Politics professor Mary Hanna passes away

Josh Goodman

Retired Whitman Politics professor Mary Hanna passed away on Wednesday, March 3, after a battle with cancer.

Hanna came to Whitman in 1983 as an associate professor of political science and retired in 2000 after a distinguished teaching career. She taught courses on gender and politics, politics and the media and ethnic politics, and was the first woman to become chair of the Whitman faculty, Provost and Dean of Faculty Timothy Kaufman-Osbourn wrote in a campus-wide announcement. She also chaired both the Department of Politics and the Division of Social Sciences.

Hanna came to Whitman after teaching at the University of Texas: San Antonio.

“It was frustrating because I never got to know any of the students except for those one or two with chutzpah,” she told The Pioneer in 1999 of her experience at San Antonio.

She got those opportunities at Whitman. Chair of Division II and Professor of Religion Jonathan Walters, who team-taught a senior colloquium class with Hanna, recalled how she combined her love of acting and dedication of teaching to make for a memorable experience in a unit on “Friday Night Lights.”

“One of the themes of the novel was the ‘Watermelon Feed,’ which involved a lot of watermelon and beer,” he said in an e-mail. “We decided we should have one, so Mary invited the whole class to her house, and served up, yep, watermelon and beer. She had on a big old Texan hat, and we loved faking thick southern accents.”

Walters said Hanna’s death is a “terrible loss.”

“She was suffering a lot, there was no chance of recovery, and it was just time for her to go. But I’ve had trouble all day, because I obviously can’t feel happy, either,” he said. “She was . . . one of the most dedicated teachers of undergraduate Americans it has ever been my privilege to know.”

Bruce Magnusson, associate professor of politics and one of Hanna’s best friends, remembers Hanna as both gracious and influential.

“She found great joy in politics, in theatre, in writing, in sharing good food and lots of it, in Tony Soprano, in elaborate practical jokes and in her friends,” he said. “She had an enormous impact on building the college that Whitman has become.”

Hanna remained active within the Whitman and Walla Walla communities following her retirement. She participated in Walla Walla’s Little Theater, including acting in the play “Graceland,” which won a theater competition in Edmonds, Wash. last year. She also recited poetry on campus as part of a recent dance theater production.

A celebration of Hanna’s life open to the Whitman community will be held in April.