Queen Nancy the Intrepid
When he crowned his characters Kings and Queens in Narnia, C.S. Lewis accorded them honorific titles aligned to their nature: King Peter the Magnificent, Queen Lucy the Valiant. I mention because I have long known S. Nancy Hynes's heavenly honorific name. She, who simply loved living--whose nature it was to embrace every opportunity-who engaged the parasail, countered the homophobe, comforted one student and challenged another, who fought and endured brain cancer-can only be
Queen Nancy the Intrepid.
"I'm going to do THAT!" says Nancy pointing at some crazy tourist who has just flown high over us attached to a sail being towed by a speed boat. We-S. Nancy, Dr. Joan Steck and I-are on a beach in Nassau in January of 1986, taking a break from the almost-month-long First Year Symposium workshop we are teaching for our Bahamian faculty on what-was-then a CSB/SJU satellite campus. Parasailing, snorkeling, casino night life, new foods, "real" neighborhoods, jitneys, public and private schools, poets and novelists of the Caribbean, local flora and fauna, the opening of Parliament: Nancy does not believe in letting opportunities go untried.
"You don't have any women authors on your reading list!? You have to fix that?!" says Nancy to the English teacher who wants to teach the same "great" books she read when she started college umpteen years ago. We are working with Nassau faculty as they design their first FYS classes. Nancy, a consummate feminist in the fullest flourishing of the word, cajoles, helps, researches, threatens-whatever is needed in these early days-to get teachers to either include women authors on the reading list or make the reasons for their absence a topic of course discussion.
"VAL-LEY! VAL-LEY! VAL-LEY! VAL-LEY!" screams Nancy as she throws her voice into the din of thousands cheering on the local favorites in the Junkanoo competition. We are at the Island's New Year celebration; it's the middle of the night, 3 AM, and the entire population is in the downtown singing and chanting, dancing and parading in magnificent costumes to the beat of drums from one side of town to the other between huge bonfires. Nancy, a firm believer in "When in Rome . . . .," joins whole-heartedly in the clamor. As the only white people in sight, we get a few amused and curious grins at Nancy's enthusiastic endorsement of the Valley Boys (or are the grins for Joan and me who stand demurely, apparently, unaffected by the festivities?).
"Well, you'll just have to work with them individually. Be patient; take it one step at a time. Maybe talk with a student before class about what question she will answer today, or have everyone write a brief answer to your question and then call on one of the quiet women to give the first answer. This way, you know that she has had time to think and to formulate an answer." Nancy is talking to a teacher who says that many of his women students don't speak in class because that is just the way some Bahamian women are socialized. Since FYS requires students to participate in class discussion, Nancy insists that teachers have to meet the students where the students are to bring them forward. Teachers must learn to teach the skills of writing and discussion as well as of their disciplines in order to meet the goals of this newly created FYS course. Putting the student at the center of the teaching is an important part of Nancy's philosophy.
I present these snippets from so long ago because, although I had worked closely with S. Nancy before our Nassau trips and did so again often afterward, it is when you live with a person that you really get to know her. In some ways Nancy was impossible: opinionated, short-tempered, honest to a fault, and sometimes too ready too defend the under-dog (whether deserving of defense or not). Yet the passion beneath her faults was also the source of her virtues: vested in human feminist values, she was quick to defend the rights of others, to seek justice in a world that she wanted, so badly, to be "fair"; she was honest to a virtue, as quick to point out her own shortcomings as anyone else's and always attuned to others' success; and she believed that God's grace was "somewhere" in each of us.
I have my favorite picture of S. Nancy, from that 1986 trip, in front of me: Her usually short straight hair has been curled; it's a honey color in the sun. She's in a brown swim suit and the blue Caribbean waters meet the sky line behind her. The over-sized snorkel mask and tube hide her face, but if I look really closely, I can find, concealed, her usual raised eyebrows, wide open eyes, and great big smile.