Messages and Condolences
Rochester's Department of Political Science is paying tribute to a pioneering colleague. To share your thoughts and memories about Richard (Dick) Fenno, please send us an email with your name, your affiliation with the University community, and your public message, which will be posted on this page.
“Professor Fenno helped chart the course of my professional career, which inevitably shaped much of my personal life as well. After introducing me to the ways and means of the legislative process in his class at the University of Rochester (once I had turned my sights to political science and history after dreams of an astrophysics major were dashed on the rocks of advanced calculus), Prof. Fenno was kind enough to offer me a place in the Washington Semester program in 1974, which turned out to be quite an exciting year to be in the nation's capital, consumed as it was by an energy crisis and Watergate.
“Besides giving us a ringside seat in Congress, Prof. Fenno also provided us an opportunity to grow out of our teenage years into young adulthood; he intentionally made us responsible for finding our jobs and places to live, and encouraged us to make the most of our special time in DC. We grew up fast, and learned so much. The experience helped lead me to pursue a long and rewarding career in government and politics, and I was lucky to keep in touch with Prof. Fenno from time to time over the years. Even as the decades passed, he remained as full of energy, optimism and intellectual vigor as ever. His contributions to the field of political science are well known and widely admired, and his impact on generations of students will also serve as a significant part of his sterling legacy. God bless Dick Fenno, and prayers for his wife, Nancy and his family and many friends.”
Jim Kennedy ’75
“I was saddened to hear of the passing of Professor Fenno because he was the reason I attended the University of Rochester. After reading his obituary, however, I was uplifted by the incredible life he led, both while at the University and in his ‘retirement.’
“I am a 1979 graduate (Political Science major) who was fortunate to participate in the Washington Semester program in the Spring semester of 1978. Attached is a copy of my scrapbook page on which I saved the article in the Campus Times announcing our selection and it includes a photo of me with Congressman Stewart B. McKinney of Connecticut, who is the member of the House I interned for during my semester in D.C. It was a life-changing opportunity and to this day I credit Professor Fenno for my experience. I fondly recall that he was so brilliant, yet humble, and he knew everything there was to know about congress and the function of committees. He was warm, caring and kind at all times and he was almost as excited as the students were that we were going to be interning. Once selected for the program, the students had to research the congressmen and women and apply to several. Once they saw we were from Prof. Fenno’s group, they always granted us interviews. I recall interviewing with about 10 congressmen and getting offered an internship with every single one—that was a testament to Professor Fenno and the program he designed. I am still proud to talk about my work and experiences in Washington today—more than 40 years later. I loved Washington D.C. so much that after graduation, I returned there to attend George Washington University National Law Center (Class of 1982). Please extend my condolences to Professor Fenno’s family and thank them for sharing him with me and the rest of the Poli-Sci department at UR.”
Resa Toplansky Drasin ’79
“Dick Fenno was my professor and mentor in the early 1960’s at the University of Rochester. He remained my friend over the years, and while our interactions were not frequent, they were always meaningful. He was a terrific man, an excellent, compelling teacher, and a productive scholar who was unique for his engagement with the politicians and institutions he studied. He was a role model, but because of his engagement with students, one who never elevated himself above the dialogue in which he loved to participate.
“In the fall of 1962, when I was an undergraduate senior, I was lucky to get a spot in Dick Fenno's eight credit honors seminar on the United States Congress. I wrote four or five papers, as was normally expected in those seminars. His critiques were always thorough and provocative, leading to one-one conversations in which he posed trenchant questions, made critical observations (directly, but gently) and participated in finding ways to correct and improve upon flawed paths or conclusions. It was probably the single most memorable learning experience in my undergraduate career. Dick was one of my two reference authors for law schools, and he did that well, so I had my choices of the schools to which I had applied.
“When I graduated from law school, I was fortunate to land an assistant professor appointment at the Boston University School of Law. After four rewarding years there, focusing mainly on public law subjects (like Constitutional Law and Administrative Law), I decided I needed more real world experience before continuing my academic career. The Fenno experience had had an impact, and I was able to get a job as Minority Counsel to the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Equal Educational Opportunity, appointed by Jacob Javits (NY). It was a terrific experience during the legislative debates and legislation during the early 70’s on school desegregation and other educational equality issues. When that select committee issued its final report and expired, I chose to return to academia on the Boston College Law School faculty.
“While I was at B.C., after the death of Tip O’Neill, the longtime Speaker of the House, Dick was invited to give the inaugural Thomas P. O’Neill Lecture, in a series that had been endowed with an appropriation by Congress. When he called to tell me about it, my wife and I were thrilled to schedule a reception at our home (very near the campus) in Dick's honor after his impressive speech.
