WINDSOR – As a real estate agent, Lynne Farley Gillette would get the most pleasure from helping a family find their first home, according to her daughter, Dana Gillette.
“She really believes in homeownership. That was a bigger thrill than someone buying a pretty huge property,” Dana Gillette said. Lynne Gillette, owner of Gillette Real Estate, has also always been an advocate for fair housing and making communities more diverse.
Gillette, who has dealt with rheumatoid arthritis for years and whose body has lost its ability to process food, was in hospice at her Windsor home at the time this story was published. She died on March 18. Her friends and family have now established a fund in her name.
The fund, called the Lynne Farley Gillette Social Justice Fund, will be housed within the Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, and will support racial and social justice education and programs through Windsor’s Human Relations Commission.
“My mother has always been committed to doing the right thing because it is right, not because she wants recognition for it,” Dana Gillette said, adding she had a little bit of trepidation about naming the fund after her. “But it has been really nice to share that with her and for her to smile and for her to really know that (her work) was a good thing in her eyes and in the eyes of the community.”
Since the fund has been publicized, many who know Gillette, 79, have shared their stories about her, something she has been able to hear about and enjoy.
Gillette was involved in protests against racism in the 1960s, Dana Gillette said. Gillette became aware of the practice of some real estate agents steering white people away from certain areas when looking for housing based on the racial makeup of the community.
It was the early 1970s when Gillette started her own real estate practice, particularly because of her experience “as a white woman being steered away from communities a real estate agent had deemed inappropriate for her, and that agent had felt very comfortable sharing with her why and she could just not believe that would be someone’s response and intention.”
Steering and redlining became illegal under the Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Working in what was then a male-dominated industry wasn’t easy for her mother, Dana Gillette said. “The guys would get together for lunch … and as a woman, she wasn’t invited. So she had more work cut out for her.”
But her business grew, and Gillette enjoyed training new agents.
Shanyelle Young, who worked with Gillette for 14 years before starting S. Young Realty & Associates, said Gillette is a role model who fought for women’s rights, marched in protests, and was “a huge proponent of fair housing before it was trendy. When it cost her a lot of business. Clients. It was always about the cause for her. She gave me all the tools it took to be a businesswoman in this industry.”
While other brokers put people in “certain areas,” Gillette would “show people wherever they wanted to live that would fit their price range,” Young said.
Al Ilg, former town manager of Windsor, said one of the reasons the town is one of the most diverse in the country is based on Gillette’s work. “She was doing things that nobody else was doing. We were so fortunate that she picked Windsor as the town she lived and worked in.”
Kim Duell, a Hartford-based attorney, met Gillette in the 1980s when the two women were part of a group originally called the Network for Entrepreneurial Women, later known as the Association of Entrepreneurial Women.
“There were quite an assortment of powerful women business owners that were in that group over the years,” Duell said. “If somebody would have a problem, there would be support, there would be humor, there would be solutions offered. Just having a relationship with a community of women who understood your experience, that was the value of the group – for me, anyway.”
Gillette, Duell said, “had been a trailblazer in this world of women-owned businesses and just was always an inspiration. She was just always a cheerleader for any member of the group and would do anything for you.”
Gillette also helped establish a home for unwed mothers in Windsor, and served on the Board of Directors of Hartford’s YWCA. Most recently, she was recognized as a “Phenomenal Woman of Windsor,” awarded by the Windsor Human Relations Commission. The six women awarded this recognition were the first in what the commission hopes to make an annual event.
In addition to all her community service work, Gillette is described by friends and family as someone who enjoyed life, right down to her fashion sense.
“She showed up decked out in nice clothes, hair and makeup done, and showed up with a sharp mind,” Young said. Although she has been in a wheelchair for 20 years, Gillette didn’t let that limit her ability to do a job she loved, Young said.
Young recalled being nervous when she had to place the call to Lynne saying she was starting her own practice four years ago.
“She said, ‘Spread your wings. This is what I want for you. This is what you were born to do’,“ Young said.
Dana Gillette said her mother’s sense of humor and ability to be honest helped the family get through some difficult times, including the loss of Dana’s sister in 2018.
“She … just has a level of openness and a level of ease in talking about things that are difficult,” Dana Gillette said.
“We shy away from those discussions but they are critically important. It makes it so much easier for the survivors when they know what matters to the people they have lost – what they would have wanted,” she said.
EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been updated to reflect that Lynne Gillette died on March 18.