to me as the one that day by Lynn Allienello.

My perception of Lynn in high school was an engaging, bright, naturally beautiful girl with a smile that could make your day in a glimpse. I had known her to be musically talented, having seen her on stage at EPHS .

Facebook was the agent for getting Lynn and I back in touch. I hadn’t seen her since an early class reunion when I was stunned by her mature beauty and vivacity. On Facebook she checked in occasionally with support for my work and the usual birthday greetings. I once sent a message about my memory of her singing “To Sir With Love” and how I always thought of her when I heard the song. She fielded the compliment with grace.

From her Facebook page it was clear that Lynn possessed that most enviable quality: the ability to become more attractive with age. In photos her natural beauty seemed enhanced by graying hair and she further defied Father Time by staying in great shape. Her warm magnetism was also evident in photos and messages with admiring friends and family.

A few weeks ago I was stricken to see a post by Lynn announcing that she was at the Philip Hulitar Hospice Center. She assured friends that she was receiving excellent care but further communication would be tough. I knew the facility as the last stop for those with terminal illnesses.

The message led me to scroll through her Facebook page. In the feed I found a post from late last year revealing that she had been diagnosed with pancreatic cancer and it had metastasized. I learned from a mutual friend that Lynn, being a registered nurse and knowing what she was up against, had opted to forego treatment.

Knowing that this vibrant, soulful, beloved woman was dying brought me to tears. I realized that humanity would soon be losing someone who was making this a better world by living and loving fully, caring for others and raising spirits simply by being whom she was.

I quickly sent Lynn a message letting her know that I was shattered to learn of her situation. Trying not to grasp, I wrote that I appreciated the little amount of love in the trace of friendship we shared, believing that even “a little is enough,” as another guitarist-singer once suggested.

The next day I saw a small red heart attached to my message from “Lynn Allienello.” I immediately sent another message letting her know that her emoji was the most cherished I could ever receive. She sent back a wish that I “experience so many more years.” I wished her “sweet dreams.”

After that I saw posts from many expressing love, sadness and prayers for Lynn, trying to deliver comfort as her time shortened. The tragedy was compounded by the fact that her partner, Peter A. Alley, was himself in intensive care due to COVID-19. Finally I saw an announcement from her oldest best friend, Carrie Gordon Coren, EPHS ’79, that Lynn had passed.

I don’t believe that Lynn’s influence on this world can end with death. She touched too many, inspired too much love, earned too much admiration. I seek my own comfort by believing in the translation of spiritual being to pure spirit. Lynn’s legacy is her undying spiritual presence.

“To Sir With Love” had represented a pleasant high school memory of mine thanks to the gift of Lynn Allienello. Now the song summons adoration for the enduring spirit of a remarkable woman.

— Mr. Brosnihan is the resident cartoonist at Hasbro Children's Hospital and creator of the “Good Night Lights” program there.

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A lifelong Portsmouth resident, Jim graduated from Portsmouth High School in 1982 and earned a journalism degree from the University of Rhode Island in 1986. He's worked two different stints at East Bay Newspapers, for a total of 18 years with the company so far. When not running all over town bringing you the news from Portsmouth, Jim listens to lots and lots and lots of music, watches obscure silent films from the '20s and usually has three books going at once. He also loves to cook crazy New Orleans dishes for his wife of 25 years, Michelle, and their two sons, Jake and Max.