“During the 1980’s, Dick was offered a professorship at Harvard. Knowing that I knew Boston well, he called to ask my opinion. I think he had made up his mind before he called, but, notwithstanding his having grown up in Massachusetts, and owning a summer home on Cape Cod, he was happy to hear my distress at Rochester possibly losing one of its most distinguished faculty. Needless to say, his decision to stay at UR would benefit the University for another 30 years.
“My wife and I would have a second opportunity to host a reception for him in our home when I was dean at the University of Arkansas School of Law in the 1990’s. While I was at Arkansas, I had become friends with one of our alumni, David Pryor, who was serving in his second term as a U.S. Senator from Arkansas. In a conversation one day, after David had decided not to run for a third term, he alluded to ‘my friend and biographer.’ Surprised, I asked if he had had a biography written about him. He laughed and responded ‘not exactly,’ but he told me that a political scientist who had become his friend had trailed him around his congressional district (when he was a congressman) for a few weeks, and dedicated a chapter in a book to David. I asked him, which political scientist, and he told me ‘a fellow named Dick Fenno.’ I informed him of my relationship to his ‘biographer,’ and set out to convert my friendship with both into an academic opportunity. I called Dick and was able to set up a visit to Fayetteville, where I moderated a program featuring Fenno and Pryor on the future of Congress, which drew a large, participating audience. The reception, honoring both principals, followed.
“I had a couple of occasions to visit with Dick and Nancy in their home over the years. In the 80’s, my son was applying to the UR. Learning I would be on campus, and the reason for my visit, they extended an invitation for dessert and coffee one evening. Although my son was very impressed with that very gracious evening, and despite his offer of admission, he wound up turning down his offer admission and going elsewhere. Seven years ago, on the occasion of my 50th Reunion, they invited my wife and me for an afternoon. Dick was already retired, but was determined to finish the book he was working on (which he did). The Fenno’s were not only gracious, but also a lot of fun.
“Dick Fenno was a very important part of my life, for which I am grateful.”
Len Strickman ’63
“I was a senior in the Fall of 1970 when I participated in Professor Fenno’s Washington Semester Program. Fifty years later, it remains one of the most lasting experiences in my life that impacts my teaching as the director of the Journalism and Sports Program at Morehouse College in Atlanta.
“I came to UR intending to take journalism classes and then found out it didn’t have any. After short stays as an English and History major, I landed in Political Science. One of my best friends, Bill Staton, decided to participate in the Washington Semester Program. I agreed to join him, and Professor Fenno secured an internship with Congressman Louis Stokes from Cleveland for Billy and one with Congressman John Conyers from Detroit for me. In 1971, they both became founding members of the Congressional Black Caucus.
“I did the normal intern tasks—writing letters to constituents, running errands, hustling documents up the The Hill, and buying the Congressman’s ham-and-egg sandwiches. The highlight for me was arranging an event related to Conyers’ attempt to have Dr. Martin Luther King’s birthday declared a national holiday. I met Coretta Scott King and several other civil rights figures through that.
“I went on to be a sports writer for 34 years, but after coming to Morehouse—Dr. King’s alma mater—in 2007, the Washington Semester experience became a critical asset because it had created my enduring interest in politics. After Barack Obama was elected in 2008, I started a tradition of holding a panel discussion comprised of journalists and Political Science professors within two weeks of every presidential election. In 2018, I added a mid-term election review because it was so important. Our guests have included Pulitzer Prize winner Les Payne, former White House correspondent Sonya Ross, and CNN’s Angela Rye.
“In 2016, I took four students to Philadelphia to cover the Democratic Convention, and last fall our students got to report on rallies for senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders and a speech by current VP candidate Stacey Abrams. This Fall, my students will write stories about the televised debates and be quizzed on political figures and events. I just wish I had let Professor Fenno know that his program left such a deep imprint on me.”
Ron Thomas ’71
“I participated in the second implementation of the Washington Semester Program from January through May 1972. With Prof. Fenno’s help, I selected ten members—a few senators but mostly representatives—to contact, offering my services, probably of marginal value to them, for free; how could they turn us down? He urged me to consider applying to Rep. Dan Rostenkowski, of Chicago. He was then the third ranking member on Ways and Means, at age 42. The Chairman (Wilbur Mills) and second ranking member (Al Ullman) were then a lot older. Rostenkowski was an up and coming star.
