Elizabeth Price Dennehy|
October 7, 1950 – August 4, 2012
Passionate, intelligent, strong willed and open hearted, Elizabeth passed away in her home in North Beach, San Francisco in the neighborhood and city she loved and adopted over thirty years ago. She is survived and missed by her sisters Mel and Marcy, her niece Jess, and the many circles of friends that she touched and affected over her lifetime, as well as the many students she worked so hard to help in her years teaching English Literature and Composition at San Francisco State University.
Elizabeth was born in West Virginia and briefly attended Penn State University after high school, going on to get her Bachelor's degree in 1980 and later a Master's degree in English in 2000, both at San Francisco State University. Those jumps in years from degree to degree were not accidental. Elizabeth was a complex person, and lived her life with an authenticity that was inspirational. She was a passionate reader for whom books were a personal gateway to deeper living and a connection to life. Her knowledge of literature was wide, yet her primary focus was often on African American literature. She cited two early influences that directed her: hearing Martin Luther King speak, and watching James Brown dance. She found in them a sense of vitality as well as honesty, a sense of standing up to injustice, while recalling the joys available in life. What they modeled for her, she modeled for her friends and students. She spoke up even when it wasn't the "safe" or popular thing to do, and her passions didn't always lead her down the easy road. For her this was the only way to live.
Elizabeth spent many years working in the North Beach restaurant community, tending bar and waiting tables at such icons as Little City and Moose's. She seemed to know every local that stopped by, and she was a warm and inviting a server just as she was in her personal life. She loved the atmosphere of good hospitality, and was a fine cook herself, enjoying the pleasures of a good meal out or in.
After decades in the restaurant industry Elizabeth decided to reinvent herself, and returned to San Francisco State to earn her MA. She was a dedicated "adult learner" whose work was published online as a model for essay writing. While there, she discovered the certificate program in teaching writing, and found it melded perfectly her love of English with an opportunity to give back, especially to those less advantaged in life. She began teaching writing at SFSU in 1999, and quickly became a beloved professor and powerful advocate for her students. She believed strongly in the power of written expression and would tell her students that they "had been robbed" by not having gained fundamental writing skills in school before college. She loved to lead students to find pride in a skill they might have given up on without her support and strength. The evaluations from her students talk about her love of the subject, the demands she made for real work and learning (stickler for grammar!), but also the many hours she would spend on support, going over drafts, writing long, careful grade comments, and as one student put it, "she will prepare you well for writing throughout your life."
She was a great lover of the outdoors, often choosing to spend her vacations in a simple cabin in the Northern California woods somewhere, surrounded by trees and the natural world. Water was in many ways her element: an avid kayaker, she was a member of the Dolphin Club and would often spend hours out on the bay. She talked of the peace of the cool water, and the joy of seeing a seal poke up its head in curiosity at her, or more rarely, the fin of a dolphin breaking the water. When her father passed away she lit a candle for him on the water, in a private ceremony that she would describe for friends as the genuine goodbye he deserved.
Elizabeth had many lives and touched many circles. She threw herself into her relationships with the same passion as she put into her life, as many of those close to her can attest. Tall, striking, with a purposeful walk and proud head, she was nonetheless someone willing to share her vulnerability and humanity with ease. In the last years of her life she struggled with health issues, yet fought hard to keep her pride and independence. She was full of grace. Her authenticity, personal warmth and generosity of spirit remain an inspiration to all her friends, who will miss her deeply.
An afternoon of remembrance will be held on Sunday, October 14, 2012 from 1:00pm – 3:00pm at the Dolphin Club, 502 Jefferson Street, Aquatic Park
Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 7, 2012