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Remembering Charles Sullivan

A tribute to the former professor of English, Foundation trustee

Charles Sullivan

Retired Professor of English and Community College of Rhode Island Foundation Trustee Charles Sullivan died on May 27, 2010 at his home in Providence. He was passionate about teaching, adored his students and staunchly supported the arts. His sense of humor and genuine compassion are remembered by many and were celebrated during a memorial service on July 12. View images of Charles through the years, see photos from the memorial service and read an editorial about Charles that appeared in the Providence Journal on Aug. 2. Video footage of the service includes:

In 2008, Charles became the 36th member of the CCRI Hall of Fame for his substantial contributions to the college. From his start at RIJC as an English professor in 1967 through his retirement in 2008, he was a tireless advocate for the arts. In honor of his 58th birthday in 2003, a small group of friends established the Charles Sullivan Fund for the Arts and Humanities with an endowment that today totals more than $160,000. His annual Salute to the Arts event provides musical and dramatic entertainment and raises funding for the endowment.

A prolific writer of poetry, Sullivan served as book review editor for East Side Monthly. He was president of the Providence Athenaeum board, president of the Rhode Island Committee for the Humanities twice, vice president of the New England Foundation for the Humanities and was a member of the national Community College Humanities Association, helping to attract and direct the national conference to Rhode Island twice. He was also vice president of Higher Education for the National Education Association of Rhode Island in the 1980s.

Sullivan was a trustee of the CCRI Foundation and sponsored the Women Returning to School Scholarship. This scholarship focuses on women who have been out of high school for at least 10 years and wish to attend CCRI.

Contributions in Sullivan’s memory can be sent to the CCRI Foundation, 1762 Louisquisset Pike, Lincoln, RI 02865. To celebrate his life and accomplishments, members of the community have expressed their memories and some of those stories and anecdotes are shared below. If you have a story you want to share on the website, send it to marketing@ccri.edu.

Lou George '69
Back in 1968, Mr. Sullivan was my professor in British Literature I and II and Shakespeare. His wonderful teaching techniques enabled me to enjoy every minute of each class. The Beatles' song "Hey Jude" had just been released and the record was hard to find. I gave the record to Mr. Sullivan so that he could listen to it. It's funny that before I learned of his passing, I thought about him when I heard the song on the radio this week. Rest in peace my friend.

Linda Richard
IT Director, Instructional Technology/Media Services
Community College of Rhode Island

My memories of Charles are so vivid and bright just like the professor that he was during his tenure at CCRI. As a colleague for many years, he was a regular customer of ours in the former years when our department was known as Audiovisual Services, and recently, IT.

Charles always lit up the room with his infectious smile, grace and charisma whenever he came by to request AV support or technical assistance. We were fascinated to hear about his love for the arts and humanities as well as his journeys along the way.

He recently shared one of his travel journals with me when I was planning a trip to Italy. No guide could match his colorful descriptions or unique experiences shared with a select few. I will always treasure the gift of his well spoken words and his genuine friendship.

He was one very loved scholar and gentleman. It would be a wonderful tribute to see one of the theaters at CCRI named in his honor. Certainly, our fondest memories of Charles will continue here on campus and will far exceed his years on this earth.

Farewell, my friend and colleague.

Kelly Rogers
I had Charles Sullivan as an English professor in my freshman year, 2002. Simply put, he was an amazing professor and made learning about English incredibly fun! Professor Sullivan brought light and humor to the poetry of Emily Dickinson, Robert Frost, and many other greats. I am sad to hear that he passed but know that for those who were lucky enough to have had him as a professor, he will never be forgotten.

Sue Forman
Former Adjunct Professor of English
Community College of Rhode Island

I was saddened to hear of Charles Sullivan's passing. For many years while I was an English department adjunct at the Flanagan Campus, I saw Charles frequently. He was simply a cool guy, and I never heard any student complain about his classes. In fact, he was a popular teacher. I enjoyed his humor, sharp wit, and sometimes unexpected bluntness, characteristic of Charles.

