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Longtime English and Literature Professor James Joseph McNally Jr. Dies at 95

By Joe Garvey

James Joseph McNally Jr., who taught English and literature at Old Dominion University from 1963 to 1992, died on Feb. 19. He was 95.

McNally served in several leadership roles during his academic career, including director of the ODU Literary Festival in 1980. He also was president of the Faculty Senate of Virginia (1973-75) and the Poetry Society of Virginia (1989-92). His poems appeared in the society's anthologies for 1974, 1985 and 1993, and he received awards for both his poetry and his plays.

He also taught at Penn State University and West Virginia's Morris Harvey College (now the University of Charleston).

McNally was known for his wit, particularly his penchant for puns.

"James McNally, a bit like his partial namesake and Irish hero James Joyce, was a passionate punster," said Michael Pearson, professor of creative writing in ODU's English Department. "When Jim McNally was on the faculty and there was a departmental meeting, you could rest assured that there would always be music in the discussion, metaphors and puns playing like a tin whistle amidst the academic talk."

A former student, Steve Siegfried of Richmond, who met his wife in McNally's American literature class in 1970, wrote on a Guestbook page: "We loved his wonderful, and punny, sense of humor!"

Renée Olander, associate vice president for ODU's Virginia Beach Higher Ed Center and a widely published writer, recalled McNally's thoughtfulness.

She said that out of the blue in May 2019, McNally sent her his chapbook collection of poems, "Notions of Emily Dickinson," which he published in 2018.

"More moving was his inscription, which made it clear he had closely read my 2018 book, 'American Dangerous': 'To Renée, Thanks for Writing Dangerously. We need our benches. Love, Jim McNally,'" said Olander, adding that he sat beside her "bright-eyed" last summer when the emeriti professors invited her to read her poetry. "It's lovely now to have Jim's poems to savor and to remember his kindness."

McNally was born on Sept. 30, 1924, in Washington. He dropped out of high school and enlisted in the Marines following the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor. After returning from service in the Philippines and China, he attended the University of Virginia on the GI Bill, earning advanced degrees in foreign affairs and English. He was a member of the Raven Society and the Jefferson Literary and Debating Society at U.Va.

He and his wife of more than 70 years, Mary Elinor Griffith, lived for a time in France (where their daughter was born) and enjoyed traveling. Many of their trips revolved around presentations he made at literary conferences in Atlanta, Detroit, Ann Arbor, St. Louis, Waco, Colorado Springs, Vancouver, Dublin, Monaco, Copenhagen and St. Petersburg.

"James McNally was the classic humanist - he gathered and disseminated knowledge to students, faculty and friends with the understanding that the community is better when it is better informed," ODU English Professor Emeritus Philip Raisor said. "He would talk your ear off, when he wasn't listening carefully to what you had to say."

Besides his wife, he is survived by his children, Emily (Jim) Brown and John McNally; his five grandchildren, Amy (Mike) Cutter, Peter (Jennifer) Brown, Christopher (Tara) Brown, Bowen McNally and Catherine McNally; 10 great grandchildren, Bailey, Madison, Hannah, Carter, Beckett and Hayden Brown; Ryan Bialkowski and Harrison Brown; and Stanton and Archer Cutter; nephews and nieces Patrick (Barbara) Wright, Valerie (Deloss) Dibble, Steven (Sara) Bernheisel, and Jessica (Mark) Heinrich and their families; and cousins Linda (Tom) Peterson, Wayne (Linda) Ralston, Patricia Connolly, Teresa Cook and James (Mary) McNally and their children in County Monaghan in Ireland.

Preceding him in death were his father, his mother, Goldine (Kitchen) Taylor, his younger sister, Amelia Wright (Harry), and his stepfather, Herbert Taylor.

In lieu of flowers, the family asks that you make memorial donations to the Harbor's Edge Foundation, PBS station WHRO or the charity of your choice.

An informal memorial celebration will be held from 1 to 3 p.m. Feb. 29 in the Grand Hall at Harbor's Edge, One Colley Ave., Norfolk.

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