teacher man: remembering Frank McCourt

In ILLNESS, JUDY BLUME MOMENTS by Stephanie Klein22 Comments

(Dear Phil, You know what pleasure I've had knowing you-- your maturity, gusto, warmth. Love, Frank McCourt)

When I heard of the passing of Frank McCourt I asked Stephanie if she would write a blog post about him.  She responded that I should write something as she hadn’t read his books or personally known him. It wouldn’t be genuine she admitted.  I did know Frank McCourt and mourn the loss.  To me, Frank McCourt was not just a writer.  In fact, I glossed through "Angela’s Ashes" and "Teacher Man" but couldn’t have a meaningful conversation about them.  To me he was a mentor, a role model and teacher.

What I could discuss was how much life McCourt brought to everything he touched.  His ability to engage everyone with laughter and thought.  At Stuyvesant High School I spent three terms with Mr. McCourt-  short stories, writing children’s books and high school English.  We got along well.  His unorthodox style meshed with my smart ass demeanor.  "Class, let’s sing "I stuck my finger in the woodpecker’s hole" he’d request.  We’d laugh and oblige.  Monday’s were spent with his sarcastic review of the football team’s weekend score- "45 to nuthin’" McCourt would read in his Irish brogue.  "Musta been trying to lose if it was 45 to nuthin’. Were you trying to lose Mr. Lacho at 45 to nuthin?" he continued.  When it came to writing, his advice was equal parts insightful and challenging: "Don’t let your character die.  It’s too easy."

I think most importantly, I remember Frank McCourt as a genuine man.  His predictable late to class arrival due to flight issues back from Chicago performing in "A Couple Of Blaguards" on the weekends, the noticeable lethargy from late nights at The Lion’s Head. Even one day sitting on the steps of the 15th street entrance when I saw a man punch Frank McCourt to the ground with a right hook to bloody his nose.  The rumor being he had gotten too close to another married teacher.   McCourt lived life with gusto.  The joie de vivre he passed to his students.

I’ll miss Frank McCourt as he is a significant connection to my youth and even more so someone who helped shape me into who I have become.  It is no coincidence I married a very talented writer.

2 YEARS AGO: A Name is Nothing
3 YEARS AGO: C U Next Tuesday
4 YEARS AGO: Channeling Stuart Smalley
5 YEARS AGO: Yes, That My Bum


  1. ambrosia

    Frank McCourt as a mentor! Only in my wildest dreams. Sorry you lost a friend Phil. And sorry we all lost one of our greats.

  2. Jacks

    ‘Angela’s Ashes is one of the best books I have EVER read and “‘Tis” comes a close second.

  3. Monica

    Thanks you for writing this, Phil. I wept when I heard that Frank McCourt died. I wasn’t fortunate to know him personally, but still felt I had lost a friend. I was captivated by his writing, and of course by the man himself. Just 4 weeks ago, he took part of a show show on WNYC that incorporated Irish music with his narration of “Angela’s Ashes”. He assured the audience that recent “rumors of his death were greatly exaggerated” (he had recently been hospitalized for the melanoma that ultimately did lead to his death). How I wish that were true. I’ll miss the man and his writing greatly.

  4. Traci

    What a nice addition Phil. I loved his writing style. So simple yet you were right there experiencing it with him as you read. I wish I could have met him. How nice of you to pay tribute to him this way

  5. Kristin

    This post is beautiful. Thank you, Phil. While I never had the honor of speaking to Mr. McCourt, I have read and enjoyed every book he published. He will be missed.

  6. snappy

    Phil, that was beautiful! I love Stephanie’s writing and I get that this is her gig, not yours, but you should post more often =)

  7. Buffy

    I adore Frank McCourt and I think I’ve just developed a wee bit of a literary crush on Phil as well*.


    *All due respect to the gorgeous lady who runs this blog, of course.

  8. LolaD

    Thanks for posting and sharing this with us Phil.

    I was listening to Mike and Mike on the radio this morning.. and Greeney talked about the lovely Mr. McCourt.
    He said that he went to your same high school and had him for English.. he mentioned that he was a great/special teacher that all the kids just loved.

  9. Kristy

    Thanks Phil for sharing your very personal experience with Mr. McCourt. I merely read his novels…but upon hearing of his passing I knew in my gut that there were people that would be impacted and I took a moment to think of all of them.

  10. sisyphus

    your writing is much better than stephanie’s – clear, structured and to the point – yet has the ability to connect, at least in this post.

    1. Em

      Wow. People have a way of spitting on everything, don’t they? Even a sincere, well-meaning gesture that has absolutely nothing to do with comparing literary competence.

    2. Traci

      What in the world made you think it was appropriate to compare their writing skills? It’s funny how you felt the need to write that comment when there was no need at all!!!

    3. Zan

      Yeah, I agree with Traci. This was a good post, and was appreciated. But we come here to read Stephanie’s writing, which is great and the two are not to be compared.

  11. Yottoga

    Dear Phil,
    I was really touched by your words. By your gesture to post something here, as he meant so much to you. It came from the heart, which came through in your writing, and I very much appreciate that you did.

  12. Kris 10

    Thanks for that, Phil – you are a lucky man. I didn’t actually read Angela’s Ashes – I listend to Mr. McCourt re-live it. There is no way I could have made it through the book without his beautiful voice. What a story, what a man. RIP.

  13. Amy

    You were so very fortunate to be taught by such an interesting man. Loved his books and reading about his life.

  14. Alex N.

    Hi Phil:

    I was at Stuyvesant from ’81 to ’84. It sounds like you and I were there at the same time. I was lucky enough to have Frank McCourt as a teacher each year I was there and to remain close to him after I graduated. I wrote two pieces on him recently. They’re at
    http://www.boston.com/bostonglobe/editorial_opinion/oped/articles/2009/07/27/mccourts_humanity_was_a_rare_gift/ and http://bostonherald.com/entertainment/books/view.bg?articleid=1187056

    I hope you enjoy them.

  15. Tek-Pheung Chuan

    His “Angela’s Ashes” and “‘Tis” brought me back to thoughts about my family.

    “Teacher Man” brought me down to earth, that I understand my students, like me, are humans, with their own stories, and sorrows.

    TP Chuan

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