Joan M. Mekuto ’04
Charles Sullivan was my first professor at CCRI when I returned to college at the age of 47. I was in the midst of getting a divorce and beginning my life again from scratch. When I signed up for his class I thought it would be my last because of the fact that I had lost all my self confidence and self worth and knew I was destined for failure once again.

I was wrong. After one of our classes in the first week Charles asked me why my writing was so dark and full of pain and I explained to him how my life seemed so sad at the moment and how I perceived myself as a failure. My dear professor told me that even though my writing was dark it drew him in and made him curious about me; he said it was a very useful and engaging technique and that he could not wait to read my next paper. I was so honored! Someone actually believed in me! I was so eager to get to class everyday and my confidence grew and grew. I graduated from CCRI with highest honors and was vice president of the Phi Theta Kappa honor society and eventually got my bachelor’s degree from RIC.

Professor Sullivan changed my life with his kind words and undying support and to him I owe him a lifetime of gratitude. How wonderful he was to me and many others. Charles was a very compassionate, intelligent and worldly gentleman but always had time for me or anyone who needed his help. His life was a life well lived and he brought to this world true love, courage and dignity. Thank you dear professor and friend, I shall miss you dearly.

Jeanne Grandchamp ’72
In the CCRI photo tribute to Professor Charles Sullivan, I saw him the way I remember him from my British Lit classes in 1970-72. His loss made me wonder, "What has happened to us all?! How did we get to be our wrinkled selves when we once were those ... hippies?!" He'd laugh to hear me say that, if he remembered me at all. That last part doesn't matter, though; what matters is I remember him and the effect he had on this once-post-Catholic, uptight teenage girl. I recall one day when I was so focused on writing out my eight stanzas of "The Rhyme of the Ancient Mariner," punctuation in the proper places--very nervous I'd get the assignment wrong. He, meanwhile, pranced from desk to light switch, flicked the lights on and off, then returned and danced on the desk! At the time I was flummoxed. Why wasn't he more serious about serious literature? Then, I began to understand the spirit, the sheer fun that was literature, because he could see it and he could transmit that spirit and fun to us, his students.

Damn, that's ME, now. I teach literature (among other things) at Bristol Community College and have for over 30 years. Often I think of Charles Sullivan and his passion for poetry and teaching and how he affected me--I have power to make students laugh out loud, but I suspect I wouldn't have known to look for it and tap it if it hadn't been for Charles Sullivan. I'd like to think somewhere out there he's proud of his part in "corrupting" me.

I tell a close friend of mine, another alumna of CCRI, Victoria Lague, who teaches college English, too, that if we're lucky, someone will remember us that way – as a lively inspiration who loved literature, students and writing.

Victoria Lague ’75
Associate Professor of English
Miami Dade College, Kendall Campus

I am saddened to hear of the passing of Charles Sullivan. While a student at RIJC/CCRI, I never had the privilege of knowing Charles as a professor, but when I was adjunct faculty, Charles became my professor indeed. One semester, I taught at the Lincoln campus and was fortunate enough to share an office with Charles. He mentored me simply because he cared, and often unknowingly because I learned about teaching and counseling students from listening to him interact with his own students in the office. Every year when I donated to his scholarship fund, he took the time to write a short, personal note of thanks, which was very important to me. We may be sorry to hear that Charles has passed on, but can rejoice in a life fully and joyously lived.

Philip M. Johnston ’10
I was introduced to Professor Sullivan last year by Professors Laurie Sherman and Ellen Mroz at a poetry reading at Liston Campus. As a young writer and student, I was told there was much to learn from the gentleman poet. This was true. Sadly, our time was limited to a few short months but he certainly left a lasting impression on me. He gave me a few quick words of writing wisdom through e-mail correspondence and gifted me a copy of a favorite novel of his after hearing me read. He sure did know how to flatter.

As a writer, his words had to be crafted expertly yet sounded so loose and simple. They were elegantly frank and efficient but his greatest attribute, as a man, was style. Yes, his trademark bold spectacles and bow tie (bright red when I met him) commanded attention and were tinged with grace and originality.