“With all of the other participants, I journeyed to DC in November 1971 for interviews. Over two days, I managed to snag exactly zero offers. It was time for my last interview, with Rostenkowski’s Administrative Assistant. I was sitting in the waiting room when the AA’s office door opened. He came out with another man and, since we were all standing in the same small space, we introduced ourselves. The AA’s guest was Prof. Robert Peabody, from Johns Hopkins, whose name I knew because we had read books by Peabody and (Nelson) Polsby in our Poli Sci classes. When the AA introduced me, he told Prof. Polsby that I was a U of R student applying for an internship. Polsby asked me: ‘Are you one of Dick Fenno’s students?’ ‘Yes,’ I answered. Polsby turned to the AA and said, ‘Hire him.’ And that’s how I got my internship.
“The internship was one of the great thrills of my college career; maybe one of the great thrills of my lifetime. Nothing made me prouder than to be one of ‘Dick Fenno’s students.’”
Alan S. Dubin ’73
“I participated in the Washington Semester Program in the spring of 1973 and became a life-long friend of Richard Fenno after that time. Professor Fenno was incredibly supportive of his students, and he worked hard so that participation in the Washington Semester Program would not be more expensive for me than remaining in classes at the University. As a scholarship student, this effort made a world of difference.
“I still remember my discussion with Professor Fenno as I considered various Congressional offices for my internship, and his observations were priceless. It is noteworthy that my participation in the Washington Semester Program led directly to a 20-year career on Capitol Hill—first as an intern, then a Legislative Director and then a Subcommittee Counsel. Throughout these years and for more than 20 years thereafter, Dick and I exchanged holiday cards and other letters.
“Richard Fenno was a giant in his field. But he also was a terrific mentor who was loved by his students and former students.”
Debra (Denkensohn) Jacobson ’74
“Being a student of Professor Fenno was very special, being his friend was truly an honor and being able to pay tribute to him publicly (with his permission) was a great privilege for me.
“The following is an excerpt from remarks I made in October of 2011 in accepting The Distinguished Alumna Award from the University:
“‘When I arrived at Rochester with a scholarship 44 years ago, I could not possibly have imagined the journey I would start. I was the product of Queens, NY, a parochial girls high school and terribly naive. I left, still a product of a parochial girls high school, but educated emotionally, intellectually curious, a little bit confident but with a yearning to get better. I was the beneficiary of an activist student body during the Vietnam War and a superb political science department with Professors Riker, Blum, Regenstreif, Manne and Richard Fenno. They were wonderful people and teachers—pushing, prodding and expecting us to perform—and celebrating with us when we did. But what distinguished them to me and my classmates was that they were people first and professors second. When I was recently cleaning out files in my office, I was reminded how special my time at Rochester was. I found a copy of my request for a reading course as an overload in the fall of 1970 with faculty sponsor Richard Fenno. Professor Fenno had agreed to sponsor me to work for my Congressman, Seymour Halpern, doing legislative research and participating in his campaign that fall. This reading course actually was the precursor to the program that was established later, but I was the experiment. The approval for the course was signed by Professors Fenno and Riker and Dean Clark. That experience in Washington was life changing for me. It was a pretty exciting time in DC—anti Vietnam war protests, the pro ERA movement, the warm up to the 1972 presidential election of Nixon versus McGovern, and the little incident at the Watergate. As Professor Fenno said when quoting Yogi Berra: “you can observe a lot by watching.”
“‘But seeing the letter and thinking about Professor Fenno got me thinking. So when you start thinking, what do you do but call Jack Kreckl. I already had committed to a capital campaign gift for scholarships, but I wanted to give a special gift to thank a professor who meant so much to me. And who, by the way, is a great man—very wise, incredibly perceptive about human beings (and politicians), and genuinely gracious with a warm, witty sense of humor. So I had the pleasure of telling Professor Fenno at lunch today that I was going to initiate the funding of the Richard and Nancy Fenno Summer Fellowships in American Politics and Policy which Dick and Nancy had planned to fund in the future. Of course, if any one else wants to join me, you are most welcome—Gwen Greene encouraged me to say that. But I thought this was the least I could do to say thank you.’”
Gail A. Lione, alumna
“I was the individual featured in the article about Washington Semester done in the Summer 1977 Rochester Review. To say he was a great influence would not come close to summarizing what he meant to myself and so many others. To be as distinguished, cerebral, and yet to consistently be so humble and easy going is not only an incredible feat, but something extraordinarily rare. I doubt anyone else could have persuaded a Jewish kid from Brooklyn to go so eagerly and enthusiastically to work for a Jesuit Priest from Massachusetts, and be eternally grateful every day since for such an opportunity. Incredibly, he did it with few words and the gentlest of guidance, which was his way. He never let on, although he knew, how such an experience (‘philosophically similar, culturally diverse’) was going to be beneficial to whomever underwent it.
