Activist, performer Lynn Gifford dies Tuesday in Fargo
FARGO - Lynn Gifford devoted herself energetically to a variety of roles in a life that blended advocacy and stage performances. Gifford, 62, died Tuesday at a Fargo nursing home after an illness. Friends said she kept her trademark sense of humo...
FARGO - Lynn Gifford devoted herself energetically to a variety of roles in a life that blended advocacy and stage performances.
Gifford, 62, died Tuesday at a Fargo nursing home after an illness. Friends said she kept her trademark sense of humor despite her declining health.
She was an activist who devoted herself to abortion rights and women's health causes and later championed the rights of the mentally ill and disabled.
She was a fixture of Fargo Moorhead Community Theatre productions, most notably in the recurring role of Mother Superior in the hit comedy "Nunsense."
She also was an accomplished cook, and once wrote a food column in The Forum.
"She had a heart of gold," said Susan Helgeland, executive director of Mental Health America of North Dakota, where Gifford had worked. "She was entirely herself and entirely authentic."
Gifford's personal life intersected with her activism in ways that were sometimes surprising.
An ardent supporter of abortion rights, Gifford adopted her only child.
Gifford's abortion rights advocacy was on display 20 years ago during the height of an anti-abortion crusade in Fargo.
Lambs of Christ activists demonstrated outside a Fargo abortion clinic in 1991, when Gifford led volunteer escorts to help women enter the clinic in the midst of protesters.
She didn't shy away from the confrontations that came from the two clashing sides in the emotional issue, said Jane Bovard, who was the director of the now-defunct Fargo Women's Health Organization.
"Lynn tackled somebody," Bovard said, chuckling at the memory, "and I think sat on them until the police came."
Protesters also picketed Gifford's home, and she ultimately grew weary of the abortion rights struggle.
"I think that whole time was very stressful for her," Bovard said. "She stepped back after that. I think it took a toll on her, physically and mentally."
Gifford's activism turned to mental health in the 1990s after she was diagnosed with major depression, an illness she realized at age 45 had been with her much of her life.
Raised as a Presbyterian, Gifford, who was born in Minot and graduated from high school in Bismarck, converted to Judaism.
"She started looking into different religions," said her daughter, Carolyn Hansen of Fargo. "She looked into Judaism and found the answers."
Rabbi Janine Kobrinsky of Temple Beth El in Fargo said Gifford was an active member. She sang, led services and taught religious education.
"Everyone kind of knows her," Kobrinsky said. "People know her from her involvement in so many things. She was hysterically funny. She always enjoyed the lighter side of life."
The theater was a lifelong passion of Gifford's. As of the mid-1990s, she had appeared in more than 100 stage productions. Her most notable role, her daughter said, was Mother Superior - inspiration for which she found while attending the University of Mary, where she graduated with a degree in English.
"She was a good mom," Hansen said, "and a good role model."
Memorial services will be 2 p.m. Sunday at Temple Beth El.
Readers can reach Forum reporter Patrick Springer at (701) 241-5522