His clothes and attitude were just like those words of his, seemingly effortless upon first glance but obviously fine tuned once carefully studied by the perfect eye. The way he would take up a woman's hand, or smile a man's smile was a direct link to an era of gentlemen, who dressed well and lived better. Knowledge, writing and education were his passions but style was his calling card. That is how I will remember him.

May the gentleman in the red glasses and bow tie rest easy.

Mary Oyekoya ’07
I had Professor Sullivan for Composition II about four years ago. He was a very unique man, always wearing his bowtie. He made English class exciting for me as English is not one of my favorite subjects. He was passionate about his work and greatly encouraged student participation with his thoughtful approach to teaching.

He will be dearly missed and I have only fond memories of him. Whenever he saw me whether in class, in the hallway, or even outside the school, he would always recite the poem, “Mary Mary, Quite Contrary.” At the time, I did not know it was a poem, then he told me the story and asked about my sheep. He had a healthy sense of humor.

May his soul rest in perfect peace. Amen.

James Glickman
Professor of English
Community College of Rhode Island

It will be a world both colder and darker without Charles in it, right down to our no longer receiving one of his e-mails closing with his signature, "Cheers!" He took E.M. Forster's advice, "Only connect, that is the whole of the sermon," and made it into a joyous art form in teaching and in friendship. I always called him Sir Charles for his belonging to that small but open aristocracy of the gifted in spirit. He leaves behind hundreds of colleagues and thousands of students whose lives were touched and made better by his generosity, ebullience and grace.

Margaret Santos
Adjunct Instructor
Community College of Rhode Island

The lights at CCRI just got dimmer and will never be the same again, but we rejoice in knowing that Heaven just got a whole lot brighter. Charles' wonderful, loving, carefree, humorous spirit will be sorely missed. He was truly a gentleman and a scholar. I don't know one person who could say one bad thing about Charles; he was loved and admired by all. The love he shared with his students, his friends, his colleagues was outstanding. He strived and achieved with success in helping all mankind.

I knew Charles when he was student teaching at Central High School and he always made everyone feel comfortable in his/her own skin, never judging and always accepting. When I met him years later at CCRI, I found he had not changed. I was an advisor to the students’ Third World Club, and he participated in many of our school activities and joined us on numerous educational trips, always helping, always loving regardless of anyone’s color or race. He reached out to students and shared with them his knowledge and love of books. You could start a famous quote, and he would finish it, giving you the author’s name and year the book was published. He was able to inspire and encourage students to “move on” and be the best that they could be. We all loved him! What a great legacy he left behind! Charles Sullivan will be sorely missed but he leaves behind a fragrance that will last a lifetime. Let us cherish our wonderful memories.

Theodore R. Clement ’97
Assistant Professor of Drama
Community College of Rhode Island

When I first arrived at CCRI I had seriously undeveloped academic skills and very little motivation. Professor Sullivan, along with a few other teachers, endeavored to teach me to be a student. He taught me to be curious about my world. He taught me to be ambitious and seek achievement beyond expectation. I would never have had the courage to become a fulltime theater maker if it wasn't for him. When I transferred from CCRI, Charles wrote a glowing reference on my behalf. If I can be half the educator that he was, I'll consider myself blessed. I can't thank him enough. "Good-night, sweet prince; And flights of angels sing thee to thy rest."

Leslie J. Dolan, M.A.
Assistant Professor of English
Community College of Rhode Island

I was fortunate enough to have had Professor Sullivan in the summer of 1991. I was enrolled in one of his sections of ENGLISH-1250 Readings in the Short Story, at the Lincoln campus. That summer, I was finishing up a few courses before I entered my senior year at the University of Rhode Island. Until that summer, I had always enjoyed reading, but had set my sights on a career in business. I was set to graduate with a degree in communications the following May.

My experience in Professor Sullivan's class made such an impression on me as a student, a young woman, and as a member of the community. Sullivan's infectious passion for literature sparked such excitement in me and others in that class. I recall his animation as he explained Shirley Jackson's, "The Lottery" or Lawrence's "The Rocking-Horse Winner." His love for those stories would manifest itself in his twinkling eyes and wide grin.