“I, along with just about everyone who came in contact with him, became a better person, a better thinker, and a better citizen of this country. In ensuing years I have had occasions to testify before my State Legislature on behalf of clients and unions and when I was done, the first thing I always wanted to do was let him know. I did not always get the chance to do so but there are only so many times you can thank someone for having faith in you and giving you an opportunity to see what the legislative process is like. May he rest in peace and may his memory be a blessing for all of those who came to know him and those who benefit from him still.”
Kenneth Berman ’78
“‘How we doin’?’ That’s what Dick would always say to me when I walked in to his office in Harkness Hall in the mid-1990s. I was his last Ph.D. student—and not a scholar of Congress! Dick and I had a different connection, a deep interest in the people who run for office, the decisions they make, and why they make them; and how all of that affects governance and representation. We spent a lot of time talking about what was going on in Washington or on the campaign trail and how it would all play out. Dick encouraged me to connect what I knew from the scientific study of public opinion and political behavior to what was happening in the world at a time when few of us were regularly doing so. He taught me that it was OK to want to be a good social scientists and to be interested in politicians and candidates.
“He also reminded me, always, of the importance of listening. His signature, ‘How we doin’?’ was—he reported to me—how he started all his conversations with the Members he was studying. He said, ‘you won’t believe how much people want to tell you if you give them a gentle opening.’ The ‘we’ was important—‘it puts you in it with them,’ he explained. I have never forgotten that single conversation in his office. It’s a lesson I try to apply to nearly everything I do.
“The last letter I received from Dick was a couple years ago. It contained a newspaper clipping from a local paper that mentioned some of my work. It made me tremendously happy to know that Dick was out there remembering our time together in Rochester and still playing the role of mentor; sending me missives to give me confidence all these years later. Those little notes, with ‘Way to go!’ or ‘Another great one!’ scribbled in black ink on U of R letterhead motivated me to clear my throat and speak a little louder.
“Confidence is an incredible gift to give someone. Dick gave it to me over all the decades of my career. I wouldn’t be here without his thoughtfulness, guidance, and kindness. In his memory, I will try to be ‘ever better.’”
Lynn Vavreck ’97 (PhD), Marvin Hoffenberg Professor of American Politics & Public Policy, UCLA, and contributor, The New York Times
“As many have already written, Professor Fenno was an accomplished scholar, educator and mentor to many of us who had the pleasure of taking his course during our undergraduate years. It's now more than 40 years since I graduated U of R, and what stands out for me is how approachable Professor Fenno was despite his tremendous success. Being selected for his Washington Semester program was the experience of a lifetime, but it's his easy going personality, humility, friendly smile that left a permanent impression on me. He will be missed.”
Preston Halperin ’78
“David Mervin, my M Phil dissertation supervisor at the University of Warwick first introduced me to Dick by way of recommending Congressmen in Committee soon after it was published. Like many congressional scholars that book had a huge influence on my own research both in terms of the concepts it advanced and Fenno’s quasi socio-anthropologist method of ‘getting up close [to politicians], but not too personal’ and listening and watching ‘to see the world as they see it, to adopt their vantage point on politics’.
“Not only was Dick a great scholar, he was also a wonderfully warm, caring, and gracious human being, someone I took to, although it was not until the early 90s that we actually met in person. So, when I sent him my article on Wright Patman’s leadership, he responded graciously with a kind handwritten letter, one of many similar exchanges over several years. It was a really great pleasure when I finally met him. I learned that he was giving a seminar at Nuffield College, Oxford. So, I drove over and after the seminar he suggested we have dinner together. Over dinner, I discovered what many other colleagues and former students already knew; that Dick was a generous colleague, never too exalted not to discuss contemporary congressional politics with me, to enquire of my research, and to tell me of his own work, and generous with his time and encouragement. Indeed, he was happy to take me under his wing when we met at various political science meetings. Typically, when he had announced his retirement and Rochester had arranged a farewell reception at APSA he made sure I was invited. There, I met his wife Nancy and heard numerous fulsome encomia from colleagues and former students. On other occasions, as other colleagues will also know, he offered little vignettes from soaking and poking in Washington and traveling round the country with representatives and senators. While walking along the banks of the Savannah River at a Southern PSA meeting, Dick alerted me to a large bridge across the river and recalled how while traveling with Wyche Fowler during his 1992 re-election campaign he had been puzzled that the incumbent senator had not claimed credit for it in a speech he had just made. The omission was indicative of the senator’s problematic home style and might explain why he was not re-elected.
