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At Home with Lynn Meredith

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Lynn Meredith — At home wherever she finds herself.

By Deborah Hamilton-Lynne, Photos by Ryann Ford Styling by Adam Fortner. Flowers courtesy of Verbena Floral Design, verbenafloral.com. Makeup by Stacey Hubrath and hair by Courtney

Every master builder knows that a house begins with a solid foundation. Very few teenagers have the foresight or intuition to begin their relationships by building a solid foundation. When Lynn and Tom Meredith met as freshmen at Saint Francis University, they began a conversation that has lasted 43 years and became the foundation upon which they built their life together, their family and the many homes they have shared with friends and family.

“When we first started dating, we talked a lot about how we were raised, what our parents were like,” Lynn says. “I am the youngest of three and Tommie comes from a family of four. We talked a lot about family and home .  We talked about family traditions: what meals our families ate and what we did at Christmas.  We always knew that we wanted a family and a home, so we talked about these things ad nauseum while we were dating. We married right after our college graduation and by then we had made agreements and compromises about each experience and we knew what we wanted.”

Married 39 years with four children, the Merediths have had the opportunity to build not only a life together, but also several homes along the way. From their first grad school apartment in Pittsburgh, where they slept on a Castro convertible sofa, to their current spacious condominium overlooking Austin, the city of their heart, the couple has stayed true to the agreements they reached in college. Each home, no matter how large or small, has been a place for entertaining. From early potluck dinners shared with friends to large family dinners to catered fundraisers, the kitchen has been a focal point in each Meredith home. Open space for family and friends to gather is a must, as is access to the great outdoors. Throughout the years, they have tended to gravitate toward decorating with the colors that make them feel warm and comfortable: yellows, greens and blues. Books, photos of family and friends , and beloved heirlooms such as Lynn’s rocking chair from childhood are staples in every home.  The road to Austin led through a small apartment in Pittsburgh, a townhouse in Virginia and two ranch-style houses in California.

“Tommie is the driver in choosing our houses,” Lynn says. “Very interesting how we divide these things. When we found both of the houses in California, it was about the kitchen and the family room—how that operates and is there an outdoor space. Always important to us.  We always looked for outdoor space. In all of our houses, we needed the ability to entertain because we always liked to have people over. We were in a dinner club and w e had a playgroup. We had to accommodate all of that. Tom is the architect and I am much more involved with the ‘case goods.’ I look at the comfort and the feel of the fabric and the furniture. The idea of the spaces is much more Tommie. He has the vision when he sees houses.”

In 1992, when a young man from Austin named Michael Dell, who had an interesting startup company, offered Tom the chance to join Dell Computer as chief financial officer, the couple packed up their four children, aged 20 months to 12 years, and moved to a sprawling two-story home in Rob Roy.

“In Menlo Park, we came from a fully formed community where I had incredible support— emotionally, socially, physically and academically. And from schools we loved and a community we were very integrated in to, a community we loved,” Lynn says. “I feel strongly that when you commit to a place, you need to commit to that place . I don’t think about going back. I knew this was a great opportunity for Tommie. So what was wonderful when we got to Austin was how welcoming people were—the Dells, the Gottesmans, the Inmans, Liz Carpenter and Lady Bird Johnson. They welcomed us with open arms and people helped at every turn. Once I got involved with schools, I knew it was a great place for the kids. We started to see the benefits of raising the children in such a vibrant community and never looked back. We renovated our house in Rob Roy to open it up. We wanted to have a large room where the family could gather.  We added a playground and pool for the kids and a guest room to welcome our friends from California. The very first year we were in Austin, we had our pumpkin party, a longstanding tradition, which we continue to this day.”

Two years ago, with the prospect of their youngest child, Abby, going to college, the Merediths began to contemplate a lifestyle change and a move downtown. Tom had taken a position at Motorola and was traveling for business to Chicago, Miami and San Diego. Lynn served on several boards for arts organizations and nonprofits, and found herself commuting to town almost every day. The choice of the Four Seasons Residences was the perfect fit. The proximity to the hike-and-bike trail allows easy access to the outdoor lifestyle that the Merediths love. They exercise their dogs, bike to Whole Foods and walk the trail. Proximity to downtown allows for Saturday shopping at the farmers market, impromptu dinners at downtown restaurants and access to cultural events at The Long Center and nearby theaters.

