William Connell in a familiar setting: chatting with friends and acquaintances at a September 1993 CEO Club luncheon. (Photo by Gary Gilbert)
Mr. Connell died at his home in Swampscott on Aug. 22 at the age of 63. Before his health failed, he had been in line for the chairmanship of the Boston College Board of Trustees, which he previously led from 1981-84.
In a bedside ceremony at his home the day before he died, Mr. Connell was presented the Ignatius Medal, Boston College's highest honor, by University President William P. Leahy, SJ.
Mr. Connell was only the 10th person to receive the Ignatius Medal. The award "honors persons of uncommon achievement and influence in human affairs whose endeavors are enriched by a religious dimension," and who have demonstrated "a leadership role in advancing the well-being of the human family can be a vehicle for serving God as well."
Mr. Connell, a prominent businessman and philanthropist in Boston, rose from selling newspapers to the ranks of the Forbes 400 list of richest Americans, but remained true to his roots in his native West Lynn, to the Catholic Church and to his alma mater.
An Irish immigrant bus driver's son who became one of America's wealthiest men and gave millions to charity with little ado, "he made a fortune and gave a fortune away," Boston Globe business columnist Steve Bailey wrote in appreciation.
A million-dollar gift Mr. Connell made without fanfare to his old high school, St. Mary's of Lynn, kept the school afloat, while another million-dollar gift established a Boston College scholarship fund for St. Mary's graduates and students from West Lynn.
SON Dean Barbara Munro said it was fitting that a man whose life was marked by caring for others should be remembered at a school dedicated to the same cause.
"We are really proud to have his name on our school," she said. "He was a very generous and good man who made an enormous difference in so many people's lives.
"It seems wholly appropriate his name be on a school of nursing - even though he wasn't a nurse - because of the way he led his life. He really was out providing service to other people."
Plans are being made for a naming ceremony in the future, said Munro, who expressed great appreciation for Mr. Connell's $10 million gift. "It says this man thought very highly of us," she said. "It makes us feel good for a lot of reasons."
The School of Nursing, Boston College's first school to admit women as undergraduates, was founded in 1947 at the behest of then-Archbishop Richard Cushing, who believed nurses would benefit from a Jesuit education stressing ethics.
SON is today the largest Jesuit nursing school in the nation, awarding undergraduate, master's, and doctoral degrees, while offering a continuing-education program for practitioners in the field.
The man for whom the school will be named was remembered at his beloved Boston College last week as a great friend and benefactor.
"Bill personified the very best of what it meant to be a Boston College graduate," said Senior Vice President James McIntyre, a friend of 30 years. "He was a man who was totally dedicated to his church, his family and his college."
Said Fr. Leahy: "Bill Connell was simply a wonderful human being, an individual known for his integrity, compassion and deep faith...His wife, Margot, and his family have our deepest sympathy and assurance of our prayers."
Mr. Connell was chairman and chief executive officer of Connell Limited Partnership, a company that recycles metals and manufactures industrial equipment and is one of the largest privately owned companies in the United States.
He was a behind-the-scenes power broker who was influential in the merger of FleetBank and BankBoston and helped keep the New England Patriots from moving out of state.
After graduating magna cum laude from Boston College in 1959, Mr. Connell served as a first lieutenant in the US Army Artillery, and in 1963 received his MBA from Harvard Business School.
A devout Catholic, he was a daily communicant at St. Mary's in Lynn. He first became a BC trustee in 1974, and served a total of 24 years on the board. He was an avid fan of BC sports, and was chairman of the Board of Trustees during the glory years of the Doug Flutie era. All six of his children attended Boston College.
He leaves his wife, Margot (Gensler); three daughters, Monica Healey '88 of Beverly, Lisa T. McNamara '89 of Lexington, and Courtenay Connell-Toner '91 of Swampscott; three sons, William C. '94, Terence A. '02, and Timothy P. '03, all of Swampscott; a sister, Kathleen Muckian of Lynn, and a brother, the Rev. John K. of Swampscott.
A funeral Mass was said Aug. 27 at St. Mary's Church in Lynn. Boston College Chancellor J. Donald Monan, SJ, was principal celebrant, and Cardinal Bernard Law presided. Donations in his memory may be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital, Melanoma Research Fund, 55 Fruit St., Boston Mass., 02114.
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