Each of us remembers great teachers, most of them gone now. Each of us remembers them in distinctive ways. Whod have thought that nearly 50 years later, Id be able to say that Ive lived a particular life in part because John Finch was at when I got here.
When I read Dick Duncans email that John had died recently at the age of 90, a current of emotion and remembrance carried me back to Hanover in the early fall of 1953. Id been assigned a freshman advisor, and I was to meet him in his office. So I dutifully walked over to Sanborn House, wearing my freshman beanie with whatever aplomb I could manage.
Imagine it my advisor was no section man, no junior faculty member taking on the grunt work, but a full professor of English and the head of the department to boot. And I, at the risk of redundancy, was a 17-year-old ignoramus. What I remember from my first impression is that great head of his and a manner of quiet intent. Before I knew it, we were talking about what Id read and what I wanted to study, and hed managed almost invisibly to fix my schedule so Id be taking a philosophy course with someone Id never heard of a fellow named Fran Gramlich.
John taught me a batch of Shakespeares Henrys in my first semester of English, and like many of you I took his American poetry course and his Shakespeare course in 105 Dartmouth, cluttered with pre-meds, budding economists, and physics majors trying to find their way amidst the indigenous literary types. It was one of those courses everybody took.
John taught me how to write an essay and an exam, and helped me care about literature as something alive and essential. He was demanding, fair, and good-humored, and gentle to young men who would have denied they needed gentleness. He took our intelligence seriously. He was one of those who embodied what John Sloan Dickey once called the liberating arts.
I spent 40 years in the classroom, proud to have been part of the same profession as John Finch. In the early days, when I was trying to figure out how in Gods name you do this thing, he was one of two teachers I imagined my way back to, trying to remember, trying to see it from the other side, knowing that if I could, Id do it better.
(A memorial tribute by Mike Lasser)
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