Colleagues remember John Sullivan

February 16, 2016

Adjunct math professor Felicity Callahan talks about the late professor John Sullivan. Physics professor Robert Greeney talks about a memorial scholarship established in member of the late math professor John Sullivan.

Among the HCC faculty, John Sullivan was the elder statesman. He was hired in 1966 to teach math and he did that for the next 49 years, right up until his death last May.

"He was employed by HCC before the fire and the move to the new campus," said Pam Baran, dean of HCC's Business, Science, Technology, Engineering and Math division. 

"Imagine the changes that he saw, in the college and in the student body, in the classrooms and the faculty and the administration, in the technology and the way that we deliver classes. He weathered it all, and he weathered it with quiet grace and dignity."  

His colleagues remembered Sullivan last week during a memorial held in one of the classrooms where he used to teach on the third floor of Frost. They talked in turns about his soft-spoken rationale, his careful explanations, his leadership as department chair,  his dedication to teaching and to his students, his wise and thoughtful counsel, his well-crafted lessons, and his skill at drawing perfect free-hand graphs.  

"His lectures were just beautiful and concise and made everything so simple," recalled Garret Cahill, who first met Sullivan in 2000 as a dual enrollment student in high school. "No matter how convoluted the question someone had, he always broke it down into the simplest answer he could, which really allowed everyone to understand it."  

Fifteen years later, Sullivan hired Cahill as an assistant math professor.  

"I got to come here and work with him and still, any question that arose, he always had a simple, elegant solution to it," said Cahill. "I think I will always remember that. I think if I can inspire just a handful of students as much as he inspired me it will be a successful career."  

Math professor Aaron Levi, who succeeded Sullivan as chair of the Math Department, said the late professor served as a mentor to him and many other new faculty members.     

"Whenever I had an issue or a situation, John would be the one I would go to," said Levin. "In this very level-headed way, he would sit and listen and kind of nod his head, and I would say everything, and then he would say, this is what you should do, and that's what I did, and it actually worked out just great."  

Math instructor Felicity Callahan noted that Sullivan was especially welcoming and respectful to members of the adjunct faculty, like herself, inviting them to participate in departmental meetings and be involved in discussions and committees. "John treated everyone with respect and dignity," Callahan said.

"We adjuncts knew him to be both approachable and supportive, and we deeply appreciated him."  

One of her fondest memories, she said, was the way he delivered classroom assignments to math faculty before the beginning of each semester.  

"For many years, John took the time to come speak to us in person," Callahan recalled, "handing us a slip of paper that he drew out of his shirt pocket with our courses and schedule handwritten on it. That personal touch has been replaced with the online process for making assignments, but I will always remember those pleasant conversations with John about his suggested offer and my pleased acceptance."  

Math professor Ilean Vasu, called Sullivan a "model chairperson" and "model teacher," who led the department "wisely and selflessly."  

"He spent a lot of time thinking about the best ways to convey math to his students," said Vasu. "He set high standards for us all."  

Sullivan's friends and colleagues hope to dedicate the Math Department Resource Room on the first floor of the Frost Building in his name. In the meantime, they have established a memorial scholarship through the HCC Foundation. So far, about $12,000 has been collected toward the $15,000 needed to fully endow the scholarship.  

Once that goal is reached, the John E. Sullivan Scholarship Fund will be awarded annually to an HCC student who is studying math, physics or engineering.  

"Even though we all agree he wouldn't have wanted a scholarship in his name," said physics professor Robert Greeney, "we decided it was appropriate to do, just because he is so well remembered and because the longevity of his service really is so impressive."  

Anyone who wants to contribute to the scholarship fund can go to  

Click "Fund" and select "John Sullivan Scholarship" from the dropdown menu. 

PHOTOS by CHRIS YURKO: (Left) Adjunct math professor Felicity Callahan talks about the late professor John Sullivan. (Right) Physics professor Robert Greeney talks about a memorial scholarship established in member of the late math professor John Sullivan.   

Thumbnail: The late John Sullivan


Holyoke Community College
303 Homestead Ave. Holyoke, MA 01040