Excitement can be contagious. I immediately enrolled in as many English courses as I could for the following fall and spring semesters at URI, in the hopes to relive that passion. And although other faculty members approach their love of literature in various ways, Sullivan's energetic seed had already been planted in me.

Charles Sullivan's approach to literature also stirred social awareness in many of us that summer. As a young woman, I was developing my own thoughts about society and human dynamics. Still naive and impressionable at the time, I was hesitant to stake claim in any one political party or organization. But learning, through Sullivan's guidance, about the struggles that writers themselves had had with social issues made me feel a bit more at ease about finding my own voice as a woman. His elaboration on stories like Hemingway's, "Hills Like White Elephants" sparked critical thoughts for me.

Furthermore, that summer I was inspired by Sullivan to make a difference. I set out to get involved in the community. Joining both arts-related groups and political organizations, I felt encouraged to do what I could to share my own love for the arts and my interest in the community. Ultimately, my need for community involvement led me to become a teacher, as well. So today, I write, as an assistant professor of English here at the Community College of Rhode Island, to share with you all that Charles Sullivan offered to me in that summer course. My vivid memories of his class and the specific stories we read serve as proof to his passion for life and the arts. I smile to think that I have now had the fortunate experience of teaching the very same course that he had taught to me almost twenty years ago. I am hoping that I can offer to my students what Sullivan had offered to me: and inspiration for greatness, an appreciation for the arts, a growth in critical thinking, and a desire for community involvement.

Thank you, Professor Sullivan. Thank you, Charles.

Ed Liston
President Emeritus
Community College of Rhode Island

Charles Sullivan was indeed the "poster boy" of the ideal faculty member. He was a scholar and a gentleman. He was also a good friend to all who knew him. Many times during my tenure at CCRI I listened to his wise counsel. He had no personal agenda but was always willing to join in supporting the Institution that he loved. May he rest in peace.

Dee and Tom Verrecchia
After a 50 year friendship, Charles’ passing leaves an empty place in our hearts.

Peter N. Woodberry
Dean of Business, Science and Technology
Community College of Rhode Island

While I have many lasting fond memories of Charles, I now will recall may last vision of him. I literally bumped into him in the late afternoon on Tuesday, May 25, when he was leaving a doctor’s appointment. We shared a quick handshake, a warm smile and a few words about our mutual love: CCRI. Hardly did I know he would be gone two days later.

Mary Benton Fuchs
Associate Professor of Art
Community College of Rhode Island

I was with Charles just three days before he left our part of the earth. It struck me at the time that he had really never looked better. He was cute, he was fun, he was thoughtful and he was inspirational. He was such an integral part of CCRI for so many of us that I am convinced he will never ever really leave us.

Maria A. Tamborelli
Assistant to the Dean of Health and Rehabilitative Sciences
Community College of Rhode Island

It is almost 10 years since I took a course with my dear friend Professor Charles Sullivan while also working here at CCRI. He was so inspirational and would always make me smile. Each time I saw him, either in the hall or at my desk, he would have words of wisdom to share. His wit and charm, and tender heart will always be special to me!

Steve and Yvonne Kadelski
One of the best instructors and students, faculty and staff will truly miss him.

Kathleen Beauchene
Professor of English
Community College of Rhode Island

A bulging leather briefcase filled with student essays (maybe even a few stamped with an “A” and accompanied by a perfectly penned “Terrific”), a paisley or polka-dotted bowtie, and smiling eyes behind crimson glasses—such are my concrete images of Charles, my office mate of 22 years. Specific stories and events, though, are blurred by profound sadness. What does surface is his full-throttle approach to everything, his grace, and his bluntness that bordered on the humorous. More than anything I remember Charles’ love of teaching—even after four classes in a row, even after 40 years! His students are his legacy. They have inherited his vision, compassion, and inspiration. I hold up my imaginary glass to toast to a man well loved and a life well lived. As I do, I borrow his characteristic closing—“Cheers!”

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Last Updated: 11/8/12