“We have returned to our roots,” Lynn says. “Tommie was raised in Philadelphia, and I was raised in New York. We love city life. It is like being first married again. It is a new place and it is just the two of us. The kids are in and out because three of them all live within the Austin city limits. They come by and go jogging. [Our son] Will works from here. I am still in the mix with the kids, but in a new way. It is fun to be here. There are lots of things to do or you can do nothing. You can hide out if you want to. This building is a community. People are friendly and surprisingly social; they hang out in the lobby. It is now over 50% occupied. The residents vary: a few have children, for some this is their full-time residence and for others it is a second home. [There are] people from all over the state and the country. There are a ton of writers. Some professors live here. It is a fascinating community. When Tommie is traveling for business, I can go and have a cocktail with friends, have dinner downtown, walk to meetings.We are very busy here.”

When her third child, Sarah, left for college, Lynn realized that she had four years with daughter Abby before she would be an empty-nester. In typical Lynn Meredith style, she began exploring and preparing for the transition and a new phase of life. Beyond the changes in location and housing, the couple began discussing what this would mean for their relationship and lifestyle.

“I have a tendency to think long term about things and look at the horizon to see what is coming,” Lynn says. “I started reading, talking and finding people who had already gone through the empty-nest transitions and spending time talking with them. ‘What is it like? What should I do?’ I got everything from ‘This is great’ to ‘I can’t get out of bed.’ I am not big with being surprised, so I try to be prepared. It was a hard transition and I was sad, but I stayed busy. Tom and I have been married 39 years and together 43, so it was really also talking together about what is this going to look like for the two of us? What we do now is we spend more time together. He works from home, which gives us opportunity during the day to do things together. We will say, ‘Where do you want to go to dinner tonight?’ or ‘Do you want to walk with me?’ We can be more spontaneous and spend more time together. We have more freedom and flexibility. When we had children, we were always working off the family calendar and juggling events. Now we fold things in and we travel together. Our time is not as regimented.”

Lynn and Tom have become involved in L3 Leadership, Legacy and Life, an organization started three years ago when a group of people came together pondering the question of what to do in the second half of life . The group is composed of successful professionals with a philanthropic bent who want to explore ways to stay relevant, improve the quality of their lives and their communities, and leave a significant legacy to their families and the larger world as a whole. The group came together in Austin last spring to explore ways to “stay green” and healthy in mind, body and spirit, as w ell as the environment. Lynn will serve as chairman of the advisory board beginning in January 2013. Both Lynn and Tom remain active in the Austin nonprofit and arts communities. For their contributions of time, advice and funds, they have been honored with the Anti-Defamation League Torch of Liberty Award, as well as the 2010 Austin Community Foundation Barbara Jordan Award for outstanding volunteer contribution and philanthropy. Through their family foundation, MFI Foundation, founded in 1998, the Merediths have made significant contributions to The Long Center, the Blanton Museum, the Austin Children’s Museum, the Wildflower Center and Dell Children’s Medical Center, as well as many other organizations in Austin and Central Texas. Making it a family affair, son Will has joined the foundation, working on the Chestnut project on the East side, which will house nonprofits PeopleFund, the Sustainable Food Center and Theatre Action Project. The project crosses age groups, economic groups and specialty interest groups through education, economic empowerment and commitment to a healthy lifestyle. Asked about this phase of life and de veloping a balance, Lynn reflects on two books that have given her direction.

“Women my age had a difficult time choosing between career and motherhood or trying to have both,” she says. “I read a book titled Sequencing, and I discovered that you don’t have to do everything all at the same time . You can sequence your life and fold things in and fold things out. Some things I ha ve done all the time—being married, being a mother—but some things professional and philanthropic can have a greater piece of your time and attention at different times in your life. Even professionally, there are times when you can be full bore. If you sequence, you can have a greater impact. Another book that plays on this is A Gift from the Sea. That had a big impact on me . What Anne Morrow Lindberg said was even though I love my life, my husband and my children, I need to be sure to keep my self intact so that I can draw strength from myself. She realized that she needed to pa y attention to her own needs so that she could remain resilient and dedicate her life to these other important matters.”

As for building a lasting legacy, Lynn has an interesting take on obituaries and looks to important women in her life as role models.  “My father read the obituaries to me, so from a young age, I looked at my life backwards: How did I want it to end? And what did I want to leave? I think of great people and how they lived their lives: Mrs. Johnson lived through so many changes over nine decades; Liz Carpenter, always vibrant and relevant. The legacy that Tom and I want to provide for our children is to educate them with a set of values and a set of ethics that instill a moral compass and a spirituality they can build their lives on,” Lynn says. “For me, being reliable, being consistent and being present has always been key. As a legacy, being involved in civic life is very important to me and I am hopeful that all of our children will be involved both in the political sense and the community sense.”

