Professor Sheila McCarthy

Sheila McCarthy at blackboardThe 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.

Author Info: 
Pete Biesada ’84
Alexandria, VA
United States