Professor Kevin Sweeney
Women have shaped the SMCC community. As administrators, professors, and students, women enrich our academics and bring vitality to this campus. One woman who impacted SMCC was Darcy Wakefield, an English professor and author who died from ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, in 2005.
In preparation for Women’s History Month, we asked Kevin Sweeney about his experiences with Darcy. Professor Sweeney was kind enough to reflect on what she brought to the campus. We felt that the power of his words offered a cohesive picture and would be more powerful reported as a whole. Below is Professor Sweeney’s response in its entirety.
Darcy Wakefield was an amazing person. She came to us at a pretty young age, late 20’s or maybe just 30; I’m not sure. I know she died at 35.
When she came for her interview in stylish business attire, she did make an impression upon everyone in that room. It became obvious as the day went on that we had found our ideal candidate for the job. She would be replacing our retired department chair in English, Judy Sullivan. Judy had created and taught the first bona fide women’s studies course at SMTC/CC titled “Working Women: The Transformation of the American Workplace.” Darcy had an undergraduate degree from Smith in women’s studies and was finishing an M.F.A. in English/creative writing at Emerson. She felt like the perfect match.
Our early intimations about her proved true as we worked alongside her. She was smart, out-going, generous, fair, egalitarian, collegial. I should probably stop there since I know I could add more complimentary adjectives. She also had a great sense of humor and a smile I can still see now.
Darcy was single then but had a busy life between teaching and commuting to Boston to finish her second master’s degree. I’d forgotten to mention that she already had a master’s in American Studies from SUNY/Buffalo. She was serious about her writing with her area of specialization being a relatively new one in MFA programs, “creative non-fiction.”
When Darcy was diagnosed with ALS, this community was devastated. She was so young and healthy and physically active. The book she was able to complete before her death was titled “I Remember Running.” Running was one of her favorite activities. She joked about being a feminist and a women’s college graduate and being afflicted with an illness that bore a man’s name: “Lou Gehrig’s Disease.”
After being diagnosed she decided she would try to teach the spring semester, but after the first week she let me know that she couldn’t continue. I remember her exiting Preble Hall from the side door and holding the railing as she descended the stairs. I went back to my office and stared at the wall for some time.
Not long before she passed, the English department held an event in the McKernan Center to celebrate the publication of “I Remember Running.” Department members all read aloud selections from the book. Darcy was with us but in a wheelchair, badly slumped over and grievously thin. Someone from Nonesuch Books was there and brought copies we could buy. I bought four, two for my son and niece. Of the other 2, I’ve loaned them both out and still haven’t gotten them back.
I began reading the book after Darcy died but couldn’t finish it right away since I knew that when I did she would be gone forever in some more profound and not merely literal way. I had been one of the speakers at the celebration of her life held at the Congregational church on Meetinghouse Hill. I joked about the bumper stickers on her car which read “Against Abortion? Get a vasectomy.” and “Eve was framed.” Everyone laughed.
I also said that the maintenance department (not yet called Facilities Management) was a big fan of hers. I’d had a conversation with Tim Slane about her not long before the church service. Tim noted that maintenance did not endorse anyone easily, and I mentioned that too while I was on the altar. Then, at Darcy’s request before she passed, I read John Donne’s poem “Death Be Not Proud.”
By this time Darcy had written her book. She had also met, fallen in love with, and married her husband Steve Stout. She had also given birth to their son Sam. She crammed as much life as she could into those last months. She had also given the Commencement speech at SMCC which she concluded by quoting the poet Mary Oliver, “What do you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” She got a standing ovation.