William Trumbull Moynihan, husband, professor, poet, playwright, father of seven, grandfather of 19, died peacefully at his home in Storrs, CT, on March 28, 2020, at the age of 93.
On June 23, 1926, Bill was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, youngest of Richard and Harriett Moynihan’s four children. He attended St. James School in Haverhill till age 15. In 1943, too young to enlist with his brothers to fight in the war, he went off to St. Joseph’s Seminary at Callicoon, N.Y., where he studied Latin and trained to become a Franciscan friar. In 1946, however, he turned in a very different direction. He left the seminary to join the U.S. Marine Corps, completing Basic Training on Parris Island — an experience he would never forget — then serving in the Marine Corps Commandant’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. During that time he joined with other Marines and local Catholic activists promoting racial integration within the Marines. After his discharge and with the help of the G.I. bill, he attended St. Bonaventure University in Olean, New York, graduating with a B.A in English. From there, he followed in the footsteps of his uncle Neil Patrick Moynihan (a prominent Irish-American newspaperman known for his compelling eloquence) and Bill became a journalist. He was assigned to report from Meriden CT, and on a fateful New Year’s Eve of 1952, he experienced a life-changing combination of bad luck and extraordinary good fortune. He skidded and crashed his car in an ice storm on the Merritt Parkway, then encountered his future wife, the brilliant Ruth MacKenzie Barnes of Wallingford, CT. They were both intensely literate, principled, and passionate, so only a few months later they wed, beginning an extraordinary 65-year marriage that lasted until Ruth’s death in 2018, which left Bill heart-broken.
In 1955, he began his teaching career at Connecticut’s Killingly High School, where he gained the nickname “Wild Bill.” At the same time, he began working toward the Ph.D. he would earn at Brown University, while also teaching summer school classes at UConn. As Ruth and Bill’s family grew to five children in a tiny house in Danielson, he and Ruth both worked tirelessly, and in 1961 he was hired as an English professor at UConn. Bill and Ruth built a bigger house in Storrs and grew their family to 7 children. In 1967, Bill was elected Chairman of the English Department, where he remained department head for an unprecedented 20 years. He authored a book on the poetry of Dylan Thomas, and co-authored several textbooks on writing. He was awarded a Fulbright Fellowship to teach in Bergen, Norway in 1969, then taught in Paris, France, and London on academic exchanges — all while leading the department with charm, wit, and the steady hand of an ex-Marine. After stepping down as department head, he began a second career as a playwright in the 1980s, writing more than nine plays, including To Embrace the Leper, which was produced at UConn in October of 1984. His play More Than a Man about Haitian Revolutionary Toussaint L’Ouverture, was a finalist in both the CBS/Chicago Theater Project Playwriting Competition, and the Sergel/Court Theater Prize Competition in 1985.
Bill and Ruth raised their seven children together in their own “bee-loud glade,” and in retirement their family home became a cheerful gathering spot for three generations of Moynihans and their numerous dogs. Each year he and Ruth hosted a Thanksgiving feast, where after the blessing Bill would always sing his solemn sustained “Amen” as all joined in. Bill often said, “I have the greatest family. It couldn’t have worked out more perfectly if I had tried to plan it. I am so thankful.” He was ever a source of strength and counsel for his children, and tireless in encouraging them in every time of difficulty.
He leaves behind seven children, their spouses, and nineteen grandchildren: Robert Moynihan and Priscilla Hart and their children Christopher and Luke; Elaine and John Lisle and their children Heather, Peter, and Matthew; Ted Moynihan and his children Alison, Liam, and Galen; Neil and Jane Moynihan and their children Katherine, Elizabeth, William, and Kevin; Susan Moynihan and her husband Chris Schmidt, and their children Abigail and Siobhan Murray; Richard Moynihan and Denise Burchsted and their children Aren and Gabriel; and Ben Moynihan and his sons Jaam and Toby, and Ben’s wife Diem Dangers and their son Hien.
Before Bill’s death, Father John Antonelle of St. Thomas Aquinas parish, Storrs, CT, braved the Coronavirus epidemic to visit him in his home and administer the last rites. Bill passed away just before dawn surrounded by the love of his children near and far, and well looked after by his wonderful team of caregivers, Jennifer, Nadine, Jocelyn, and Marilyn.
There will be a private burial on Tuesday, March 31 at the Storrs Cemetery, next to his beloved Ruth. A memorial mass and celebration will be planned some time in the future when larger groups are permitted to gather.
To honor Bill, in these difficult times, please find a way to help friends, family, and neighbors in your own communities. Donations may be made in Bill’s name to Holy Family Home and Shelter P.O. Box 884, Willimantic, CT 06226, http://www.holyfamilywillimantic.org/ Information@HolyFamilyWillimantic.org
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