Written by Julia Carlisle
This is her 80th birthday interview. But, this is the last time you will see that number, since it is irrelevant. She is – in no uncertain terms – looking to the future. As Jay emphatically notes,”I refuse to be a senior citizen. I will run away from that. It’s wrong and I won’t do it!”
Let’s get this out of the way: Jay is looking forward to continue working with good writers whom she “adores.” And speaking of adore, there are goals of finding her next love match. In fact, sitting at a table at Hallie’s, just around the block from WORK Petaluma, she waves around a print-out and photograph of a potential companion, giggling as she shows it to her Hallie’s friends. This man may check all the boxes, including a love of jazz music (living in New York City in the late 50’s and 60’s Jay became a jazz “FAN-atic” after she heard both John Coltrane and Thelonius Monk at a club called the Five Spot).
Jay has goals, hopes and aspirations that are no different from anyone else of any other age. In fact, an hour into an interview punctuated by “Make sure that goes in!” and “No, take that out,” and “That word is spelled with two “R’s,” her eyes light up and there is a bit of a frustrated giggle when she demands, “When are we going to talk about THE FUTURE?” One gets the sense she is driving this bus. It won’t surprise many who know her: that is her natural inclination. She is, after all, a working editor. In fact, she is editing this interview as we go.
This woman has not conformed to any norms of her times. She may be the poster child for what individuals can accomplish even when they feel like they don’t fit it. When young women in Boston were attending the Katherine Gibbs School in the 50’s and 60’s to become proper secretaries, Jay landed her first job as a full-on editor at prestigious Little, Brown Publishers; later moving across the street to Houghton Mifflin. Of her first job she mentions rather humbly, “Yes, I had an office with a door and everything.” It does not seem to strike her as remarkable.
Jay notes, “I have always been interested in words, not writing…so I don’t know what that makes me.” But the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree as her life has come full circle from her father’s work. He was a performer/radio writer during the Golden Age of Radio (circa 1930’s/40’s). He wrote radio plays and toured with a group known as the Chautauqua Players. That writing work eventually won him prizes and a move to New York City. In fact, well-known radio/tv personality Rod Serling (think Twilight Zone) soon became a collaborator and good friend of the family.
Now, full circle, Linda Jay became founder of the popular Petaluma Radio Players. She even went out on a limb at the encouragement of coWORKer and Radio Player Producer Ralph Scott to audition for some small parts despite a chronic voice issue. She clearly takes pride in her roles as well as carrying on her Midwestern father’s legacy. In fact, fast forward to the near present, Producer Ralph Scott tells of the remarkable moment when Jay stepped up the microphone after garnering a role, then spoke, performed, and somehow lost any hint of that voice issue. Radio entertainment, always a family affair. Jay’s mother was also a performer with neighbors knocking on the door, often concerned as Mom and Dad practiced sound effects in their apartment. Scott describes Jay as having “a solid grasp as to entertainment history and personalities” connecting that knowledge to present Petaluma Radio Player’s work.
Jay would rather not have it mentioned, but she has also brushed shoulders with a few other well-known people (in addition to Rod Serling) including a few dates back in her UC Berkeley days with a man named Jerry Brown. Traveling to Sacramento with another couple for the day, Brown asked her if she knew who his father was? Laughing now, Jay said, “Well, no, I had no idea.” The future Governor of California was taking her to spend the day poolside with the then Governor of California. It was a pleasant day, but a continued relationship didn’t work out. One surmises the chemistry wasn’t there.
Speaking of chemistry, Jay says that, on the other hand, when she met her first husband, “It was like being hit with lightning!” Surprisingly to those who think online dating is new, every serious man in her life has been through online dating’s equivalent. When she met first husband Richard, she was in Boston and some MIT guys created a match-making service they called “DataMate.” This service – using data processing and snail mail – brought Jay a man who built some of the first computers, worked for Hewlett Packard and at the same time provided a wonderful marriage that lasted 24 years before Richard succumbed to cancer.
A second marriage, also thanks to online dating, lasted a good many years, but did not work out, and is what eventually brought Jay to Petaluma, although with some reticence. She needed a new place for some personal healing. A couple of friends who lived here suggested she move. “I had been here once for 15 minutes and thought it was mostly chickens,” she laughs. But it has been in Petaluma that she has finally made connections, found communities (including WORK and Petaluma Radio Players) and has now gained self-acceptance.
What Jay says she has also learned over all these years is “Finally: Not to contort myself to conventional ideas.” She adds, “I could never do it, no matter how hard I tried.” She starts to smile again, “In fact I respect and like myself. In fact, I would say I am a NIFTY person.” The key to her youthful approach is staying silly and maintaining friendships with younger as well as older people. As to success at work? Jay says one must be curious, interested, enjoy the people one works with…”and it will all work out.”
One can’t help but notice that Jay makes an effort to stay stylish. On the day of this interview, Linda Jay’s hair, jewelry, scarf are helping giving off a teal/reddish glow. She mentions this “colorized” coordination is rather Midwestern and shrugs it off. But her aura is clearly determined by her personality. This is a strong, smart, funny woman. She will make sure that her party reflects her interests. In front of her is a laminated paper with a series of her favorite quotations. She plans to share those literary notes with all her coWORKers. And so, we share one of her favorites here:
“If I keep a green bough in my heart, the singing bird will come.” – Chinese Proverb