Tony Cornish – A Good Story and a Wide Smile

I had occasion to find this post I wrote in 2005 in remembrance of a teacher I had at Tufts University. I needed to reference the post for something I’m writing for Small Firm Innovation, so I decided to re-post here on my blog.

I hope you enjoy reading it.

A Good Story and a Wide Smile


Some say that there is no greater wealth than living in the hearts of others. If that’s true, then Tony was a rich man, by all accounts. How sad I am to know that Tony has passed on – sad for myself, of course, but sad also that more won’t be touched by him. It brings a smile to my face to see so many of my college friends sharing their memories — I am compelled to add mine.

For those who don’t know or remember me, I should start by explaining that I am not, and never was, a very good actor. Frequently blinded by my own ego, I foolishly auditioned for everything under the sun, and despite never landing any role of substance, I never quite got the hint until the end of my time at Tufts that maybe I should leave the meaty stuff for those with talent. Perhaps I was treated too kindly in my freshman year when the then-Chair of the Drama Department cast me in the first production of the year, a very serious production about the Holocaust. I was put in the role not to act, but because I could play the trumpet.

In any event, after one of the performances, the cast went out to celebrate the fact that Tony’s artist-in-residency would be renewed for another term. I was ready to bow out after the show, but Tommy Finkelstein, who was in the show with me, and who up to then I was sure hated me, dragged me along and we had drinks at the Wursthaus in Harvard Square. That night, 14 other college students and I were treated to four hours of stories and laughs with Tony. It was unbelievable…I mean, what faculty member goes out for drinks with college kids not even in his show? And that was the first time I met Tony.

A few years later, I auditioned for a class in performing comedy that Tony was teaching — where an audition was required. By that time, I had abandoned any thought of dramatic acting, but auditioned for this class because it seemed like fun. I was accepted into the class, but quickly lost any confident I had on the first day as I saw the class list was a Who’s-Who of actors on campus. The students were the creme-de-la-creme of comedic and serious actors. When I saw that the class was for real actors, I went to Tony talk to him about his oversight in letting me in.

I told him that I wanted to speak with him in private and he invited me into the little room with no windows and closed the door. After explaining that I believed there to be some mistake, and that I would be dropping the class, he said to me:

“Vi-i-ic…”, he started — Tony is the only person I’ve met who knew that “Vic” has three syllables — lowering his chin to his chest, locking eyes with me just under the his oval lids,

“You are quite funny, you know.”

I swear that his left eye twinkled on that statement…like Santa Claus.

“While I’m afraid that Hamlet may be out of your reach, you can make people laugh. I would very much like you to stay in the class.”

After hearing that, I was more afraid to leave than to stay. I didn’t magically turn into the best comedic actor in the class. In fact, Tony told me, quite a number of times, that “It wants to be funnier, doesn’t it?” — as if the question needed an answer. Tony was always right, “it” does want to be funnier.

I had a couple of other classes with Tony after that. When you find someone who inspires you, you choose to spend a lot of time with them. I have vivid memories of visiting his apartment for a party, as well as a lunch we shared on campus.

About three years after graduating from Tufts, I decided I wanted to go to law school. I hadn’t make many connections with professors at Tufts, and asked Tony if he wouldn’t mind writing me a letter of recommendation.

“Gladly!”, he said in a voice that made me excited to read the letter and foolish for not thinking of it sooner. In exchange, he made me promise to come see Macbeth. It meant a train ride from Connecticut when I had no money or time for such an excursion, but there was no way I would miss it — I feared too much to be in his debt.

I had a wonderful time, of course, and I got to see some friends be brilliant on stage. And though Tony and I didn’t speak that evening, he caught my gaze from across the room and gave me a wide smile. I know I’m not the only one of his students to know what it’s like to make Tony smile like that.

I guess my point about it all is this: Tony made me feel as though I figured into his life somehow. No matter how many things he had going on, there was something about our relationship that warranted him giving me his undivided attention. And what’s amazing is that he did this with everyone. He gave everyone this personal attention and touched us all with his warmth.

I imagine he’s somewhere taking turns rubbing his head and beard probably at the same time, muttering “Yes, yes, yes” as things fall into place for him. I’m sure he’s also telling a good story to someone. I know there are some I want to share with him — I hope I get to someday.

Posted November 2005 by Victor Medina, Medina Law Group, LLC