For 35 years, sportsmen and women of Eastern Maine have been entertained, informed and inspired by the outdoor writing and artwork of a fellow sportsman: Tom Hennessey.

As outdoor writer for the Bangor Daily News, Tom took up the void left by the death of the legendary BDN outdoor columnist Bud Leavitt. Hennessey blazed his own special trail. His remarkable gift for observing man and nature, and doing so with precision and sensitivity, comes through in both his words and his art. When he wrote about a sea-duck hunt, he took you there. The salt spray and the icy wind was there between the lines of his prose and in the accompanying artwork. You knew that he had been there, that he loved and lived his outdoor recollections.

The Hampden resident is my friend and neighbor. We worked together for many years at the Bangor Daily News. Over the years, we have fished and hunted together, thrown popping bugs over bass beds at Stetson Pond, shared duck blinds on Downeast coastal estuaries and worked gundogs in grouse and woodcock covers.

In March, Tom decided to call it a day. Time to wind up his newspaper column. He said that the words weren’t coming as easily as they used to. He hinted, too, that the cultural shift and political pressures were changing the venue for outdoor writers of his era. I wasn’t shocked by Tom’s sudden departure from the pages of our hometown newspaper. Over breakfast a few months ago, he confided that the time was drawing close. Still, his final column left me a little melancholy nonetheless. Yes, an old friend to so many sportsmen was putting down his pen for good. But it was more than a simple goodbye. I’m afraid that Tom’s departure, in some important ways, is another marker, a sign that we are, indeed, witnessing the closing chapter of an era.

“Tom,” I asked him on the phone the other day,” Was there any one thing that triggered your decision to hang it up?”

“Yes,” he said,”as a matter of fact there was. “I was walking through the newsroom the other day and a young female reporter came up to me and asked if she could “help me.” Tom said that he paused and answered, “No thanks, after 55 years here at the News, I think that I can find my own way.”

I chuckled.

Vintage Hennessey.

“I knew then that it was time,” he said.

Not unlike the rest of us aging sportsmen, Tom, a bit of a curmudgeon, is not altogether enamored of the new ways of the modern outdoorsman: too much stuff! Too many electronic gizmos. Too much scent block clothing. Too much camo gortex. Too many rules and regulations. Too many sportsmen whose egos thrive on trophy fish and trophy deer. Too much posted land and inane television outdoor shows that portray hunting gratuitously as a simplistic video game of shoot and cheer.

All of us handle change differently. Some accept it and call it progress. Some swallow hard and go with the flow begrudgingly. Some would rather just remember the old ways and walk away from modernity. Tom Hennessey will tell you unabashedly that he is of the latter persuasion, and proud of it. He, in fact, describes himself in his final column as a “dinosaur.”

For anyone who is an outdoor writer and sporting artist of Tom’s caliber, there is something to be said for taking leave when you are still wanted. Tom is a class act, who prides himself on his deep fondness for Maine and his need to share his outdoors with the ordinary man or woman who simply loves to hunt and fish as he does.

Dinosaur or no, Tom Hennessey is still in his prime as a sporting artist. The saving grace is that, though he will no longer write his newspaper column about his Maine outdoors, he will continue to share his hunting and fishing experiences through his remarkable paintings and his keen powers of observation. In this regard, at least, the Hennessey era will live on for years to come.

Tight lines, Thomas.

______________________

The author is editor of the Northwoods Sporting Journal. He is also a Maine Guide, co-host of a weekly radio program “Maine Outdoors” heard Sundays at 7 p.m. on The Voice of Maine News-Talk Network (WVOM-FM 103.9, WQVM-FM 101.3) and former information officer for the Maine Dept. of Fish and Wildlife. His e-mail address is [email protected] and his new book is “A Maine Deer Hunter’s Logbook.”


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