Professor Frank Ryan Remembered
August 03, 2010
Professor of English Frank Ryan, who died in May, served Stonehill as a professor, a department chair and as acting associate academic dean in a career that spanned 36 years from 1964 to 2000. Above all, however, Ryan had a wonderful poetic sensibility to him, a way with words, conversation and literature.
We have two remembrances of Ryan.
The first is called Barnicles on the Hull and it is from a colleague, Professor Emeritus of History Anne Carrigg '57.
The second is from Ryan's son-in-law, William Stott, who gave the eulogy at his funeral and, fittingly, his words were in the form of a poem, called Frank's Shoes.
Barnacles on the Hull
by Anne Carrigg
The first time I encountered Frank Ryan, I was crossing the paved walkway from the classroom building (Duffy) to the (Cushing Martin) library when he stopped me and began talking about "barnacles on the hull."
It was my introduction to Frank's pointed and often poignant use of metaphor.
He had just come from a conversation with (Economics Professor) Jim Wiles who had told him about a remarkable decision I had made to close off my graduate work after passing the oral candidacy exam with a favorable grade.
Instead of accepting the result as a passage to the writing of the first book in an academic career, I had decided to stop there to concentrate on the work of undergraduate teaching.
What Jim Wiles considered remarkable, Frank Ryan considered unthinkable - a teaching career was inseperable from a writing career - the point of teaching - and living - was to make history and a history had yet to be made.
The "barnacles on the hull" spoke to Frank's ongoing revision of a first academic book stretching out for years, obstacles met, obstacles overcome, until he received the doctorate degree. What was important was the book not the title which he never used.
There was an irony here, irony being the historian's preferred metaphor, in that Frank Ryan was writing steadily for a variety of publications even as he revised and revised his academic first book.
By the time the university (Catholic University of America) relented - and Frank enjoyed the contest - the pile of publications already out there was a foot high.
There were no "barnacles on the hull," no barnacle would ever succeed in attaching itself to that moving vessel.
Metaphors notwithstanding, Frank Ryan's was a life conducted in the historical present. For Frank Ryan, the historical was always present in all the ordinary acts of an ordinary life.