Richard Hannaford An Extraordinary Teacher

Some people are natural teachers.

I don’t mean ‘teachers’ in the everyday sense as in those who work in schools or colleges. I mean people who show us things and who we learn from in all manner of ways.

Richard Hannaford was such a person. I noticed this many years ago when I first met him as my sister Norah’s partner and later husband.  Over the years I became more convinced this was the case, never more so than in the weeks leading up to his untimely death one month ago.

Richard probably did not realise that we were all learning from him and I know that he would be somewhat embarrassed at the idea of being described in this way. However, I think anyone who knew him would agree that with every encounter, on each occasion involving Richard, we came away with some new insight, something extra to make us better.

One thing we learned from Richard was the art of conversation. He cherished discourse and grasped the importance of listening to other voices and respecting different views. For Richard, discussion was an opportunity to see the world in a different way, as others see it. A frequent phrase he used was “do you think so?”  For sure, he too always had something to say but it was never rash or trivial, he cared deeply about justice and social issues. When Richard spoke you knew he had been thinking beforehand.

We also learned from the many small things he did. To put it succinctly, he had very good manners and was always polite. However, these were just the outward evidence of something altogether much deeper. Richard had a very real sense that we share this life, this planet, with others. So, when he smiled and shook your hand, when we wore one of his lovely shirts, when he sang his party songs and laughed and even when, at Maire’s 50th party, knowing what he was facing, he roared out in glee  “It’s so good to be here” again and again we learned from him. We learned to live our lives to the fullest extent but to remember always that we share the world with others. Manners are a way of recognising this.

Without doubt there were two special people who Richard shared his life with and he never missed an opportunity to remind us of this. I don’t know how many times he would say how lucky he was to have met and fallen in love with Norah. He was never reserved about expressing his love for her. As for his son Dara, he readily admitted that when he was born it was the happiest day of his life. With Dara and through Dara we see the greatest evidence of what an extraordinary, natural and skilful teacher Richard was.

Think of Richard when you listen to these lines written by Confucius around 2500 years ago:

When a superior man knows the causes which make instruction successful, and those which make it of no effect, he can be a teacher of others. Thus in his teaching, he leads and does not drag; he strengthens and does not discourage; he opens the way but does not conduct to the end without the learner’s own efforts. Leading and not dragging produces harmony. Strengthening and not discouraging makes attainment easy. Opening the way and not conducting to the end makes the learner thoughtful. He who produces harmony, easy attainment, and thoughtfulness may be pronounced a skillful teacher.

– Confucius, Book XVI – HSIO KI (Record on the Subject of Education) 

Richard was a skilful teacher and Dara and Norah and everyone who knew him will continue to learn. It is very appropriate that we planted an oak tree today in his memory. The oak tree was the symbol of knowledge in ancient Ireland. In Irish it is known as Daire.  It will grow here in the Phoenix Park a place that has a powerful resonance for all our family. The phoenix is also associated with the symbolism of rebirth from ashes.

The small tree grows under the shade of the older one and the cycle of life and learning continues.

Richard Hannaford RIP

Richard (with the lovely shirt), Maire, Norah and Leo

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