The remembrance letter from Paul Marthers ’82 marking the passing of Professor Sheila McCarthy (Spring 2023) triggered memories that have stayed with me for almost 40 years.
I started Intensive Basic Russian terrified of foreign languages due to inadequate junior and high school effort and circumstances on my part. I am sure I was planning to drop the five-credit load at the first sign of trouble. I still recall with amazement the way that Professor McCarthy spoke to us for a full 90 minutes that first August class in ARH. Only Russian, not a word of English, communicating thru hand gestures and pictures tied to each very foreign-sounding word. Somehow, we all understood. Professor McCarthy taught Russian as performance art.
Professor McCarthy’s greatest kindness to me came that spring when I was wallowing in complete rejection from graduate schools. Her compassionate soul easily penetrated the false front that I was trying to maintain. She asked me to stay after class. Her advice, so simple at the time and so powerful looking back, put me on a path to where I am today.
Paul’s letter and the memories it triggered led me this spring to finally read Tolstoy’s War & Peace. I am finishing up Anna Karenina. Perhaps some Dostoevsky next. I can imagine Professor McCarthy smiling with each turn of the page.
I am sorry to have learned of Professor McCarthy’s death, and of her husband, Cliff Reid, just before. I write to pay tribute to her by sharing these memories. Both were part of what made the college Grinnell back then. They are missed.