Provost reports the passing of educator and mentor Mary Hanna
Wednesday, Mar 3, 2010
Note: The following is an announcement written by Provost and Dean of Faculty Tim Kaufman-Osborn and sent to the campus community today.
It is with much sadness that I report that Professor Mary Hanna died earlier this morning in her home, which, for a generation of Whitman students, served as one of their favorite classrooms.
Mary received her B.A. from Syracuse University in 1957 and her Ph.D. from Cornell University in 1976. Appointed as an associate professor of political science, Mary arrived at Whitman College in 1982, and, in 1984, was appointed the Miles C. Moore Professor of Politics.
At Whitman, in addition to many other topics, Mary offered courses on gender and politics, global ethnic politics, American political culture, and media and politics. Doing so, she quickly established herself as one of Whitman’s premier teachers. As one of her colleagues recently noted: “For Mary, teaching politics was an athletic event and a theatrical performance. For teachers who observed her, her classes were invitations to the imagination! She taught us how to teach.” Her passion for teaching remained evident well into her retirement, as she continued to serve as an instructor in courses offered by the Quest program of Walla Walla Community College.
In addition to her superb teaching, Mary was the author of numerous publications, including Summer in the City, which told of her work in Lyndon Johnson’s Great Society program; Catholics in American Politics, which was published by Harvard University Press in 1979; and numerous articles on various aspects of the relationship between religion and politics.
Equally if not more important, during her years at Whitman, Mary served as mentor to a generation of faculty members, and especially to the considerable number of women hired during her tenure at the college. She was forever a vigorous advocate of the Whitman faculty, whether serving as chair of the Department of Politics, as elected chair of the Division of Social Sciences, or as the first woman ever elected to the position of chair of the Whitman faculty (and, I speculate, the first ever to dance the Charleston at one of its monthly meetings).
Following her entry into Whitman’s phased retirement program in 1995, Mary fulfilled her long-standing dream of becoming, first, an actress who graced the stage in several venues, including Walla Walla’s Little Theater; and, second, of becoming a writer of fiction. In the latter capacity, she published several stories, including “Uncle Jake and the Caped Crusaders,” which was a runner-up in the 2001 Boston Review annual Short Story Contest. Mary also completed a novel based on her childhood in upstate New York as well as a mystery set in Walla Walla.
I would be remiss if I were not to close this announcement on a personal note. Mary and I arrived at Whitman in the same year. She had considerable teaching experience under her belt, while I had none. Mary soon befriended me, became my mentor, and, on many a Friday afternoon, assured me that with practice I might become a passable instructor. With Mary’s passing, we have lost someone who made Whitman a better college, and her release from this world leaves it a lesser place.
A celebration of Mary’s life will be conducted on campus in April; date, time and location will be announced as soon as details are finalized.