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Despite grim prognosis, teacher 'embraced life'

ROTHESAY - Veteran Simonds High School teacher and Rothesay family man Dan Hennessey is being remembered as a stubborn, adventuresome soul who refused to give up on what, for him, was clearly a charmed life.

Faced with a "grim prognosis" following his diagnosis with stage 4 melenoma in January 2007, Hennessy refused to accept it, his eldest son and eulogist Riley told funeral mourners Tuesday.

"(Dad) said 'no,' " said Riley. "No to dying, no to doing nothing, no to the misery that often comes with such news. Instead, he embraced life. He embraced his faith."

Armed with several rosaries, a determined Hennessey underwent multiple chemotherapy regimens and intense radiation not only here in New Brunswick, but cutting-edge medical trials in the United States.

His optimism always won the day.

In mid-May, following a round of chemo for new brain tumours, he arrived home with two plane tickets to Edmonton and spent the next few days with his wife and best friend, Donna (McWhirter), hiking the Rocky Mountains of Alberta and telling stories about the first time his family visited there.

Even the night before he died, he talked of "when" he would get better.

Hennessey died last Saturday, a week shy of his 52nd birthday, with Donna and sons Riley and Aaron, by his side.

Blessed with a keen mind, great wit and thirst for knowledge, Hennessey was a favourite of students and staff alike at Simonds High, where he headed the educational resource and methods department in recent years.

"Dan was a well-respected and very popular teacher on staff. Everyone knew him and loved him," said Simonds principal Gary Keating. "He truly loved his job and he liked the resource students he worked with."

Born in Blacks Harbour on June 7, 1956, Daniel Arthur Hennessey was a son of the late Arthur and Patricia Hennessey.

Besides Donna, whom he married on July 28, 1979, and his sons, Hennessey's survivors include two sisters, Agnes Lockhart and his twin, Elizabeth Hennessey. He was predeceased by one brother, Peter.

Hennessey was a "great father" and "loving husband" who lived more in his all-too-short lifetime than most men do in two, said Riley.

An avid sailor and member of the Rothesay Yacht Club, with his boat the Marionette, he liked to spend quality time with his sons sailing, travelling, hiking and walking.

"It was apparent that my dad was determined to work as hard as he could to ensure Aaron and I received even more blessings than he did as a child," said Riley. "A beautiful home, an amazing sailboat, a great education, world travel - he made sure we had it all."

No matter where they went, be it the Irving Nature Park, the Rocky Mountains or the ruins of Mexico, Riley said his father made the experience both fun and educational.

Apart from being a great father, he said his dad was a comedian whose sarcastic wit, dry humour and eagerness for the spotlight were all part of his gregarious personality.

"Every day of Dan's life was full," his sailing buddy, Rod Crowther, told funeral mourners. "He loved his family. He enjoyed the challenges of his work. He enjoyed people and gatherings of all kinds, telling stories and making us laugh.

"We will always remember Dan's keen mind, his positive attitude, his broad smile and his twinkling eyes."

Those eyes, said Riley, only had room for the two girls in his father's life.

The first, his loyal dog Sailor, and second, "his best friend, confidante and wife (Donna). If I know one thing, it is that my dad loved her with every fibre of his being."

Together, he said, his parents truly taught their sons "the value of life."

SOURCE: New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal (Saint John, NB) - June 5th, 2008.

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