The late Lindsay Cropper would like the new writing
center at USD
By Arthur Salm
BOOKS EDITOR, San Diego Union Tribune
October 30, 2005
The Lindsay Joanne Cropper Center for Creative Writing is a quiet
refuge in USD's Founder's Hall. A sofa, writing tables and comfortable
chairs offer sanctuary; on the wall there's a photograph of Lindsay
Cropper and framed copies of the three book reviews she wrote for
They were the aspiring young writer's first, and only, appearances
in print. The last review was published in August 2000, just a month
before she struck her head after being thrown from a golf cart.
She never regained consciousness, and 12 days after the accident,
she died. She was 24 years old.
The room at USD comes from the generosity of Lindsay's parents,
Barrie and Dorothy Cropper. In their grief, through their grief,
they determined to memorialize their daughter at the institution
that meant so much to her.
"She didn't throw her cap into the air like everybody else,"
said Barrie Cropper, talking about his daughter's May 1998 graduation
from USD. His eyes frequently fill with tears, as do Dorothy's;
she can hardly bear to talk about Lindsay, their only child, at
"Graduation meant the cloistered environment was ending, and
she was a bit timid about going out in the world. So, when the time
came, that cap did not go into the air."
News of Lindsay's accident arrived, Barrie Cropper said, as "the
dreaded 2 a.m. phone call from the hospital." Lindsay had her
own apartment in Pacific Beach by then; she had been to a block
party in Bay Park, attended by some of her co-workers from Anthony
Robbins' Robbins Research International, where she designed programs
for intellectual property. The details remain unclear, but what
is certain (according to the police report) is that Lindsay was
riding in a golf cart; the driver – who, like Lindsay, had
been drinking – lost control. Lindsay was thrown into the
street and hit her head on the pavement. The driver later pleaded
guilty to driving while intoxicated.
During the agonizing week and a half in which she lingered, the
Croppers, both natives of England – as was Lindsay, who lived
there till she was 10 – were further unnerved by the response
from their friends and Lindsay's friends.
"There was a time I thought there was a great similarity between
British and American culture," Barrie said in his soft, northern
England, almost-Scottish burr. But, he said, unlike what would have
happened in England, "there were so many people there during
the time she was in hospital, practically a round-the-clock vigil.
We were in the room with Lindsay. Part of the cultural issue was
how to communicate with them. We're very private people, and that
was very difficult for us."
Barrie, Dorothy and 10-year-old Lindsay came to the U.S. in 1987,
living a year in Valencia before moving to Poway. Lindsay quickly
Americanized herself; she attended Twin Peaks Middle School and
Poway High, and became fluent in Spanish. Eventually, after being
accepted at UC Santa Cruz and changing her mind at the last minute,
she fell in love with USD. ("I'd wanted her to apply to USD
in the first place," Barrie said, "but she flatly refused,
probably because I'd suggested it.")
Through it all, beginning with remarkably clever childhood poetry,
her compass was fixed on literature.
"She was always a good writer," Dorothy said, looking
over some of Lindsay's early drawings and poems in the Croppers'
immaculate living room. "I don't know – it was just there."
"She had the ability to articulate that was extraordinary,"
Barrie said. "It sure didn't come from me."
Lindsay Cropper envisioned herself as a writer, and she was well
into the process of making herself one. Over the course of three
years, Cynthia Caywood, an English professor at USD, had Lindsay
in four of her classes: Women Writers, Jane Austen, the 19th Century
Novel, and 18th Century Poetry and Prose.
"Every class she took with me, her grade went up," Caywood
said. "I was extremely impressed with her growth as a writer;
she became much more skillful as an analytical thinker. She was
so eager and open to what I and others suggested she try. She was,
'Bring it on, tell me what I'm doing right, tell me what stinks.'
She owned her education, demanded that it be first class in terms
of her response to it.
"USD students tend to be quiet, dutiful, not expressive. Lindsay
was fun to have in class – she brought strong opinions, sometimes
wacky, sometimes right on the nose. And she'd laugh at herself for
being such a big personality in class."
English professor Bart Thurber also had Lindsay in several classes.
"She had this way of saying that she wanted to write,"
he said. "I decided to challenge her: 'Write what?' That got
her thinking about the story, the subject, rather than her own persona.
She ate it up. That's why I had such faith in her ability, her future.
I could tell that she had enough drive that it might happen."
The Croppers have stayed in touch with many of Lindsay's friends.
Liz Harris, a recreational therapist at Sharp Mesa Vista Hospital
who got to know Lindsay at USD, runs the Carlsbad Half Marathon
"I get sad when I think of her," she said, "but before
I get sad I always smile. She was hysterically funny – there
was never a time you were with her that you didn't bust a gut."
All her friends, Harris said, have a little survivor's guilt: "I
go to professional conferences, Whitney Lyles is a published author,
Steve De Lorenzo has his own hairstyling salon. And Lindsay's still
Whitney Lyles' second book, "Roommates," will be published
next month. She barely knew Lindsay at Poway High School, but the
two became close friends at USD and after, sharing a mutual love
of writing and literature.
"She was so smart, and so passionate about everything she did,"
Lyles said. "And she was such a good friend – she had
a genuine interest in everyone she met. Everyone is irreplaceable,
but one of the hardest things was knowing that I would never know
anyone like her."
