I found out this morning that one of my professors from college passed away last Friday. Most of the time, and for most professors, this would have just been sad news, but not for this professor. Mr. Hennessy was no ordinary college writing professor, not to me or any number of other students.
I went to SUNY Oneonta originally for Broadcast Journalism, which morphed and changed many times over 4 years, but twice I was fortunate to have Mr. Hennessy as a teacher, Composition 100 and Composition 200 (the red folder with my essays and notes still sits right above my desk).
His was my favorite class, he was my favorite teacher.
I’ve often said that I didn’t learn how to write properly until I was in college, until I was in his class. He took so much time to go over drafts with us, to work out kinks, explain how things could be better, and question you and what you were trying to say and why. His door was always open, and he was only a phone call away.
There was so much to love about him. He was witty and had quite the sense of humor. But the best part was that he was also of Irish lineage.
I remember how excited he was when I asked him to write my letter of recommendation to study at University College Cork in Ireland. Of course, they had to be sealed, so I never did know what that letter said. But I do know how thrilled he was that I was going to get to visit our beloved Ireland.
There was one times, as a freshman, that I ended up having to take my 8 year old sister with me to class. He was more than welcoming to have her there. Ten minutes into the lecture he stopped everything, because something that had never happened in class had happened, was happening…there was a student who was actually paying attention, my sister.
I’m so glad that I saw him in Hannaford this past summer, that I was able to tell him about the past 14 years and how much he meant to me.
The part that has stuck with me over the past 14 years, since I last had Mr. Hennessy, was that he was the first person (besides my mother) to really believe in me and tell me I was a writer. He was the person who brought me alongside him, showing me how to wield my words in the best way: “Jessica, I can see your name in the by-line someday”.
Other than this little place online, it hasn’t happened yet, but someday and you can bet Denis Hennessy’s name will be in the acknowledgments. Thank you Mr. Hennessy, for being such a wonderful teacher, a friend, and an upstanding Irishman.