Linda Harris: A Remembrance

“But Linda loved her daughter!!” This was the first thought to run through my mind when I learned that she and her children were among the multitude of people who had “committed suicide” in Guyana. The woman I had known as Linda Harris had changed her name to Sharon Amos and become a member of Jim Jones’ inner circle. As I learned in later years, she was one of Jim Jones’ true believers. If only 30 people had died in the Jonestown suicides – according to an alternate plan discussed by the Peoples Temple leadership – she would have been among them.

I had not seen Linda since the early sixties, prior to her involvement with the Peoples Temple. She and I had attended San Francisco State College. She was a social work major; I was an education major. She was my first love. We lived together in her grandmother’s house on Buena Vista Hill with her daughter, Liane, who was almost five years old at the time.

Linda was a very dedicated mother. Liane came first in her life. I recall her singing to Liane as she put her to sleep. Linda had a beautiful voice. I can still hear her in my mind singing, “I know where I’m going and I know who’s going with me.” It was a joy to be around the two of them.

Liane had been born with a congenital heart problem and eventually had surgery to rectify it. At age five, however, her stamina was minimal. She had difficulty walking for sustained periods of time. Linda herself had been diagnosed with epilepsy and was not allowed to drive. City buses were her only means of transportation. Whenever they wanted to go anywhere, Linda was forced to trek up and down Buena Vista, a very steep San Francisco street, with Liane on her hip.

When I met Linda, her mother and father had already died, her father when she was just a child, her mother just a few years earlier. Her sister Robin was married and had one child. Their parents were of Jewish background. Linda was not religious.

Linda’s education was funded by a state-sponsored vocational rehabilitation program and by a trust fund left to her by her mother. Linda and Liane lived with her grandmother, Anna Greene. Mrs. Greene was quite senile. She had what we today call dementia. In addition, she was almost deaf. Her hearing aids squealed constantly. You could hear her coming long before you could see her. Linda had become her caregiver, enabling her to continue to live in her own home.

Linda and I met again several years later when she was a graduate student at UC Berkeley. Her grandmother had died and she lived in family housing with Liane. Linda was the same loving, caring, optimistic, vivacious person I had known earlier. She was planning a future as a social worker.

Forty years have now passed since I knew my first love. There’s a line in the James Taylor song “Fire and Rain” that goes, “I always thought I would see you again,” and I suppose that’s what I thought about Linda and me, that we would see each other again. I often wonder about Linda and her death. I find it difficult to believe that she would be instrumental in the death of her children and of herself.

People do make choices in their lives. My choices and Linda’s were very different.