Lynn Meredith is the first to acknowledge that she has been blessed. She will also say that she believes it is a privilege to live in a city where people respect and honor your beliefs and value systems, and everyone works together to make it a better place. This is what she has found in Austin, and it’s the foundation on which she and Tom have built all of their houses. It is a solid foundation that allows Lynn to be at home wherever she finds herself.

One of the notable things Lynn was giving up by moving from Westlake to downtown was her wonderful landscaping. Consequently, we conceived of the new apartment as a ‘landscape in the sky’ and the entire layout was based on landscape elements such as hedgerows, an esplanade, a grove (the entry columned gallery), forest, follies and ponds. The round wine room is the symbolic pond around the round media room, which was to be emblematic of a folly. The library in particular was intended to represent a courtyard in the middle of a landscape, hence its balconies on the mezzanine above. – David Webber, Webber Studio

Because the building is one of very simple lines, it was decided to treat the space as though it had been an industrial building, revamped into a wonderful living space blending old and new. David Webber, the Merediths’ architect, and I spent months playing with various approaches. I feel he did an outstanding job with the movement he created. In what could have felt like one enormous rectangle, there are so many beautiful lines and soft details. It is truly full of surprises. One of my favorite elements is the 30-inch deep crown all done in the same integral plaster as the walls. Native materials, finishes and fabrics were chosen that would complement the outside, since it is glass, floor to ceiling. Lynn’s love of Italian was also a driving force in the design and furniture. Phyllis Brooks, Phyllis Brooks Interiors Photos by William Russell

Lynn Meredith on her dedication to Austin nonprofits and organizations:

  • The Women’s Fund of Central Texas

“What I love about The Women’s Fund is that it was women in Austin coming together around philanthropy. It allowed women to join together to have an impact in a fun but serious way. They have done a lot of good. Their grants are focused and they have an enormous amount of impact.”

  • Dell Children’s Women’s Trust Fund

“This is a relatively new organization. This is the second fund and what is wonderful about it is that there have been so many people who have been involved at the Dell Children’s Center as philanthropists or as major supporters, and it allows those women to come together and learn what is actually happening and where the needs are. It is fun to vote with your dollars with other friends and have the opportunity to learn while making an impact.”

  • The Blanton Museum of Art

“I became involved with [the museum]as a way to bridge the Austin community and the UT community. It is a centerpiece for an amazing collection that is owned by UT, and I was drawn to it because of the leadership: Jessie Otto Hite, Jack Blanton. It was a great place to connect the city of Austin and UT.”

  • The Lady Bird Johnson Wildflower Center

“I am committed to Mrs. Johnson’s vision of having a sense of place through the environment. I feel that native plants and wildflowers bring so much joy to all of us and it is critical to use them to enhance our environment.”

  • The National Charity League

“It is a mother-daughter organization. The girls are in the seventh to 12th grade. Along with two other women, I started the first chapter in Austin and both [my daughters], Sarah and Abby, went through. It focuses on the motherdaughter relationship and helps the girls learn leadership skills and good manners. The focus is on serving the community, and mothers and daughters serve together. It creates an avenue for the girls to bond, as well as the mothers and daughters.”

  • Austin Children’s Museum

“When I came to Austin, I was a member of The Junior League and was already a sustainer, so I looked for a way to get involved outside of the league using my experience. I had great mentors in Nancy Inman and Ronya Kozmetsky, whose husbands were both on the board of Dell. They showed me the lay of the land, gave me a wide swath of organizations to look at and I talked to the executive directors. I loved Deborah Edward because she had a vision and she was on a mission, and there was a great need for a children’s museum. I became involved, chaired the board and chaired the campaign to move it to Second Street. Now we are a size 9 foot in a size shoe. Our audience has grown and the expectation of our audience has evolved, so we are moving to the Mueller site and building 40,000 square feet. We will be open in the last quarter of 2013. It is going to be an ‘Austinized’ experience. This is the most democratic, open, family-friendly institution in Austin.”

  • The Long Center for the Performing Arts

“Our largest civic gift was to The Long Center. We love Austin and we felt that there were some civic investments that needed to be made in Austin to attract and keep talent and improve the cultural life of the city. We felt that The Long Center was going to be the city’s living room. We had a lot of conversations amongst the group of major donors to decide what to do and how to make the project happen. We had a lot of leaders in the arts that picked up the gauntlet and made it happen, all done with public funding. It was a huge investment of time and money. If it wasn’t for the Longs giving their huge gift, it never would have happened. That was what we were all looking for.”

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