MICHAEL DOWNING
1958 - 2021
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Michael Downing of Cambridge, MA died from cancer on February 9, 2021. He was 62. Michael was a passionate author, teacher, friend, and mentor. He grew up in Pittsfield, MA, the youngest child in a large family. He graduated from Harvard College, where he studied English, and was a Harvard-Shrewsbury fellow in Shropshire, England. Michael was the author of nine books, including the national bestseller Perfect Agreement, named one of the 10 Best Books of the Year by Amazon.com and Newsday, and Breakfast with Scot, a comedy about two gay men who inadvertently become parents. Breakfast with Scot was adapted as a feature film with the cooperation of the National Hockey League and the Toronto Maple Leafs—the first gay-themed movie to be endorsed by a major-league sports authority. Michael's encyclopedic reading and wide-ranging interests were reflected in his other novels, which featured Giotto's frescoes in the Scrovegni Chapel and New England's Shaker communities, and in non-fiction works examining Zen Buddhism and the history of daylight saving time. He also wrote a memoir tracing the aftershocks of his father's death when Michael was three to his own experience as an adult at the frontiers of modern medicine. In addition to his books, Michael wrote two plays, premiered by the Triangle Theater of Boston and San Francisco's New Conservatory Theatre. He worked as a contributing editor for the Italian art monthly FMR, the science journal Oceanus, and Harvard Magazine. In his latest novel, Still in Love, he returned to the main character of Perfect Agreement, a professor of writing at a Boston area university. For 30 years, Michael taught writing to college students, first as an assistant professor at Wheelock College and for 20 years as an instructor of creative writing at Tufts University. Michael also was an instructor for many years at Teachers as Scholars (TAS), a professional development collaboration between college faculty and public and private school teachers. Devoted to his students, Michael told an interviewer in 2019, "I think of the classroom as an incredibly important cultural space and personal space, and one that's increasingly undervalued and under threat." He added: "The creative writing classroom is a place to develop the habit of wanting our original work to change. That to me is the project of a life—to change, and to be changed by the people you encounter." Michael changed the lives of many students, colleagues and friends, who over years sought out his wisdom, company and cooking, which he shared in generous, equal portions of brilliance and humility. A lifelong resident of Massachusetts, he divided his time between Cambridge and Ipswich. He leaves his partner of 39 years, Peter Bryant; brothers, Jack Downing and his wife Mary of Pittsfield, MA and Joseph Downing of Westborough, MA; and many extended family members and friends who loved him deeply. Michael was predeceased by his parents, John F. and Gertrude (Martin) Downing; and his siblings, Mary Ann Matthews, Margaret Downing, and Gerard Downing. Services will be private. Gifts in memory of Michael can be made to the Cambridge Public Library Foundation, 449 Broadway, Cambridge, MA 02138 or Friends of the Ipswich Public Library, PO Box 157, Ipswich, MA 01938.

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Published in Boston Globe from Feb. 10 to Feb. 11, 2021.
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17 entries
March 1, 2021
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Lisa Orden Zarin
February 28, 2021
I adored Michael. He led wonderful discussions for our English department in Newton, and I was lucky enough to take his short story Teachers as Scholars course. He was so smart and witty, and made each of his students feel the same.
At the end of the TAS course, he gifted each of us a copy of his novel The Chapel. A generous and talented man who touched my life briefly but profoundly.
So sorry for your loss.
Maureen Kavanaugh
Student
February 16, 2021
For Peter, Michael’s Family and Friends,
I was so sincerely sorry to learn that Michael had passed away. I knew Michael during our elementary and high school years. I joined Michael and our friends, Joey, Bobby, Billy, Brenda, RoseAnne, and Patty as we traversed through our high school classes together in a pod. Michael was a shining star in our pod. His facility for both English and History were impressive. He had a marvelous sense of humor; we were under a lot of pressure to succeed (mostly self-imposed), and Michael provided our comic relief.
The only time I recall Michael losing at anything was when I inexplicably beat him in the CYC’s 6th Grade Spelling Bee!
Overall, my favorite memories of Michael revolve around very competitive card games and driving along in Joey’s death trap of a car which was literally held together by duct tape!
I have read, and supremely enjoyed, Michael’s literary opus. I have read everything he had published. So sad that he will no longer brighten our lives with his incandescent stories.
Susan Bresnahan Manzon
Classmate
February 15, 2021
My condolences to the family. I remember him from St. Joe. Nice guy!
Diane Carey
Classmate
February 14, 2021
While I never had the honor to meet the esteemed Michael Downing, I knew of him through his thoughtful and engaging speaking and writing. I feel forever grateful for his chronicling of DST’s history. Please accept my deepest condolences to his family for this passing.
Jay Pea
Acquaintance
February 14, 2021
Dear Joe, Peter and family,

