George P. Matysek Jr. is the assistant managing editor of The Catholic Review in Baltimore.

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Thanks, Gwyneth! We all miss him at the Catholic Review.

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Thanks so much, Megan! He was a really good guy.

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Tom Clancy never flunked English at Loyola

It certainly makes for a good story: a scrappy kid from Baltimore flunks out of an English class at what is now Loyola University Maryland only to become an international bestselling author. 

The problem is that the oft-told tale concerning Tom Clancy is just as fictitious as Jack Ryan.

“It was an urban legend that just wouldn’t die,” said Carol Abromaitis, the English professor accused of giving Clancy an F in her class. 

For decades, Abromaitis urged English majors to let others know the truth. Her efforts bore little fruit.

“One major said to me, ‘Of course not. It makes us look smart,’” Abromaitis remembered with a laugh.

Clancy, who died Oct. 1 at The Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore following a brief illness, was, in fact, a friend of Abromaitis and her husband, Mike. The master of the techno-thriller sometimes played war board games with Mike Abromaitis. The couple also served as the godparents of Clancy’s eldest child, baptized at Immaculate Heart of Mary in Baynesville. 

Author Tom Clancy is pictured in an undated photo at his home in Huntingtown, Md. Clancy, best known for works including "The Hunt for Red October" and "Clear and Present Danger," died Oct. 1 at age 66 after a brief illness at Johns Hopkins Hospital in Baltimore. (CNS photo/courtesy David Burnett via Reuters)

At Loyola, Clancy enrolled in Abromaitis’ 18th-century literature course and an independent study focused on science fiction. The professor remembered her friend as a man with a “gifted imagination” who thoroughly researched his topic before taking on a project. When he showed up for his independent study, she said, he had a briefcase filled with books that he expected Abromaitis to read.

Clancy’s prodigious talent was evident very early on. He wrote a short story at what is now Loyola Blakefield in Towson, bringing it to Abromaitis for a critique when he began studying in college.

“It was just fabulous,” Abromaitis said. “It was about a man-eating tiger in India who had a mutation that made him have a human brain. It was totally fantasy, but it was a really good story.”

When Clancy began “The Hunt for Red October,” his first book, he sent galleys to Abromaitis. She was impressed with the work and soon hooked her husband, Mike.

“I think it was his best book,” she said.

Abromaitis noted that Clancy’s Catholic upbringing was reflected in his characters.

“He had a sense of right and wrong, good and evil,” she said. “He had a sense of the obligation to protect the weak.”

Others who knew Clancy remembered him as a man who always had a keen interest in military matters. 

“I recall planning military strategies with him, playing with little toy figures of soldiers,” said Father Gregory Rapisarda, associate pastor of several Dundalk-area parishes and Clancy’s classmate at St. Matthew School in Northwood and Loyola Blakefield. 
 
Don Lavin, a senior lecturer in economics and business at McDaniel College in Westminster, was Clancy’s classmate at Loyola Blakefield. Clancy was a member of the “brain class,” Lavin said. 

“Those were the 22 or 23 people in our class who were the smartest guys,” Lavin said.

Monsignor James Farmer, pastor of St. John in Westminster and one of Clancy’s college classmates, said his friend will be missed. 

“He was a very hardworking and interesting guy,” Monsignor Farmer said, noting that Clancy made contributions to assist children with cancer. “He held strong convictions and had a concern for people’s needs.”

10/7/2013 11:03:29 AM
By George Matysek