Dyane Fancey, poet

Dyane Fancey, a poet and educator in Baltimore, died April 13. She was 63.

Dyane Fancey, a prominent poet in Baltimore's arts community who also worked in the city school system and at a popular Mount Vernon restaurant, died April 13 of heart failure. The Hampden resident was 63.

Born Diane Margaret Fancey in Washington, D.C., Ms. Fancey was the daughter of active labor union workers, and developed a feisty and rebellious attitude at an early age, replacing the "i" in her name with a "y" in order to distinguish herself from the other girls in her high school who shared her name and dotted the "i" in their names with hearts.


"She was a take no prisoners kind of person who could also be tender, gentle and loving," said her husband, Reed Hessler, a host on the classical music station WBJC. "She had a wicked sense of humor, a nonstop intellectual curiosity, a fierce sense of fair play and an insatiable appetite for life."

Described as a witty and colorful character, with a zest for the arts and activism, Ms. Fancey's personality led her to become active in union organizing and politics in her teenage and early adult years.


That work afforded her one of the proudest moments of her life, according to Mr. Hessler: While a secretary in the AFL-CIO, she came face-to-face with then-President Richard M. Nixon the day after the Kent State shootings in 1970 when, in return to his attempt at a handshake, she told him "[Expletive] you, murderer."

"She told that story so many times that I would roll my eyes," her husband said. "She was so proud of that."

Ms. Fancey grew up in Silver Spring, and graduated from Wheaton High School. She studied art at Montgomery College for a short while, before moving to Baltimore in 1973 to study at the Maryland Institute College of Art.

It was after her move to Baltimore that Ms. Fancey's professional and personal flamboyance flourished.

Shortly after studying at MICA, the talented painter was persuaded to pursue her writing. She transferred to Towson University, where she obtained her bachelor's degree in English in 1977.

She went to on to obtain her master's degree in 1981 from the Johns Hopkins University Writing Seminars after completing her poetry book, "A Religion of Skin."

Clarinda Harriss, who owns the company that published Ms. Fancey's book, said her trademark was that of a "vibrant sometimes feisty voice in beautifully crafted poetry."

Harriss, who knew Ms. Fancey for more than 40 years, recalled how the two would organize poetry readings at the Angel Tavern in Fells Point. For three years, the "Poetry at the Angel" events would attract artists, including bag ladies and Pulitzer prize winners, every Sunday.


Ms. Harriss said Ms. Fancey's death was "the loss of a great soul."

But she added that she still hoped to publish works that Ms. Fancey was working on at the time of her death, a collection a poems that reflect her admiration for her all-time favorite author, Shakespeare, and her passion for Irish myth and history.

Ms. Fancey met Mr. Hessler in 1981, and the two were married in 1985.

While Mr. Hessler said he "never knew it was possible for a man to be loved so unreservedly," he said that his wife's road to him was a journey of lovers — including a partner whose sex change she paid for — and relationships that were as formative as their bond.

"Her sex life was such an important part of her," Mr. Hessler said. "She was very candid about it, and before she met me, it was very prolific."

The two did not have any children but enjoyed each others' company and had a constant presence in the Mount Vernon neighborhood at concerts, art openings and poetry readings.


"There was literally never a moment when we wanted to be apart," her husband said.

Ms. Fancey spent the 1980s and 1990s working around the city, her favorite job being a server at the popular bar and restaurant the Great American Melting Pot, or "Gampy's," where she worked for 16 years. That restaurant has since closed.

In the late 1980s, Ms. Fancey went back to school to become a teacher and taught English at Western High School from 1995 through 2000. In 2000, her husband said, she lost her job due to an excess of English teachers in the system.

At Western, Ms. Fancey taught as many as six classes a day, and her husband said not one student of hers failed the state-mandated writing test on her watch.

Ms. Fancey worked a series of other jobs until retiring in 2007. After that, she continued to write poetry and participate in readings. In 2009, her poem "Multitasking (For Michael Brenner)" won third prize in the Baltimore City Paper's annual poetry contest.

In addition to her husband, she is survived by her sister, Mary Ellen Statland of Waxhaw, N.C.; and her brothers, John Fancey of Rockville, and Michael Fancey of Fort Lauderdale, Fla.


A June memorial service is being planned at the Creative Alliance.