I can remember exactly where I was when I first met Anthony Finnerty. It was in the West Wing ground floor corridor of Newman College in Preston, Lancashire.
The date was December 1989, less than a month before Anthony was about to start work at Newman. It was evening. At the time, I was a laboratory technician, but I also ran the College drama group: Limelights. The performance that night was a biopic of an iconic popular culture figure entitled Marylin and Me. Over the eighteen years that followed, Mr Finnerty would become something of a cult figure himself at the college. He died after a lengthy illness, on 4th March 2021.
Anthony’s job was to teach Philosophy and Religious Studies, and manage the Religious Education provision, the latter being compulsory for all students. He was a great supporter of the arts. He saw a weighty number of Limelights’ performances. In fact, during his first decade, I think he saw just about every show. He was a consummate critic: surgically negative at times but fulsome in praise at others. He was honest with student performers, often keeping his counsel but, if asked, he was objective and tactfully robust.
Three years after Anthony’s arrival at Newman, I transitioned from my role of Science Technician and started teaching Drama. Anthony took me under his wing. It was he who strolled in eagerly at the end of my first class to ask how it had gone. It was he (along with another colleague) who persuaded me to carry on when I struggled to find my academic feet.
Because of my anaemic timetable during my first year, I was directed to assist the delivery of Religious Education, where I team-taught with Anthony and others. At that time, he was head of Religious Education and hence known by just about every student. They, like me, observed his wonderfully creative teaching style. He understood their attention span perfectly and he also had an excellent appreciation of their religious priorities (or lack of them), and created some superb techniques for actively engaging them with secular morality. His pitch was perfect in style, in vocabulary, and in duration.
I shamelessly stole a lot of tricks from Anthony. One in particular, I employed in every subsequent class for the remainder of my teaching career. It was simply to use the phrase “thank you” to launch the lesson, and to bolster attention during it. Anthony was a great exponent of the thoughts and words of the thirteenth century German theologian and philosopher Meister Eckhart who said:
If the only prayer you ever say in your entire life is ‘thank you’, it will be enough.
There was a radical revision of college policy in 1995 that Anthony rejected to the surprise of many of us who respected him. A new Principal decreed that teachers should henceforth be addressed by their forenames. Anthony rebutted that directive, and insisted on continuing to be known to students as Mr. Finnerty.
The insistence on “Mr.” was part of his anachronistic style, a persona much beloved by the students. His trademark waistcoat (to which was chained his pocket watch) his caped pseudo-Victorian raincoat, his Parisian beret in winter, and his colonial khaki suits in high summer, were idiosyncratic chic.
Like every good philosopher, Anthony was far more interested in questions than answers. He was brilliant at seeing and exploring the patterns of existence. He discerned only fluid boundaries between life and art, saw no conflict between science and culture, and no barrier between the ordinary and the sacred.
His catchphrase was his ubiquitous reply to the commonest of questions. When greeted with the inquiry “How are you?” his response was invariably, “Good enough”, which was both perfectly ambiguous yet entirely conclusive. Typical of Mr F, it answered your question but left you wanting to ask more. It was emblematic of his educational mission: to stimulate the intellectual appetite by never fully satisfying it.
Good enough is a misunderstood concept. It smacks of the mediocre in a world where nothing less than outstanding is to be expected, but good enough is all we really need. A glass of water need only be good enough to do what a glass of water is required to do, and not to do those things we would prefer a glass of water did not. It is nice when things have extra potency, but good enough is adequate, and adequate excludes the need for greed. If we were all good enough, not one of us would be even slightly evil. Of course, what Anthony clarified was that the ‘good’ is entirely determined by the ‘enough’, and the level of the latter is not of our choosing. When we think we are being good enough, we might be falling far short.
I was one of the privileged souls invited to enter the hallowed “Finnerty Towers” a three-storey Georgian terrace sandwiched between the Cathedral and the historic dockside, where Anthony lived in Lancaster. There it was revealed that he was a skilled artist, a culinary magician, a lover of a literature, a collector of fine curios, and a judicious celebrant of music. His home, like his mind, was an emporium of mystical treasures.
His lifestyle was a masterpiece of weaving the fantastical into the genuine. All of it was conducted with exceptional style. When someone he knew was doing something significant, he would appear as if from a Tardis, observe as might Mr Holmes, withdraw with a bow, and depart through the shadows to go back to the Batcave.
