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Team Captain

Team Captain
Photo by TJ Turner/Sidecar

(page 2 of 3)

Born in 1960, and raised in an idyllic, Beaver Cleaver culture in Cedar Grove, New Jersey, Leslie Elizabeth Lynch grew up in a stable household in a neighborhood full of friends. Her father was a finance director for aerospace firms; her mother an executive secretary and Martha Stewart-style homemaker. Her younger brother, Tom Lynch, says his competent, organized sister would always find time to help him with his homework.

Because she endeared herself to people and worked hard, Lynch says his sister “rose to the top of everything.” Though Leslie says she “can’t sing a note,” she was cast as a lip-synching Dorothy in The Wizard of Oz. At Memorial High School, she was a cheerleader and president of the National Honor Society.

After graduating in 1982 from Seton Hall University in South Orange, New Jersey, she began a nine-year career producing special events for Mademoiselle in New York. Since part of her job included crossing the country—putting on fashion shows and makeover events, meeting the press—the magazine hired famed media consultant Stuart Sucherman, Katie Couric’s elocution coach, to make over Leslie’s voice and train her to speak effectively to reporters. Small wonder she is preternaturally poised in front of a microphone, with no Joizey cadences: more Amelia Santaniello than Teresa Giudice.

Working for Condé Nast on Madison Avenue was a heady experience: glamour wafted through the halls like magazine-strip perfume. Kate Spade, nee Katy Brosnahan, was an accessories editor at Mademoiselle, and first-generation supermodels like Elle Macpherson, Christie Brinkley, and Cindy Crawford glided through the building. “It was intimidating,” Leslie says.

Once, she made the error of entering an elevator with Anna Wintour. As everyone at Condé Nast knew, the imperious Vogue editor goes up and down alone. It made for a long, predictably silent ascent. “Remember, it was the ’80s: we weren’t wearing all black yet. I’m sure she eyeballed my bad perm and plaid kilt and couldn’t quite believe it.”

Though she listens more than she speaks, Leslie’s blue eyes miss nothing. She is private, guards her emotions, eschews gossip, and keeps her own counsel.

And she reads people well. When she met 3M salesman Mike Jablonski in a Hoboken bar in 1992, she soon knew he was the love of her life. Within months, she swapped the Jersey Shore for Lake Calhoun, and beer at The Stone Pony for wine at The Tin Fish. In November 1993, on the Sea Girt, New Jersey, shore, she married her St. Paul fiancé in a fashion-forward, black-trimmed dress. Her portrait was featured in Minnesota Bride.

She quickly made her mark in the Twin Cities public-relations and marketing world. She did 25 what-to-wear segments for Steve Adelman’s “Good Company” and worked with grooming-products giant Horst Rechelbacher at Aveda. In 1996, she joined Kilter, a PR and design shop started by Caldrea founder Monica Nassif. Three years later, Leslie established her own PR business—retaining clients like American Crew and adding a handful of local boutiques. As Mike Jablonski made a parallel climb at 3M, their hair was impeccable, their marriage solid, their two little boys darling.
For the next dozen years, she recalls, their lives “were perfect.”

At 4:49 p.m. on Friday, December 30, 2011, Leslie’s friend, Lolita Ulloa, was trying to shut down at work until the new year. After receiving several calls from Suzanne Tema on her cell phone, she finally picked up one of them. Tema—who had joined the Jablonskis for the Benilde-St. Margaret vs. Wayzata junior-varsity hockey game at the St. Louis Park Recreation Center—told her that Jack had been in an accident. “A horrific hockey accident,” Ulloa remembers.

Ulloa raced to the Hennepin County Medical Center. She was waiting outside, shivering in the cold, when Leslie’s silver Hyundai Santa Fe—and the ambulance carrying Jack and Mike—pulled up. “I was standing on the curb, and I had an immediate bad feeling in my stomach,” she remembers.

“And then I saw Leslie. I had never seen her that way. Her eyes were desperate and she was shaking, like a piece of paper.”

Ulloa shudders, recalling how the night ended.

“At 11 p.m., five doctors went into an HCMC family room with Mike and Leslie. I was close by, and the door was open a crack. After they all walked out, Mike and Leslie just threw themselves at each other and sobbed.”

At Benilde-St. Margaret and beyond, Jack’s accident has redefined what qualifies as a real problem. Teri Dewey, Leslie’s friend since her older son attended first grade with Jack, says that when her kids whine, her first inclination is now to tell them to snap out of it. “I say, ‘This may be an obstacle, but it’s something we can overcome,’” Dewey says.

Bob Tift, the genial, respected president of Benilde-St. Margaret’s, agrees: the school-and-home-hitting tragedy, he says, has been a “spiritual and emotional realignment.” He explains, “There’s no lesson plan any faculty member could have designed that would be as powerful as witnessing how the Jablonski family has responded to this ordeal.”

Leslie’s response has been to make life the best it can be for Jack, and keep all of her family on keel. And to lessen their heartbreak, while managing—and mostly internalizing—her own. Much of what mattered 13 months ago to the self-described shampoo-promoting, “product-savvy girly girl” is off the radar now. She constantly worries about how Jack “is really doing.” All the Jablonskis believe that someday he will walk again; that hard work can triumph over anything. But keeping his therapy on track and spirits up for the long haul of recovery is daunting.

“All four are really high achievers, and they all are super-organized,” Tema says. “They want to button everything up. But this [accident] does not allow for order. It has turned a very orderly life and flipped it upside down. There’s no control in this, and Leslie knows and accepts that.” Calls and visits from hockey greats like Wayne Gretzky, Bobby Orr, and Zach Parise have been inspirational and steadying for the teenager. Word of Jack’s injury spread like wildfire on social media, his mother says: “NHL teams and players are a tight-knit community, and they have been great about reaching out to Jack.”

Almost immediately, at HCMC and later at The Sister Kenny Institute, Leslie realized her elder son’s days, often arduous and grim, would benefit from the distraction.

“From the start, both Leslie and Mike knew they would need help motivating Jack, both mentally and emotionally,” Ulloa says. “Leslie knew that her love alone would not be enough for Jack.” She also knew that inactivity and solitude was not what her social son needed. “I knew that idle time would not be good,” she says. “We also knew we didn’t want to be alone down there, so we wouldn’t focus on how horrendous this was, and how exhausted we were. So we opened the doors and let everyone in.”

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