ATHENS — Lucile Jennings, 77, a friend and colleague to many, died tragically in an automobile accident near her Millfield home on Sunday, Sept. 21, 2008. She was a 48-year resident of Athens County and a longtime faculty member of Ohio University, where she was known for her musical talents on the harp, her tireless activism for those in need and an indomitable spirit that led her to travel the world for study, work and adventure.
Born Lucile Mary High in Montgomery, Ala., on Dec. 1, 1930, and raised in Tuscaloosa, Mrs. Jennings grew up in the rural South, where travel beyond the local county line was rare.
As a young girl, she showed a talent for music and language, graduating two years early from high school before earning a bachelor of arts degree from the the University of Alabama in 1951 and a bachelor of music degree from Texas Western College (now the University of Texas, El Paso) in 1954. Between degrees, she attended the Cleveland Institute, where she studied with renowned American harpist Alice Chalifoux. All led to her being awarded a Fulbright grant in 1954 to study harp in Paris. There, she attended the Conservatoire National de Musique for two years and studied with Lily Laskine, one of the most prominent harpists of the 20th century.
While in France, Lucile lived outside Paris in a bucolic 17th-century chateau, the setting for some of the most cherished memories of her life.
With roommates who later became lifelong friends, she staged impromptu chamber music festivals that attracted students from around the world, also studying in Paris. The roommates parted company for the summer of 1955; Lucile volunteered to help rebuild Velletri, Italy, an architecturally significant Roman town damaged by Allied bombing during World War II. The friends reunited that fall for another year of study in Paris, concerts at the chateau and hitchhiking adventures across Europe.
In 1957, Lucile continued her carefree and sometimes risky adventures by spending 18 months in the Dominican Republic playing harp for the Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional when the brutal dictator Rafael Trujillo was in power. She later played harp with the El Paso Symphony in Texas and Jacksonville Symphony in Florida. In 1959, she moved to Tallahassee to study music therapy at Florida State University.
It was there that she met and, in the summer of 1960, married Eugene Jennings, a professor of piano at Ohio University in Athens.
After settling in Athens, the Jennings became part of the fabric of a close-knit community of artists, writers and educators. Lucile worked at Ohio University’s School of Music teaching harp and music theory while also managing the school library’s listening lab.
While possessing a keen ear for all classical music, her passion for harp composition also stretched from traditional Irish to Paraguayan folk to modern and experimental. Her dedication to the instrument and its history led her to found and create the Harp Repository for the American Harp Society, which is located in the United States Library of Congress. She also was fascinated by language and, in 1969, received a master of arts degree in French at OU, later followed with a certificate in teaching English as a second language.
Lucile felt strongly about issues of fairness and, with colleague Pauline Gagliano and five other women in 1977, brought suit against the Ohio University School of Music, charging gender discrimination relating to pay and title disparities. The case was settled in 1979 setting an important precedent for equivalent pay and professional status for women.
After retiring from OU in 1992 as an associate professor, Lucile dedicated her life to teaching harp to young students and volunteer work. She became a VISTA volunteer, working with ACENet and Rural Action, and was also very active in the Athens chapter of the National Alliance for Mental Illness. She also wrote newspaper columns and was a member of the Board of Contributors at The Athens Messenger.
Her love of friendship led her to join writing groups, investment clubs, the locally renowned ladies “Lunch Bunch” and membership in the Unitarian Church. Her love of animals was seen especially in her dedication to her dog, Harmony.
And her love of travel kept her active, including realizing the lifelong dream of visiting the Galapagos Islands in 2004. At the time of her death, she was planning a reunion next year at the chateau outside Paris with her former roommate and constant friend Rosemary Waller.
Never stopped by adversity, always looking towards the next horizon for adventures and new friendships, Lucile Jennings will be greatly missed.
She is survived by sons Chris (and wife Jan Montgomery) of Arlington, Va., Eric of Athens and Tom (and wife Rebecca Perl) of New York City; grandchildren Nate, Nicholas, Luke and Griffin; and two nephews, James High and Michael High of Virginia.
She was preceded in death by her parents and a brother, USN Capt. James High.
A memorial will be held at Galbreath Memorial Chapel on the Ohio University campus on Saturday, Nov. 1, at 3 p.m. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made in the name of Lucile Jennings to the Athens Chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 100 Hospital Drive, Athens, OH 45701.