Vermont Law School professor Cheryl Hanna, a longtime VPR commentator, died Sunday.
The announcement was made in a news release from the law school. No cause of death was given.
Hanna was remembered as an engaging professor with a passion for gender equity.
She said she knew at a young age that she wanted to teach, and eventually she settled on law school, where she would study to become a professor.
But her hopes were temporarily derailed by a male faculty advisor who announced she wasn’t law professor material.
Hannah recalled the experience and its aftermath at a VPR commentator’s brunch.
“For a good long while, I tried to shift gears,” she said. “I passed on key opportunities, made not-so-smart personal choices, and even practiced law for a while. I was a terrible lawyer. I even passed out once in court.”
But, as the Harvard Law School graduate recalled, her instinct and desire to teach prevailed.
Hanna’s classroom extended far beyond the law school’s South Royalton campus. As a frequent radio, newspaper and television commentator, she made understandable the often arcane world of courts and law. She also paid close attention to the workings and the personalities of the Vermont Supreme Court.
Hanna’s passion was advocating for women’s equity. She and her students worked closely with the Vermont Commission on Women, helping with briefs and compiling information on the legal rights of women.
"She was extremely active with equal pay issues, with equal pay law. She provided a lot of good information including testimony,” says Executive Director Cary Brown.
Few descriptions of Hanna fail to mention her enthusiasm for people and for the law, a quality Brown also recalls.
“She had a real way of transforming what could be dry legal language and issues into something very lively and exciting that was really meaningful for the people she was sharing it with," says Brown. "She leaves such a huge hole in so many ways.”
Vermont Law School graduate Cheryl Feinberg, of Burlington, says Hanna’s enthusiasm in her freshman constitutional law class was a hallmark of her teaching style, along with a personal touch.
“Constitutional law was one of those classes that was required, so it was a big class,” Feinberg says. “She made time for every single one of us anytime we needed it. I always felt she was there for us.”
Feinberg says freshman year at law school is an intimidating experience – but Hanna made her students feel welcome.
Perhaps that was because of Hanna’s own experience as a student, when an advisor failed to see the law professor in her. She said as much when she spoke at the VPR's commentators' brunch: “I constantly try hard to look beyond what I think is the obvious in my own students, to see them as they one day hope to see themselves.”
Cheryl Hanna is survived by her husband and two children.
A memorial service will be held at a later date.