Throughout a 54-year career at the Bangor Daily News, Tom Hennessey left a legacy that will likely never be matched. His work as an artist and illustrator, combined with columns that he wrote about Maine’s outdoors, transported readers to some of Hennessey’s favorite places and defined the state’s outdoors traditions for many.
Hennessey died on Friday at age 81, after a yearlong battle with hemochromatosis. Several of his colleagues, friends and readers took the time to share some thoughts about the man and his work. Here are some of those thoughts and memories, edited for space and clarity:
Former Maine Gov. John Baldacci: We agreed on not as much politically, but we agreed 100 percent when it came to Maine outdoors. There was nobody that was more of an encyclopedia or dictionary of the Maine outdoors than Tom Hennessey. The way he wrote, you got the feeling that you were right there with him. He certainly was a cornerstone of the sports world and the outdoors.
Sen. Angus King: Tom Hennessey was a dear friend to Maine and to everyone who loves the great outdoors. With each stroke of his pen or paint of his brush, Tom captured the essence of our state and the beauty of our outdoor traditions. His contributions to the Bangor Daily News over five decades of work left an indelible mark in the hearts and minds of its readers who would visit his column to read tales from a favorite fishing hole or anecdotes from a hunting season past. My thoughts are with Tom’s family, his friends at the BDN, and all those across Maine who knew him and loved his work.
Registered Maine guide Jay Robinson of Woodville: Tom was a great guy! I had the honor of taking him fly fishing a couple times. Once to Sourdnahunk Lake during the drake hatch and [once] hiking into Slaughter Pond with my dad. Both occasions we caught fish and swapped stories of hunting dogs and trips afield. He included [the Slaughter Pond trip] in one of his stories in his book Handy to Home. For those trips, he gave me two of his prints which are proudly hanging in my home. Class act!
BDN reader Bruce R. Bowden of Eddington: Tom Hennessey’s works entertained and informed us for decades. His columns regularly related the pleasures inherent in spending time afield in Maine’s scenic beauty, and described in vivid detail the attributes and habits of our native wildlife — often accompanied by skillfully drawn illustrations.
The subjects of those columns were not limited to hunting and fishing alone … A particularly moving one which I recall after many years was titled, “The Waiting and Wondering Are Much Worse Than Knowing,” about the sudden and unexplained disappearance of a beloved hunting dog, sharing with readers an emotional experience which was not solely his own. Another of his columns that comes to mind exhorted sportsmen to be courteous to landowners and share the results of one’s time on their property; in it he described borrowing a canoe from a gentleman who lived next to Red Bridge in Orrington in order to fish Field’s Pond, and dividing his catch afterward. I never fished or hunted alongside the man, but by reading his columns I felt I did — and wished I had.
As my own years advanced and I spent less time afield than I would have liked, I appreciated his artwork even more. He had a great gift for capturing outdoor scenes, whether of landing a prize togue or salmon into a canoe, or fly-fishing on the Penobscot (back when that was done), or flushing a partridge out of heavy cover, or of a trophy whitetail bounding over a stone wall. For generations of Maine sportsmen, his artwork was the illustration of their own lives, memories and experiences.
In recent years I came to appreciate another facet of his illustrative talent, that of depicting our state’s history. With talented brush strokes he showed us once-commonplace tableaux such as loggers and horses harvesting timber. Each horse was correctly harnessed down to the most minor detail, each lumberman was dressed in woolen trousers with buffalo-plaid shirt or coat and equipped with axe, crosscut saw and peavey. He showed us how, in the years before photography, generations of our ancestors toiled to make a living amid circumstances that were primitive at best.
Thanks, Tom Hennessey. You reminded us that our state was a precious place.
Hennessey’s longtime sports editor at the BDN, Joe McLaughlin: Tom was a kind man with a good heart beneath a bit of a crusty exterior. He loved to talk sports beyond the outdoors. He was a blue-collar professional who never missed a deadline and cared deeply of producing quality work.
Fred Kircheis, former director of the Maine Atlantic Salmon Commission: It was with great sadness that I read of Tom’s passing in the BDN this morning. I considered Tom a friend with whom I enjoyed many early mornings in a duck blind and evenings on a smelt run. I never did go fishing with Tom, but I am well aware of his passion for angling for Atlantic salmon, both in Maine and Canada.
Tom was a self-taught outdoors man with a huge store of practical knowledge and a willingness to share. He had great integrity, and I never knew him to violate, or stretch, any fishing or hunting laws. He enjoyed being outdoors and among the woods and waters so much that it never mattered if he were successful on the hunt. He always came home with memories of the day, and often those same memories would show up in his BDN column the next day or the next week.
I recall one hunting trip where we set up our decoys on a small pond surrounded by cat tails and, in the wee hours just before daylight, a barred owl left the big pine across the pond and soared over the pond with his talons out to grab a decoy. At the last minute he realized his mistake and glided out of view but, although no ducks ever showed up, Tom and I had a wonderful experience reliving that experience.
Tom loved the Penobscot River and the promises that it holds. He rued the passing of the salmon angling but was buoyed by the possibilities of the future as the lower dams were removed one by one.
As an artist he showed his grasp of what is important in the woods and waters of Maine. And he had the ability to visualize something without ever having seen it. For instance, one time he was on a deadline at the BDN for an article on the Floods Pond charr. He phoned me and asked me to describe how the fish might appear during the spawning run. At that time the BDN only printed in black and white, but the drawing he produced of two charr over the spawning grounds could not have been better.
They don’t make them like Tom Hennessey anymore, and the world will be poorer because of his passing.
Longtime friend Gayland Hachey of Veazie, owner of Hachey’s Rod & Fly Shop: [After the Veazie Dam was taken out, the duo often stood high on the bluff near the Veazie Salmon Club and looked down at the river they each loved. No fishing was allowed at the time, but both agreed that some day, it would be a great place to fish once again]. I go down there and it brings tears to my eyes. What a beautiful river. And now you’ve got eight or 10 miles of beautiful salmon water. Tom and I had talked about that a couple of times, seeing the river after the dams were gone. Being a salmon fisherman, you could see right where them fish would lie. ‘It’s going to be interesting,’ he’d say. ‘It’s going to be interesting.’