For a number of years back in the 1980s, I wrote a weekly column for the Bangor Daily News on Maine agriculture. It appeared on Monday mornings at the top of the page opposite the editorial page (we called it “top of the op”), and it always included some form of artwork along with the text. Much of the artwork was drawn by Tom Hennessey.
Hennessey was a longtime BDN employee who started working in the composing room. He worked in what was called the engraving room, back in the hot-type days before everything was done with computers. Hennessey would be given a photo or piece of artwork, use a photographic process to put the image onto a piece of metal, then etch the metal with acid to make a plate that could be added to a page along with the text produced by a battery of Linotype machines and eventually make its way to the press.
Hennessey was also a gifted artist and when the technology changed and the engraving room was dismantled, he became a welcome addition to the newsroom where he did wonderful illustrations for any reporter or editor looking to dress up an article.
One day he asked if he could illustrate some of my columns, and thus began a partnership of writer and illustrator that was a weekly joy to me. I’d come to him a couple of days before the column was to appear and tell him what I was going to write about, and in a short time he’d produce just the art I was looking for. To this day I think it was his artwork, more than my writing, that drew many people to that particular part of the Monday morning paper.
He was a great storyteller not only with his artwork, but in his own outdoor writing. One particular piece I always admired was titled “Christmas bells and shotgun shells.” It was published on Dec. 3, 2005. I was long gone from the BDN by then, but still it touched me when I read it in that morning’s paper.
Last Friday, for no particular reason I can think of, I was reminded of that story, and on a whim looked it up and reread it. I’d not read it for a long time and even knowing what I know now I can’t really fathom what brought it out of the depths of my memory that day.
What I do know now is that on that same day I suddenly felt a need to reread his piece, Hennessey died at age 81, and looking back on it I see that one article really explained a lot about who Hennessey was, where he came from, and how he lived his long and productive life.
It was certainly a different time back then and those of you who are afraid or offended by firearms may not see the charm in it. But it’s a wonderful tale of a young boy, his grandfather and a love of hunting. It shows the essence of the Hennessy I’ll always remember.
David Bright was a reporter, columnist and editor for the Bangor Daily News. He lives in Dixmont.