Frank McConnell, RIP

It was with shock and great sadness that we learned last month of the sudden death of Frank McConnell, Commonweal’s long-time media critic, frequent book reviewer, and all-purpose West Coast (a place he had only ambivalent feelings about) representative. He was only fifty-seven and had recently suffered from the effects of a fall. Frank taught English literature at the University of California, Santa Barbara, and lived in Lompoc, some miles up the coast, a place he proudly called a backwater. But he was originally from Kentucky, migrated to the University of Notre Dame, and did his graduate work at Yale. After a stint teaching at Northwestern, he liked to think of himself as a Chicagoan. He appears to have been a popular teacher; he was certainly popular with me. Frank wore his considerable learning lightly, and like a certain kind of Irishman, he never phoned unless he had a new joke to tell, and he had a thousand. There was the one about the ten-inch man in the bar...but I won’t repeat it; at least not here.

I spoke with Frank on the phone hundreds of times, but I never met him. We had tried to arrange a meeting last fall during a trip he made to New York, but our schedules just wouldn’t allow it. Much to our mutual amusement, he was delivering a paper on Frank Sinatra at an "academic" conference at Hofstra University on Long Island. Among his other passions, as Commonweal readers know, were jazz, Shakespeare, and science fiction. He also wrote detective novels, once had his own radio program, and liked to appear on California beaches in a coat and tie. In short, a man of many enthusiasms.

Frank McConnell did some fine work for this magazine, and a playful curiosity and genuine unpretentiousness infused everything he wrote. He will be sorely missed. My world, I know, will be much duller without him. All of us at Commonweal extend our condolences to his wife Celeste, his children, and to the rest of Frank’s family and friends.

Published in the 1999-02-12 issue: 

Paul Baumann is Commonweal’s senior writer.

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