I was able to reconnect with Michael a few years back after discovering his literature, and was so happy to be so comfortable e-chatting with a lovely, funny and fun friend from childhood. I am so sad for your loss and sorry that i never had the chance to say hi in person. Be well and treasure your happy memories.

Joan Maloy
Joan Maloy
Friend
February 13, 2021
I am so very sorry to hear of Michael's passing. His brother Joe was my roommate at Harvard College many years ago and I have followed Michael's remarkable career and undeniable contribution to life ever since. My deepest sympathy to Peter, the Downing family, and all who knew and loved this remarkable person.
Stephen Palmer
Acquaintance
February 12, 2021
Dear Peter, Jack, and members of the Downing family:

Our deepest sympathy on the passing of Michael.

Ken & Patty Rivers
Ken & Patty Rivers
Friend
February 11, 2021
Dear Peter, Joseph, and the entire Downing Family,
I was so saddened when I learned of Michael’s passing. Please be comforted by the remarkable life Michael lived. When I think of him I will always smile at the wonderful fun and laughter we shared growing up as next door neighbors and friends. Last year, when we saw each other he hugged me and the years melted with the immediate recognition of what exists between lifelong friends. Godspeed Michael, I know you were carried in an angelic embrace.
Chris Handerek- Peralta
Chris Handerek-Peralta
Friend
February 11, 2021
Mike, I can still see us all walking down South Street after a day at St. Joe HS. All we did was laugh. RIP
Mary McGinnis
Classmate
February 11, 2021
I took several Teachers as Scholars courses with Michael. He was such an amazing teacher. I would have signed up for anything he taught, no matter the subject.
Joan Hamilton
Student
February 11, 2021
I am so sorry to learn about the passing of Michael Downing, whose creative writing classes at Tufts were profound and life-changing for me and so many others. He was a gifted and patient teacher who took each and every student and each and every story seriously. I am so sorry for this profound loss.
Patrice Taddonio
Student
February 11, 2021
Well done Michael. You will be missed. RIP.
Jim Mahan
Friend
February 11, 2021
I miss you Mike. It was always great whenever our paths crossed and we could talk with each other. I started out as your math teacher at St. Joe High so long ago. I was proud to know an author such as yourself. Through your writing, you became my teacher! Rest In Peace, Michael.
Don Coudert
Teacher
February 11, 2021
I first met Michael at Wheelock College, where we became colleagues and friends. Michael called out the best in students and colleagues alike. He encouraged my writing and I’m ever grateful. Michael’s writing is a gift he leaves with all of us. He dedicated most of his books to Peter, his beloved partner. Peter, I send my deepest sympathy.
Jane Attanucci
Friend
February 10, 2021
He is now resting in peace
Lorraine Butler
Acquaintance
February 10, 2021
My deepest, deepest condolences to the family. Michael Downing was my first creative writing teacher at Tufts. He was one of the best teachers I have ever had -- brilliant and attentive, devastatingly dry, kind without being too dopily nice. I still use the technical exercises he gave us in my own teaching, and every year I remember with more amazement the ferocity of his patience and attention as an instructor. As a teacher and a person, I learn from him to this day. I'm so grateful to have known him.
Jennifer duBois
Student
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