Margaret Patterson Hannay

Margaret Patterson Hannay

WESTERLO — An accomplished and much respected scholar of international repute and a long-time professor of English at Siena College, Margaret Patterson Hannay was an active practitioner of her Christian faith. She died on Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, after a four-year struggle with brain cancer. She was 71.

Her husband, Dr. David Hannay, who is vice president at Hannay Reels here, said she was a “brilliant, generous, and loving  person.”

“She was very grateful for the excellent care of her doctors, home health aides and Community Hospice of Albany County,” he wrote in a tribute to his wife.

Dr.  Hannay was born on Dec. 12, 1944 in Rochester, New Hampshire, the eldest child of Ralph and Lois (née Kunz) Patterson.  Her father was a Baptist minister who served as pastor at several churches in New England in the course of his ministry. Her mother was a biologist. Both parents held doctoral degrees in their respective fields.

The recipient of many academic honors and fellowships and a scholar whose range of inquiry was exceptionally broad and deep, Dr. Hannay wrote and published 17 books — on topics ranging from Lady Mary (Sidney) Wroth, a poet of the English Renaissance, to an examination of the 20th Century British novelist and apologist for Christianity, C.S. Lewis.

In  “C.S. Lewis: A Map of  His World,” Dr. Hannay wrote: “He was a man haunted by longing, a man  both passionately romantic and scrupulously logical, a man who, through love and suffering, progressed from dogmatism to gentleness.”

Her book “Mary Sidney, Lady Wroth” received the Book of the Year award from the Society for the Study of Early Modern Writers. The book “brims with valuable information and acute observation,” the award said.

Those two  books alone suggest the range of her research and interests. Another of her works — one that grew out of her love for another genre, the murder mystery — also indicates the wide angle from which she studied and viewed literature. “As Her Whimsey Took Her: Critical Essays on the Work of Dorothy L. Sayers” was nominated for an Edgar Award by the Mystery Writers of America in 1980.  Her husband collaborated on that title, suggesting the play of words on the name of Sayers’s  detective hero, Peter Wimsey.

Dr. Hannay was a bit of a detective herself; her husband has said: “She loved sleuthing in the archives in England  and Wales for her research.”

Academic career

In 1980, Dr. Hannay began her long career at Siena College, where she taught Elizabethan and Renaissance literature and Shakespeare. She also served as chairwoman of the English Department, the core curriculum committee, and the committee that  established the honors program at the college. She taught the Honors Great Books class for first-year students for many years.

In 2000, she received the first Raymond Kennedy Excellence in Scholarship Award from the college, in recognition of the extraordinary quality and size of her  scholarly output.

Among her more recent awards, in 2013, was the Jane Robertson Lifetime Achievement Award from the International Sidney Society, which cited her “wide-ranging scholarship [that] is always coupled with an elegant and incisive delivery of her findings.”  Dr. Hannay was the founder and then the secretary and president of  the society.

Dr. Hannay received three research fellowships from the National Endowment for the Humanities and three from the Folger Shakespeare Library in the course of her career.  She also served on the board of the Modern Language Association; as council secretary for the Renaissance English Text Society; and as national president of the the Society for the Study of Early Modern Women, an affiliate of the American Historical Association.

Religious and family life

Dr. Hannay received her bachelor of arts degree from Wheaton College in Illinois.  She received her master of arts degree from The College of St. Rose, and her doctor of philosophy degree from the State University of New York at Albany.  Her husband, meanwhile,  was obtaining his advanced degrees from the State University of New York at Stony Brook and at Albany, and from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.

She met her future husband at a Christian summer camp when they were both 18 and had completed their first year at Wheaton College but had not yet met there.  David and Margaret Hannay were married when they were both 20, on Aug. 14, 1965,  at a church in Newport, Rhode Island, where the bride’s father was pastor at the time.

For much of their married life, the couple lived in a Westerlo home inherited from Dr. David Hannay’s grandparents. His grandfather, Clifford Hannay, founded Hannay Reels, still a family-owned company, in 1933.

Before assuming a management role at Hannay Reels  in 2012, he — like his wife — had a long teaching career; his was at Union College where he taught computer science.

Dr. Hannay wrote in his tribute to his wife  that “she felt blessed to live near so many family members.”

He  said his wife, like himself,  was especially proud of the couple’s two daughters: Deborah Hannay Sunoo, a Presbyterian minister, and Catharine Hannay, a teacher and creative writer.

Her faith was central to her life.

“She was an enthusiastic member of the First Presbyterian Church in Albany…[and] felt blessed to have such good friends and pastors in this historic church,”  her husband wrote.

She served on session (the church’s governing body) , taught classes, and served most recently as a member of the committee that welcomed new members.

Dr. Hannay said his wife felt  grateful, too, for “the ministry of Franciscan ideals at Siena College and for the deep friendship of her colleagues there,” as well as for “her friendship with colleagues across the English-speaking world.”

Margaret Hannay lived for most of her adult life in Westerlo, but her mind and interests took her far beyond the Hilltown she loved.


In addition to her husband of 51 years, David Hannay, Margaret Patterson Hannay is survived by her  daughters, Deborah Hannay Sunoo and her husband, Ken Kyung, in Seattle; and Catharine Hannay and her husband, Eric Peterman, in Washington, D.C.; and by her granddaughters, Rebecca Catharine Jin Sunoo and Alina Margaret Yun Sunoo.

Her parents, Ralph and Lois Patterson, and two brothers, Ronald and Kenneth, died before her.  Ronald died at birth. Kenneth, who was an officer in the United States Army Corps of Engineers died at age 49  from the same affliction that took Dr. Hannay’s life, glioblastoma multiforme.

A memorial service will be held at First Presbyterian Church, 362 State Street, Albany, on Sunday, Aug. 28, at 1 p.m. Arrangements are by Cunningham Funeral home of Greenville.

Memorial contributions may be made to First Presbyterian Church,  for mission and outreach, 362 State Street, Albany, NY 12210.

—  Tim Tulloch

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