Students, faculty, family and friends joined together on Saturday in Alumni Hall to pay tribute to the career and the literary works of the late Quinnipiac English professor Mark Johnston, who passed away from cancer in November.
The celebratory tribute, titled “Mark..my words,” was a collection of his poems that were read by his colleagues and former students. Many, particularly his fellow faculty, also took time to share their favorite memories of Johnston, both in and out of the classroom.
“He was a model of excellence in teaching and writing,” Len Engel, Chair of the Department of English said. “He had a great sense of humor and he was fun to be around. He was a good friend.”
His sense of humor was a focus for many who spoke, as they recalled his sharp wit and his ability to tell jokes. These stories were all met with a respectful and reminiscing laughter for a man that touched so many lives.
The most memorable story was about Johnston buying a package of Peeps from the Quinnipiac Book Store for Len Engel’s daughter. Years later, she returned the favor by buying him a package of Peeps, which Engel said Johnston never forgot.
As each person walked through the door, they were handed a single Peep with a copy of his final poem, “Very Fond of Sweets,” describing his love for sweets.
People also spoke of his unique fashion sense, his passion for sports and his love of music and art. All of these things and more can be found in his hundreds of poems, some of which were shared during the tribute.
The poems ranged from “Never to the Present,” a humorous commentary on history, to “Game Show Host,” a racy profile of a corny television personality.
Each poem brought out the personality that is dearly missed by all the people who knew Johnston.
“Talking to his wife [Betsy], she told us to ‘let his poems become your prayers,'”Associate Professor of English Timothy Dansdill said, who finished the poetry reading with “Lines of Force,” a poem dedicated to Johnston. Dansdill also expressed his hopes of publishing a collection of Johnston’s works.
The tribute ended with an emotional photographic montage prepared by his family.
Johnston was a professor at Quinnipiac for over 30 years and was the recipient of the Outstanding Faculty Award for Excellence in Teaching in 2002 and 2004. Though he enjoyed many styles of literature, he focused on older writings in his teachings, like Homer, Chaucer and Shakespeare.
“He was a very good teacher, very well-versed,” Engel said of Johnston’s intelligence. “He was the one who was always reading and writing. That’s what we’re here to celebrate – his creativity, his intelligence and all the great things he exhibited.”