John W. McMullan, Longtime Spanish Instructor, Passes Away

Retired Spanish teacher, wrestling coach, and holder of the Marie S. Tinker Chair at Hotchkiss, John W. McMullan, 80, died in his home in Selbyville, DE, on Jan. 3, 2021, after a yearlong battle with pancreatic cancer. He was a member of the Hotchkiss faculty for nearly three decades. 

John was born on Dec. 4, 1940, to Frank A. and Elizabeth McMullan in New Haven, CT. 

A versatile man with many diverse accomplishments, John first tackled languages – specifically, Latin – at Indian Mountain School – where, by coincidence, his roommate was Robert “Skip” Mattoon, who served for 11 years as Hotchkiss’s Head of School. Studying Latin greatly challenged John, but when his father, a Yale drama professor, received a Fulbright grant to teach and direct in Santiago, Chile, he discovered, much to his delight, the Spanish language. He went on to major in Spanish at Hamilton College.

 “Spanish captured my imagination. I discovered that I really did like literature after all, and that I had some facility for the language,” McMullan said in a Hotchkiss Magazine interview on his retirement.

He taught at Hotchkiss from 1978 to 2007, where he developed a reputation as a no-nonsense teacher who demanded the best from his students.

“He was an absolute taskmaster, an unrelenting and extremely challenging teacher,” said Caroline Pillsbury Oliver ’89 in the Hotchkiss Magazine interview.  “We had to take these verb blank exams, and it was possible to get a negative number out of 100; they were unbelievably hard.  My first class with him was Spanish 250, ostensibly a second-year high school class.  I seriously doubt there is a second-year Spanish language class taught at the college level that was even remotely as difficult.” 

Before coming to Hotchkiss, he taught at St. George’s School in Newport, RI, and the Emma Willard School in Troy, NY. He also taught for a time at Millbrook School in Millbrook, NY. 

In addition to teaching Spanish at Hotchkiss, John co-authored several classroom texts, including the widely-used Triangulo: A Proposito. The School’s wrestling coach at the time of his retirement, he also had coached field hockey and lacrosse at Hotchkiss. A plaque in the Forrest E. Mars Jr. Athletic Center reads: “For all he has done to promote the best in Hotchkiss athletics, we honor Coach John McMullan.” He served on the Board of Recording for the Blind, and he worked in a leadership position for Educational Testing Service for the grading of the Spanish Advanced Placement Examinations.  

He loved ’60s tunes and Doo-wop music and is remembered on campus as a fabulous dancer. Instructor in English, history, and Russian, and E. Carleton Granbery Teaching Chair Keith Moon P’13,’16, said of him that McMullan had “the best dancing feet on this faculty. … At the annual faculty-staff holiday dance in December, John doesn't just cut a rug; his fast-moving feet seem to weave that rug first .... then he cuts it into little pieces. I would challenge most of our students to try to keep up with him on a dance floor.”

John is survived by his wife and companion of 31 years, Barbara S. Gatski, their children: Elizabeth S. McMullan; Daniel F. McMullan; Jenna L. Gatski Einstein, and Megan L. Gatski; three grandchildren; his brother, David F. McMullan, and three nephews and four great-nieces.

John is also survived by his beloved dog, Millie, who was at his side when he passed away, along with Barbara. 

Due to the coronavirus restrictions, a memorial service will be planned at a later date. In lieu of flowers, the family suggests memorial contributions to Scholarship Assistance at Hamilton College; 198 College Hill Road; Clinton, NY 12223, which can also be found online at  Electronic condolences can be sent to:


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