“I shall always remember Dick as a lovely man, an inspiring scholar, and wonderfully generous person.”
John E. Owens
“Dick Fenno was indeed a giant among his peers and in his profession and yet such a kind, warm and gentle human being to everyone who he touched. His inspiration encouraged me (and later another member of my family) to get involved in the civic discourse and try to make a difference in how government can improve so many lives. His affable friendly demeanor made him so approachable.
“I vividly recall the excitement in late 1969 when a handful of UR undergraduates gathered with Professor Fenno to discuss the possibility of launching the first U of R Washington Semester program in Spring 1970. I remember him encouraging me to seriously consider working for a Republican since the other participants would all be working for Democrats, and he wanted to create some balance and bipartisanship in the program. Fifty years ago this Spring, I interned for Sen. Mark Hatfield of Oregon in the inaugural UR Washington Semester program. This trailblazing experience in Washington left an indelible mark on me as a person, and a few years later I returned to Washington for my first job as a young lawyer in the General Counsel’s office of the IRS. When my son received an opportunity to take time off from college in 2007 to work for a young first-term Senator from Illinois launching a long-shot campaign for President, reflecting on Professor Fenno‘s encouragement, I urged my son to accept the offer.
“I am forever grateful to have known Professor Fenno and the values he instilled in me.”
Mel Warshaw ’72
“When Dick Fenno accepted me into the 1975 Washington Semester program, allowing me to spend an entire semester interning for a Member of Congress, he literally changed my life. There is no other way to say it. Everything I have ever done professionally grew from that experience. I saw him a few times in the years since. He remained such and kind, generous and encouraging person. I found out that he had been following my career, something I never could have imagined as a timid college student. I always looked up to him as such a giant in his field. Perhaps I would have found my way without his help, but I doubt it. I am forever grateful. The world has lost someone very special. RIP.”
Joanne Doroshow, alumna
“I have dedicated my life to public service largely because of the impact Dick Fenno had on me as an undergraduate student at UR. Professor Fenno opened my eyes and excited my mind to the study of the science of politics. In 1991, he took a Freshman pre-med major under his wing and made me a serious student with a serious focus. He helped me dive deep into texts while opening up doors in the halls of Congress. I am profoundly grateful to Professor Fenno and think of him often. May Dick Fenno’s memory be a blessing.”
Josh Shapiro ’95, Attorney General, Commonwealth of Pennsylvania
“It has been more than 40 years since I, U. of R. class of 1975, spent a semester in Washington working for Congressman Pete Beister from Bucks County, Pa.
“Professor Fenno OBM started the program and encouraged us both at Rochester and in D.C. Besides for giving all straight As for the semester Dick Fenno became for us, almost all poli sci majors, our best friend in the Department and our first thought when we considered political science and the U. of R. academically.
“May his memory be a blessing.”
FP Schwartz ’75
“Like many other fledgling political science majors, I enrolled in Professor Dick Fenno’s introductory American political system course during my sophomore year. More than any other course I had taken, it whetted my interest in politics and public policy. And with the Vietnam War raging, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. and Senator Robert F. Kennedy, campuses and cities erupting, and a hotly contested Presidential election, 1968 was an incredibly tumultuous year in American politics.
“When I returned to campus that fall, I wanted to get more involved in what was going on in the world around me so had the idea of trying to get an internship on Capitol Hill.
“Having heard Professor Fenno speak enthusiastically about shadowing Members of Congress and Senators in the course of his research, I thought maybe I could also learn this way, and get involved in the world of politics at the same time. I didn’t really know Professor Fenno then, or even how renowned a scholar he was. But when I went to see him in Harkness Hall he couldn’t have been more welcoming or enthusiastic. If I could find a job, convince the University to award academic credit for the experience, and get my tuition reduced in order to afford to live in DC, he would be delighted to sponsor me. So after securing an internship in the office of US Senator Charles E. Goodell (R-NY) and, with Dick’s assistance, convincing the Administration of the merits of both awarding course credit and reducing tuition, The Washington Semester Program and a 50+ year friendship were born.
“Dick’s enthusiasm for the idea took form in feedback he’d give on weekly reports I’d send him and in coming to visit me in DC during the program. Having lost my father the previous spring, the interest he showed in the experience I was having was something I’ll never forget.
