You don’t forget a man like Dr. Calvin Hanrahan. At least I can’t. I wonder, from time to time, if he remembers me.
Dr. Hanrahan was a comical, lovable, competent professor of mine when I was in college. Unlike many comical and lovable professors, he was the head of the Department of Humanities and since I was a journalism major, that school was under his direction.
He was a devoted family man. His wife, Beth, also taught at the college. They had two sons, in middle school at the time, who, like both parents, were good-natured and fun. Like their father, they both had thick, rakish hair and a crooked smile that jumped through their eyes with full force. Any time spent around the Hanrahan family, jointly or individually, was joyous. It was always a pleasure and a real day-lifter to run into one of them.
Once, several of us, along with our beloved teacher Clara Martin, went caroling for Christmas. We stopped to sing for the Hanrahans who lived in a 1930s brick cottage, a stone’s throw from the campus. The four of them gathered in their doorway as we happily sang, “We Wish You A Merry Christmas,” and their laughter tickled the chill of the December air.
They invited us in for hot cocoa and cookies and there a dozen of us settled into cushiony chairs in a room sprinkled generously with books and we celebrated the cheer of the season. That adorable little house with its cozy feel and interesting architectural touches was filled with the joy of their personalities.
I feel quite sure that I am not the only student that Dr. Hanrahan encouraged but what he said when he said it surely had the effect of making me feel that I could step a few feet further from the Appalachian humbleness of my people. He always made me feel as if I was capable of any accomplishment.
Of course, the Friday night before my Sunday graduation, I became a bit of history when the Chicago Cubs made me the first female allowed in their locker room. That’s a story I’ll share another time but the short is that I was working part-time as a sports writer, covering an Atlanta Braves-Chicago Cubs game, on deadline and I needed the story.
When the big pronouncement came from Cubs management, I faltered. I hesitated. Then, after taking a deep breath, I turned my eyes to the block wall and timidly entered the locker room. As I now joke, it was quite an experience for a young girl to see her first “bare” Cub.
The day before that big moment, I stopped by Dr. Hanrahan’s office to get something. I don’t recall what. But I remember it was a perfect May day with soft light streaming through the window from the beautiful front campus where oak trees stood majestically. Most likely, I went by his office solely to express my gratitude for his kindness. I’ve always believed in looking a person in the eye and saying, “Thank you.”
His office was scattered with books and papers and he was standing at his desk, shuffling frantically through folders – but he stopped and gave me his full attention.
“One day, you’re going to come back to this campus as the commencement speaker.”
My mouth dropped. “What?”
He smiled. “I believe you’re going to make us all very proud. I’ve believed that since I first met you.” He gave me another compliment or two. My eyes water now as I recall that moment and what his words meant to a somewhat bewildered girl.
A year or so later, the Hanrahans left for another school. I saw him only once more but I think often of Dr. Hanrahan and how his words propelled me forward. And every time I think of him, I wonder if he remembers me.
I hope he does.
[Ronda Rich is the best-selling author of “Mark My Words: A Memoir of Mama.” Visit www.rondarich.com to sign up for her free weekly newsletter.]