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Office of News & Public Affairs

Trustee, Benefactor James F. Cleary (1925-2012)


CHESTNUT HILL, Mass. (2-27-12) – James F. Cleary, a long-time trustee of Boston College and for many years an active and innovative fund-raiser for the University, died Sunday in Boston. He was 86.

James F. Cleary
James F. Cleary

Mr. Cleary, who graduated from Boston College in 1950 and was awarded at honorary doctorate at BC commencement ceremonies in 1993, was founder and chairman of the University’s annual 'Pops on the Heights' scholarship gala, featuring an on-campus concert by the Boston Pops Esplanade Orchestra for students, families, alumni and friends of the school. The event has raised more than $19 million in financial aid assistance for deserving BC students since its start in 1993.

“Jim was on the first majority lay Board of Trustees in 1972,” said Boston College Chancellor J. Donald Monan, S.J., who was University president when Mr. Cleary was appointed. “Forty years later, he remained as a trustee associate. I really feel that he has been one of the most dedicated members of the board–dedicated to the University in so many ways,” Fr. Monan said.  “He was dedicated not only to the oversight of the activities by the board, but in a very special way in bringing a coherence and a sense of community to the entire board. He has been very important in that.”

“Jim Cleary was the father of modern fund-raising at Boston College,” said alumnus and former Board of Trustees chair Jack Connors, who served with Mr. Cleary on the board for many years. “He was just a prodigious fund-raiser. He loved life.

“There are a lot of people who have achieved success, but then pulled the ladder up after them,” Connors added. “But Jim loved helping other people. He loved young people and he loved being an advisor or mentor to them. He loved BC and created ‘Pops on the Heights’ in a way that allowed the money to go to scholarships. He was very proud of the success of that.” More than 700 Boston College undergraduates have benefitted from scholarship funds generated by the Pops event.

Born in Boston in 1925, Mr. Cleary attended Boston Latin School before entering the Navy on his 17th birthday in 1942. After serving in the Pacific during World War II, Mr. Cleary returned home in 1946 and enrolled at Boston College under the GI Bill. After graduation in 1950 with a degree in business administration, Mr. Cleary went on to a successful career in corporate finance, becoming president of Blyth Eastman Dillon & Co. in New York and managing director of UBS in Boston.

Mr. Cleary was appointed to the Boston College Board of Trustees in 1972, and served in that role until 1996. He became a University trustee associate in 1997, a position he held until his death. As a trustee, he chaired Boston College’s development committee and helped to incorporate a number of innovative fund-raising incentives, including the Fides and President’s Circle societies as well as the highly-acclaimed Pops event. He was chair of the University’s development committee for 22 years.

Mr. Cleary also was a lifetime trustee of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and was active in a number of other charities, including the American Cancer society, the Inner City Scholarship Fund, the American Ireland Fund and the Boston Public Library Foundation.

Mr. Cleary and his wife Barbara made one of Boston College’s first million dollar commitments to establish the James F. Cleary Chair in Finance in the University’s Carroll School of Management. In 2000, BC established the James F. Cleary 'Masters' Award that is given annually to a fund-raising volunteer who best exemplified the creativity, dedication and leadership shown by Mr. Cleary over the years.

In addition to his wife of 50 years, Mr. Cleary is survived by the couple’s three children, Kara Lyn Cleary, James F. Cleary Jr. and Kristin Welo, and four grandchildren. Mr. Cleary and his family also had homes in Palm Beach, Fla. and Osterville, Mass.

Visiting hours will be held at St. Ignatius Church in Chestnut Hill on Wednesday from 4 to 8 p.m. A funeral Mass will be celebrated in St. Ignatius Church on Thursday at 10 a.m. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Massachusetts General Hospital Parkinson's Care and Research Unit in Boston.

Reid Oslin, associate director, Office of News & Public Affairs; oslin@bc.edu