Lynn A. Nystrom

Lynn A. Nystrom

Engineering News and External Services
1979 - 2015

Lynn Nystrom was ten years old when she persuaded her parents to sign her up for a dozen horseback riding lessons costing a bank-breaking sum of $50. It was 1961. She didn’t ride again for almost 20 years, but her desire and love for horses never wavered. Nystrom embodied the same type of passion for her friends, her family, her animals, and her beloved college of engineering.

A native of Pompton Lakes, New Jersey, a small suburb on the outskirts of New York City, Nystrom headed to Radford University, located in southwest Virginia, upon completion of high school.

In 1973, she completed her bachelor’s degree in journalism in only three short years. The adventurous Nystrom decided to see the country since she had never been west of Louisville, Kentucky. She spent four months driving cross-country with her dog Harley in her Datsun pick-up truck with a whopping $600 to her name.

Upon her return, at age 21, Nystrom worked at the Blacksburg Sun newspaper, starting as a reporter for the astounding pay of $2 an hour, the same as a McDonald’s employee. She was eventually promoted to editor.

In December 1977, she began her tenure at Virginia Tech in their news bureau. Nystrom had a rare gift for writing — few people could get away with calling a kilometer-long synchrotron x-ray light source “some fancy state-of-the-art equipment,” said Lewis Millholland, news editor for the Collegiate Times.

Shortly after she began at Virginia Tech, Nystrom bought her first home in the country, with an acre and a half of land — it was the right amount of pasture to house one horse. An opportunity came along to purchase an Arab/quarter-horse mix, with reddish coloring in his blond mane and tail, which perfectly matched his name Sunny. The word was that he had been a barrel racing horse from West Virginia and still acted as though every ride was a competition. But Nystrom knew she could saddle and ride him, even though she had never once saddled a horse.

She was confident enough to outfox the spirited horse. After several bouts with the saddle, Nystrom had the ride of her life. It wasn’t the graceful canter through the fields as she had imagined, but at age 30, Nystrom was exhilarated.

And as a dedicated journalist making her way in a man’s world, Nystrom brought the same type of energy to the stories she covered for the university, which includes the College of Engineering and the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

Nystrom joined engineering two years later under then-dean Paul E. Torgersen as its first dedicated news director. She served under four successive deans: G. Wayne Clough, F. William Stephenson, Hassan Aref, and Richard Benson. “Lynn has been the person who, more than any other, made the College of Engineering into a family, from our newest undergraduates to our oldest alumni,” Benson said of the long-time director. “At our times of triumph, happiness, loss, and sadness, Lynn found just the right words.”

Some of Nystrom’s most remarkable words were crafted to articulate the building of System X, a then-astounding 12.25 teraflop super computer built by the department of computer science. Nystrom was vital in promoting early work of Stefan Duma in rating football helmets for safety and covered work by Marc Edwards, ten years prior to the current Flint, Michigan water crisis, in uncovering malfeasance among water authorities in Washington, D.C.

“Lynn’s impact is immeasurable. When I read her news releases about our faculty and staff, I swell with pride,” said Benson. “I am especially moved by Lynn’s stories of our extraordinary students. Such talent! Such generosity! Such an Ut Prosim spirit!”

Lynn guided students in her role as a faculty adviser, but was furthermore a mentor, said mechanical engineering graduate student Ashley Taylor, who served on the Student Engineers’ Council. Every spring Nystrom invited the council members to her house for a home-cooked meal and a mean game of water volleyball.

Nystrom served as adviser to the Collegiate Times since 1979 and the Engineers’ Forum. Her office was packed with knickknacks and she always kept an open door for students coming to her for guidance.

“As an impressionable student, Lynn taught me, and certainly others, a key life lesson that continues to guide me even today — relationships matter. Relationships need to be cultivated, invested in, and constantly built upon,” said Elliot Gordon, the vice president of Core Video Technologies at Turner Broadcasting. “She represented a constant relationship — a generational thread — for the students working at the CT for nearly three decades.” Gordon worked at the Collegiate Times as a photo editor, and graduated from Virginia Tech in 1994.

While working full-time, Nystrom found time to take course work towards a master’s degree in science and technology studies at Virginia Tech.

She was a supporter of all things local. Whenever she could, Nystrom would send business to the local vendor. She was an active member of the New River Land Trust, a local nonprofit dedicated to preserving farmland, forests, open spaces, and historical sites across Southwest Virginia. Likewise, she served on their board of directors. Together with her first husband, Rick Claus, in the fall of 1996, they led the way by establishing the first conservation easement with the Virginia Outdoors Foundation in Montgomery County.

The oldest of eight cousins on her father’s side and an only child, Nystrom also took on the role of family event planner as she ascended into adulthood. Years ago, she planned a family trip to Jamaica that almost abruptly ended before it began. Prior to their arrival, a hurricane had ripped through Jamaica, destroying their bungalow-style resort, but Nystrom negotiated fancier accommodations that included a mansion complete with maid, chef, and private pool.

“Lynn also planned family reunions at the Grove. Three meals a day with snacks in between, horseback riding, water volleyball, hikes, and many adult beverages filled our time at her home,” eflected her cousin Kathy Cox. “I did not grow up in close proximity to Lynn, but she had an open-door policy.”

Nystrom’s home in the Grove, called Tansy Hollow, was a place for her to relax and enjoy life outside of work. There she spent time with her numerous horses, cats, dogs, family, friends, and her loving husband Larry. In the Grove, they hosted fun-filled July 4th celebrations with friends or enjoyed quiet horseback rides.

Together in June of 2012, she and Larry took the trip of a lifetime, exploring the Norwegian fjords and glaciers. Earlier excursions included: Australia, Barbados, Jamaica, Hawaii, Greece, and their own private wedding on the shores of Nevis. The duo also faithfully attended Virginia Tech football games, cheering on the team side-by-side, regardless of the win/loss status.

In the last couple of years, to anyone looking in from the outside, Nystrom appeared to be a perfect bill of health. What most didn’t know was that she was courageously and quietly fighting cancer. During this time, she almost never missed a day of work. In the last few months, when her health began to suddenly decline, never fail she was in her office in Torgersen Hall, arranging her days around her meeting schedule. Even on Thanksgiving Day from her hospital bed, Nystrom was diligently emailing, delegating work.

And on December 3, at the young age of 63, Nystrom passed away peacefully surrounded by those who loved her dearly, leaving an inspirational legacy behind.

1979 - 2015
Year Inducted into Academy: 2016