Leaving a mark
Within a couple of days of Lindsay's death, it became clear to the
Croppers that they should in some way memorialize their daughter
"Oh, she'd complain like every other kid about the injustices
of school," Barrie said, "but it was complaints about
how some kids couldn't afford to attend. And some subjects she liked
and some she didn't. But she just adored studying, and her relationship
with her professors was unbelievable – they knew absolutely
everything about her. That's extraordinary, considering the number
of kids they have to deal with."
The Croppers created a scholarship, and donations came from friends
and business associates around the world. (Although semi-retired,
Barrie is still CEO of Lume Lighting, a sports lighting company
But they wanted to do more. About six months later, Barrie was talking
to Paul Bouzon, a business colleague who knew John McNamera, at
that time the director of fundraising for USD. Bouzon arranged for
them to have dinner.
"Before I even started to talk," Barrie said, "John
said, 'Your daughter was a very special girl. I've just talked to
her teachers, and I've never heard anything like this before.'
"He said they wanted to know if we would be willing to put
together something that would benefit more kids: a writing center.
We're not terribly wealthy, but we've already decided that everything
will go to the university. John arranged a lunch with the professors.
There must have been 10 people, and they all said something about
Lindsay. I couldn't believe the impact she'd had on them.
"It was clear what they wanted to do and how they wanted to
do it. So we put money into an account to build the room."
That was just the start. The Croppers also set aside a generous
endowment for the English department to use at its discretion, with
the understanding that it be creative-writing oriented.
Peter Kanelos, chair of the English department's creative writing
committee, had just arrived at USD.
"We as a department suggested an annual writers series,"
he said, "with a committee of four – Gail Perez, Stephen-Paul
Martin, Lisa Smith and me – to decide who to invite. We start
off with a dream list, 15 or so who seem viable and haven't won
the Nobel Prize yet. We circulate the list in the department and
discuss who might be available."
The Lindsay Cropper Writing Series kicked off last year with a reading
from poet Dorianne Laux. Poets Li-Young Lee and James Tate followed
later in the year. The 2005 series opened with novelist and short-story
writer Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni ("The Mistress of Spices")
in October, and Friday will present novelist Chang-rae Lee ("Aloft").
When the series began, Kanelos said, he was unsure of the proper
tone. But the first writer, Laux, addressed Barrie and Dorothy Cropper
directly before she started her reading.
"She's such a gracious woman," Kanelos said. "Her
sympathy and appreciation in some way accommodated their wishes,
and at that point it was easy to envision what this should be. As
the series goes on it has taken less of an elegiac mood, and moved
more toward the celebratory."
And there's another payoff for USD students serious about their
writing: On the Saturday morning following the Friday evening reading,
the guest writer conducts a two-hour workshop for 10 selected students.
In English classes, Kanelos said, the kids read literature and learn
to write about it and interpret it. In this workshop they get sustained
contact with people who do literature.
"This is an opportunity for them to take themselves seriously
as writers," he said. "That little nub of confidence is
what we're trying to grow. We want them to see themselves as potential
peers, to see themselves as writers."
The Croppers attend the readings in the writers series, but since
their daughter's death much of their life has been circumscribed.
It was Lindsay who coaxed them into learning how to ski. When they
went to the opera, Lindsay was with them, locked into "La Boheme"
(she minored in Italian). And during Shakespeare plays at the Old
Globe, she'd be whispering in Barrie's ear, explaining the story
as it was taking place.
They've since found it impossible to go skiing, or to attend the
opera or the theater.
Or church. Although the Croppers say they have received wonderful
support from St. Bartholomew's, their Episcopal church, they no
longer go to Mass on Sunday, as they always had before.
"Does it shake your faith?" Barrie asked. "Absolutely.
Does it change you? Yes, it changes your whole perspective on faith,
the whole concept of mass religion. You ask yourself, was this God's
will? How much sense can this make? ...
"I respect other people's beliefs, but I beg to differ that
everything that happens on this planet is God's will. Having said
all that, faith is a tremendous comfort. I'm not sure how you get
through all this without faith."
"The room lit up when she came in," Dorothy suddenly,
softly, interjected. "That's it in a nutshell. The light's
"And you're never going to find the switch," Barrie said,
"so you'd better learn to live in the dark. They say people
move on, but I don't know where it is they move to. ...
"When kids exit this world for whatever reason, there always
seems to be something special about them. But Lindsay had this tremendous
talent that never had the opportunity to flourish. The only opportunity
it will ever get is what's going on at USD."
The Lindsay Joanne Cropper Center for Creative Writing is just down
the hall from Bart Thurber's office. He occasionally slips into
the room "to spend a moment, 30 seconds, even, with Lindsay.
"And every time I do there's a squirreled student or two in
there studying, colonizing the place, making it their own. Lindsay
would have liked that."
The room is used a lot. The creative writing club meets there on
Wednesday evenings; it's both a literary and a social event. Early
one Thursday morning not long ago, Peter Kanelos, noticing that
the door was ajar, peeked inside. The wind had scattered papers
all over the place. Some of them had settled under Lindsay's picture.
"Apparently the kids had been there half the night," he
said, "talking and writing poems. Leaving behind pieces of
what they'd been doing.
reprinted from The San Diego Union Tribune