“Long after my graduation from UR in 1970, Dick and I stayed in regular contact. He’d always ask about my life and career and share with characteristic enthusiasm anecdotes about the latest class of UR Washington Semester interns. (Having gotten introduced to Washington as an intern, my career later included jobs on Capitol Hill, in the Executive Branch, the telecommunications industry, and running a DC-based trade association.) To find out about Dick’s research, I’d have to ask. Modest to the core, Dick was never one to tout his own accomplishments. Whenever I’d get back to Rochester, it was always wonderful to visit with Dick and Nancy. And in 2007, when my wife Caroline and I built a summer house in Truro, not too far from where Dick and Nancy had built theirs decades before, it was even more special to be able to sit in their living room, look out towards Cape Cod Bay, and chat about Truro, Rochester, politics or whatever was happening in the world.
“I feel very blessed to have had Dick Fenno as a teacher, mentor and good friend, and will miss him greatly.”
Robert Sachs ’70
“Professor Fenno had a significant impact on my life and career. In 1995, I graduated University of Rochester as a political science major and journalism minor. During college, I interviewed Professor Fenno for my journalism class and the school newspaper. I met with him for a couple of hours and I could not believe that a man of such intellect, achievements and prestige could be so humble, inviting and informal. He sat with one leg crossed in a large beige chair. He had a huge smile on his face throughout our discussion; his eyes squinted and his laugh lines showed as he spoke in detail about his past and the influences in his life which led him to become a teacher. He had a constant twinkle in his eye as he spoke about his past students. I asked him for some of the names and numbers of a handful of past students. I was able to interview some of his past students for my paper, all of whom expressed how much of an impact he made on them and their careers. After meeting with Professor Fenno and speaking with his prior students, I was inspired and independently applied for an internship with my home state’s congressman for the summer. I submitted the paper I wrote about Professor Fenno, along with my application. I won the summer internship and my experience in Washington led me to apply to law school. I am proud to be included as one of the students he inspired. My paper was entitled ‘A Man Made of Gold.’ That is how I will remember Professor Fenno.
“My deepest condolences to his family, colleagues and friends.”
Jody Litt Googel ’95
“I enjoyed and learned a lot about politics, government and life from Professor Fenno’s classes and books. His enthusiasm and ready smile while teaching and helping us learn made the process easy. His work and analysis taught me a great deal about how to get things done while working with groups of people who may have cross purposes. I have applied those lessons often in my personal and work life and work.
“Thank you Professor Fenno!”
Tom Ucko ’77
“I was a double major in Political Science and History at the University of Rochester in the 1970s (class of ’74). Richard Fenno was one of my favorite professors. He was a truly engaging lecturer and a genuinely nice person. He counseled me when I applied to graduate school, and I still remember his advice when I was trying to decide where to go. I had narrowed my choice to Berkeley and Cornell. True to his scholarly style, Professor Fenno replied to my dilemma by telling me an anecdote. He had spent a sabbatical year at Berkeley. He recalled for me sitting in his office on campus and having a fairly steady stream of graduate students come by to talk about their experiences and their difficulties. He wondered why they were talking to him when he was just a visiting professor. And then it dawned on him that his was the only office with an open door. That was all he said to me. He didn't recommend one school over the other. Rather, he left me to reflect on the anecdote and come to my own conclusion.
“I have another story about Professor Fenno. It, too, concerns my decision about graduate school. When I first started thinking about applying to grad schools I spoke with several of my professors. Most addressed the relative strengths of different programs to which I might apply. A few spoke about job prospects for PhDs, which weren't looking very good at the time. Professor Fenno, on the other hand, told me that the academic life was rewarding, but I would have to understand that most people outside of the academy would never really get what I do for a living. And to illustrate the point he told me an anecdote. He said he was cutting his grass at his house one morning when his next door neighbor approached him. The neighbor had a question—how many hours a week did he work? Professor Fenno responded by asking his neighbor if he meant how many hours he spent in the classroom. Upon learning that Professor Fenno taught nine hours a week, the neighbor gasped: ‘You only work nine hours a week? And you get your summers off, too?’ The point of the story, of course, was that most of our time is spent doing research and writing, which is invisible to people like his neighbor.
“Professor Fenno's anecdote struck home for me many years later when my sister-in-law asked me, apropos of nothing, ‘what do you do?’ She knew I was a university professor, so her question was really about how I spent my time. I told her that mostly I read books. (As a political theorist, my research consists chiefly of reading.) She was flabbergasted. To her, reading was something one does after work. It also became apparent as our conversation wore on that she equated ‘work’ with the production of a good or the delivery of a service. The idea that scholarship could be a vocation was something she found incomprehensible. Professor Fenno was right—the academic life is a good life, but one that appears strange when viewed from the outside.