The last time I saw him was some years after we had parted. As I turned around in the pub to put down my beer mug on the day I retired, I saw him standing a few feet away and silently smiling. He might have been there for a minute or an hour, I’ll never know. It mattered not. There he was, and the world at that moment was good enough.
Of course, most of us who knew him didn’t really know him at all. He was a glorious enigma. He lived his life on the cusp of the fictional. His humanity was total but his identity was ethereal. He walked that boundary between the corporeal and the metaphysical, and in doing so he was words made flesh. He stood for integrity, inclusivity, generosity, and honour.
When he left Cardinal Newman College in August 2008, he gave me a copy of Where Three Roads Meet signed by the author Sally Vickers. It is a retelling of the Oedipus myth intertwined with a fictionalised biography of the formulator of the Oedipus complex, Sigmund Freud. The reworking of Greek myths was a furrow frequently ploughed by the Limelights. A triple junction is often a portentous place. Two paths from different origins continue on a single track. Anthony and I very rarely collaborated on creative projects, but he was always by my side.
Anthony’s calm efficiency was such that he laid down suggestions for his funeral service long before they were ever needed. They included a request for opportunities for silence, something that he valued immensely for purposes of spiritual reflection. His service agenda also suggested that a suitable a hymn might be Dear Lord and Father of Mankind, to include the third verse containing the line:
The silence of eternity
In this matter, as in so many others, he was in step with Meister Eckhart who said:
There is nothing so much like God in all the universe as silence.
After hearing of Anthony’s passing, a search through my stock of photographs for an image of him bore scant fruit. There were only a handful of pictures, from 2007 taken following a Limelights’ 20th Anniversary production of Hamlet, which is, perhaps, Shakespeare’s most philosophical play (though Anthony much preferred The Tempest). We had scribbled numerous quotations from the text on the set. I zoomed in on one photograph in order to examine a closer image of Anthony and discovered he was positioned in front of Hamlet’s final words: the rest is silence.
A place where three roads meet can be a unifying or diverging junction. Anthony and I eventually went our separate ways. Our beginnings were very similar; we each grew up in traditional Catholic communities some 45 miles apart, he in Ashton-under-Lyne and I in Deepdale, Preston. We were work colleagues for nearly two decades before he moved on. We also eventually diverged philosophically. His path led deeper into the theological woodlands while I wandered off onto the godforsaken heath. I no longer believe in saints, but thanks to Anthony, I know I have known one.
In addition to teaching, Anthony did much work for charitable and humanitarian organisations. He touched the lives of people abroad and at home: the disadvantaged, the poor, the homeless. His faith was unshakable, but he chose not to impose it. He was a teacher, not a preacher.
Now Anthony Finnerty is no longer walking with us. He would not wish us to dwell on the separation. He would rather that we searched our silences and formed new friendships.
Anthony was an exceptional companion.
He was good, and he gave more than enough.
9 thoughts on “Good Enough”
Wow! Peter, just Wow.
Thank you, Tom, thank you.
I only found out about Mr F’s passing today – thank you for transporting me back to his classroom and to that enigmatic smile that will forever be burned on my memory!
Big hugs, Pete.
Thank you, Rosie. He was a truly unique individual whose influence still persists. xx
So beautifully written and really does embody the soul and spirit of Mr F💚.
I was so upset to recently hear of his passing. Although I was only taught by him for a year (2007-2008), he made a huge impression on myself and the rest of my class. He taught us to question everything, but also to listen closely to answers.
He was wickedly funny and but extremely warm, kind and perceptive; a perfect example of the sort of person we should all strive to be.
There will never be another quite like Mr F.
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Hi Peter, just to say what a very touching account of your friendship with Anthony. I dont think we have met except possibly anonymously in passing at his funeral. Anthony and I grew up together from early childhood and I was privileged to have such a stimulating and intellectually voracious pal. Its lovely to hear someone to remember him in the way you do. On quiet evenings I remember our long and deep discussions …never arguments always stretching. We read we played chess we went to concerts we played together …. He really helped me develop as a person both emotionally
and intellectually and his loving family were always so kind and generous friends to myself and my parents. I think of him often and my heart goes out to his other friends his family and to his loving Donna who completed him. Thank you for sharing.Kind Regards Gordon Bruce
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Thank you, Gordon. Your appreciation is much appreciated. Anthony seems to have touched so many people in steadfastly beneficial ways. I also think of him often, and the thoughts perpetuate his uplifting influence. He has gone, but still remains.