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Death, Taxes, James Joyce

Patricia Sullivan

It's tax season, so it wasn't unusual to get a phone call yesterday from someone at the accounting firm that's handled my taxes for the past 20 years. But this wasn't a normal call about deductions or liabilities; my accountant and her husband died of hypothermia after their canoe overturned in the frigid January waters of Flathead Lake in western Montana.

Extraordinary people live everywhere, but here were two I knew: Nancy Harrington, a Smith College graduate who could midwife a troubled ewe, had one of the top 100 scores in the nation when she took the certified public accountant's exam. She was always filling me in on news from Missoula, where she was valued board member for a number of nonprofit organizations. Hank Harrington, a James Joyce scholar who taught English and environmental studies at the University of Montana, could "run a garage sale with the skill of a Chicago commodities broker," a friend said, and he also mastered sailboat design, small-engine repair and poker. Hank had retired from teaching and became a woodworker; Nancy had recently cut back her practice so she and her husband could take long motorcycle rides around the world.

I haven't seen either of them in many years, thanks to faxes, e-mail and Fed Ex shipment of documents, but their deaths leave me ruminating about how quickly life can end. "Were we to brood upon them always we could not find the heart to go on," the great Irishman Joyce wrote.

By Patricia Sullivan |  January 25, 2008; 11:41 AM ET  | Category:  Patricia Sullivan
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