“I owe a great deal to my teachers at the U of R. Sadly, the ones who meant most to me are all gone now. The late Ted Bluhm was my mentor. I would not have pursued an academic career were it not form him. And it was Ted who introduced me to political theory. Christopher Lasch was another important influence on me. And now Professor Fenno has passed. I cherish their memories.”
Stephen Newman ’74
“Richard Fenno was a wonderful teacher, scholar and person. I took his class on the U.S. Congress as an undergraduate at the U of R in 1968 I believe. It was one of the best taught lecture classes I ever experienced. But I really got to know Dick Fenno after completing my graduate studies in political science at Stanford and working with him on a special committee on redesigning the 1978 American National Election Study to improve our understanding of congressional elections. Although he was not an elections scholar, Dick provided excellent guidance on what kinds of questions to ask to improve our understanding of congressional elections and representation. Dick’s scholarship in this area, especially his wonderful books on members of Congress in their constituencies, was also a great source of ideas for me and many other scholars working in this area. Last but not least, Dick Fenno was a terrific person—friendly, modest, kind and helpful. When I asked him to write a recommendation for me for an academic job or a grant, he was always happy to oblige. He was a true role model for generations of scholars. His insights will continue to inform our research on Congress and democratic representation for many years.”
Alan Abramowitz ’69, Alben W. Barkley Professor of Political Science, Emory University
“It was with great sadness that I heard of the passing of Richard Fenno. Professor Fenno was one of my favorite professors at U of R. I was fortunate enough to be able to take his course on the United States Congress in 1977 and over 40 years later, I still remember it fondly. I can still even picture the classroom in which he taught it. Along with William Riker he was one of the brightest stars of the Political Science Department. It was their influence along with a Professor Danielski, a visiting professor from Cornell, that resulted in a long and successful career in law.”
Randolph H. Wolf ’80
“A sad day for his family, for the UofR community and for our country; he was a giant. All anyone needs to know about Dr. Fenno’s love of teaching and for his students is that after 48 years I remember many conversations that we had and the wisdom that he shared.
“May he rest in peace.”
Eric H. Lestin, alumnus
“I have not had the pleasure of taking a class with Professor Fenno during my time at Rochester, but his book Home Style has deeply influenced by thinking about research. His research really shows how important it is to emerge yourself into the world of policy-makers in order to understand the nature of politics.”
Daniela Stockmann ’00, Professor of Digital Governance, Hertie School, Berlin
“Professor Fenno was an incredible teacher and warm human being. I enjoyed his lectures so much. He was articulate, entertaining, and an expert on Congress. He was also a kind and compassionate human being. Being one of his students was the highlight of my undergraduate years at the UR.”
Howard A. Levin, alumnus
“I opened my email this morning in sunny California and was sad to learn that Prof. Fenno had passed away. I was one of his Fenno Fellows and students in 1977-78. His teaching, mentoring and kindness opened doors for me in Washington D.C. and in life.
“After the Spring 1978 semester internship I continued to work in Congress for the summer and then returned to D.C. after graduation from U of R with a recommendation letter in hand from Dr. Fenno. More doors opened for me based on his incredible stature in the field of political science and his personal relationships. He was liked and trusted by so many including me.
“I worked in Congress for another two years before moving to California, attending law school and establishing a legal career and raising a family out West. I’ve thought of Prof. Fenno over the years, still have his books in my library and I’ll always be thankful that I was one of his many students who crossed his path in life. May his memory be a blessing for his family, colleagues, other students and the University if Rochester community.”
Steven Goldberg ’79
“I will always be grateful to Dr. Fenno for taking a chance on me and accepting me into the Washington Semester Program even though I didn't quite meet the rigid criteria for qualifying. I had entered the U of R in 1981 as a mechanical engineering major but realized the error in my ways when I started an Intro to American Government class during spring semester (and maybe also due to an overnight radio shift at WRUR which never helped me during my 9AM Physics class the next morning!)
“Because of all the science and math courses I took freshman year, my GPA was not as high as it needed to be for the Washington Program. But Dr. Fenno heard and saw how committed I was to Political Science and how drawn I was to Washington and politics. After several lengthy conversations, he accepted me without reservation and the rest is history. I had an amazing time, (working alongside, and rooming with, a just out of college George Stephanopoulos!) and went on to Grad School in Politics at Duke and a long career in NYC politics that is now culminating with me as a partner in my own political consulting firm.
“Recently, I attended an event in NYC for alumni of the Washington Program. In addition to seeing Dr. Fenno again, I was able to connect with a dear friend who I had not seen in decades. What great fun!
“Thank you Dr. Fenno. My best wishes to your family—know that he impacted so many people in so many great ways.”
Marc Lapidus, alumnus
“Professor Fenno was an excellent and enthusiastic teacher who sparked my interest in the field, as a ‘polisci’ major. His passing is a loss for the U of R community. I have been an attorney in government for over 37 years.”
Scott Dubin ’74
“Many professors view undergraduates as a chore. Not Professor Dick Fenno, who took the time to mentor us, encourage us, and remember us over the decades.
“Taking Professor Fenno’s Legislative Process class was a rite of passage for UR Political Science majors. The class was always lively, peppered by Professor Fenno’s accounts of his field research. But much of the draw was Professor Fenno himself: his casual but always elegant polo necked sweaters and button down shirts, his sense of humor, his passion for Congress and his palpable desire to sweep students into the world of its members.
“Then there was Dr. Fenno’s justly famed Washington Semester, which gave selected Legislative Process alums the chance to work on Capitol Hill. No classes, no papers, the award of a 4.0 grade point average for the semester.
“Few professors would have given that latitude to mere undergraduates, but Dr. Fenno trusted Washington Semester participants to live up to his high expectations. We took the responsibility seriously—a testimony to our respect for Dick Fenno. Letting him down was unthinkable.
“Looking back, I see that Professor Fenno designed Washington Semester to foster enterprise and independence. We were required to travel to Washington to secure our own internships, and we could not trade on local knowledge or connections, as we were forbidden to work for our hometown member of Congress.
“Washington Semester interns lived in apartments, not dorms. I imagine that it was the first independent living experience for most of us—my Washington Semester apartment was my first. A big part of the semester was learning how to run a household.
“Of course, working in Congress was the centerpiece. I was given the chance to work on banking legislation, helping to shape a law that remains in force today. An extraordinary experience for an undergraduate, and still one of my proudest accomplishments.
“Following my return to campus, Dr. Fenno continued to guide and encourage me. I considered Professor Fenno a valued mentor through my graduation from UR and my decision to seek a graduate degree in public policy. Dr. Fenno’s door was always open and his advice was always judicious. That this eminent political scientist so generously mentored an undergraduate still astounds and impresses me.
“Years later, after I’d made a gift to UR’s Fenno Summer Fellowship Program, I was stunned to receive a handwritten note from Dr. Fenno, remembering me and mentioning one of my fellow Washington Semester interns. That gesture speaks to Dr. Fenno’s kindness and grace.
“Decades after graduating from UR, I am still a Washingtonian. My eventual career was influenced heavily by my Washingtom Semester participation. I thank and remember Dick Fenno for his profound influence on me and, no doubt, many other UR undergrads.”
Leanne Tobias ’76
“I first met Dick when he graciously allowed me to take his seminar on Congress as a sophomore. It was the start of a life long relationship—first as a teacher, then a mentor, and then a dear friend. He was infinitely generous in every way. We talked politics and (in the early days)career choices, strolled on the beach in Truro, and wrote letters. He and his lovely wife Nancy adopted my young family in long ago summers on the Cape, and we spent happy evenings with them and others on their deck overlooking the Bay. We remained in touch until nearly the very end of his life.
“Dick was a model—self effacing, patient, kind, caring, funny, and genuinely interested in his friends. I was so lucky to have known him and to have counted him a dear friend.”
Lewis A Kaplan, US District Judge
“I had the honor of working with Dick for nearly 15 years. Just knowing Dick Fenno opened many doors for me when I arrived at Rochester. I would mention his name to alumni and they responded that I said the 'magic word.' Countless alumni talked about the difference he made in their lives, both personally and professionally.
“Alumni would return to campus and ask if they could connect with him. Dick always made time for others. He made them feel special and was very proud of their accomplishments. He will be missed.”
Donna Salmon, Regional Director of Advancement
“[Dick] would often drop by my office or stop me in the parking lot to offer encouragement. He sincerely wanted to know how I was doing, and he never seemed too short on time to have a meaningful conversation. As a young scholar, I was struck that a giant of the political science discipline had the generosity to spend his time and attention on me, but that was very much typical of Dick.”
John Duggan, professor of political science and economics
“Dick Fenno was a pioneer. He inspired so many and made the lives of students, alumni, and those who knew him ‘ever better.’”
Ashley Smith, School of Arts & Sciences Advancement