Jack and Eileen Connors Connect with BC Students
By Edward “Ted” Donahue, Woods College Sophomore
BC Trustee Jack Connors and his wife Eileen, who is a “Double Eagle,” visited Dr. Janice Barrett’s Principles of Advertising Woods College class to share their advice, wisdom and insights. When Jack and Eileen Connors entered the Stokes classroom, even before they were formally introduced, they connected directly with each student by asking a few simple questions, “Who are you? Where are you from? What is your major?”
After the couple spoke, but before they left the classroom, they took the time to shake everyone’s hand. In my opinion, the attention they gave to each individual and the care they took to learn something about each student was incredible. These actions speak loudly to who they are. They genuinely care and believe in the potential of all students, especially those of us who are studying at Boston College.
John “Jack” Connors, Jr. graduated from Boston College in 1963, being the first in his family to complete college. Mr. Connors attributes much of his success in raising a strong family and building a nationally ranked business from his Jesuit educational foundation here at BC. He has served on the Boston College Board of Trustees for over 30 years and has been the only member to act as Chairman for two terms. He cofounded in 1968 one of the world’s largest all-inclusive marketing firm, Hill, Holliday, Connors, Cosmopulos, Inc., which he later sold to Interpublic.
Jack Connors had no inherent edge to succeed in life. Eileen reflected on how several people have said to her “How lucky is Jack to be where he is?” To which she has always responded, “It’s not luck, but hard work.” Jack had no family money to pay for college and there were no previous college graduates in his family.
During Eileen’s visit, she stated “Nothing about education ever gets wasted. I was able to continue using my education even after I left the workforce.” Eileen told us that she was forced to leave her job teaching after showing her first pregnancy. She continued to work as a mother to their four children, then later as a social worker, after she earned her Master’s degree from BC. She also has drawn from her BC education and values in the Connors Family philanthropic ventures.
Jack commented, “Eileen has been by my side through the thick and thin, so I credit her for much of my success.” They both admitted it wasn’t easy, as Jack worked long hours while Eileen managed their home life and cared for their 4 children. However, their loving partnership has remained strong for 51 years.
Jack Connors recalled an extraordinary experience while attending BC. His mother passed away during his junior year, just a week after Jack was elected class vice president. “My mother thought I might as well have been elected president of the United States! Although she was lacking in formal education, she always believed in me.”
Father Joyce, who was the Associate Dean in CBA at that time, attended his mother’s wake. “I had never met him before, but Father Joyce and Boston College supported my family in hard times. That is when I realized that the tightknit community at Boston College makes it a truly wonderful place.”
Jack spoke of working a double-header of Red Sox v. Yankees at Fenway on July 4th, 1956. He made about $6 selling peanuts and scorecards when he had his first taste in marketing sales. While attending BC, Jack commuted to his classes on campus in the morning and got his checkered cab license to work afternoon through the early morning.
After graduating BC in 1963 and later marrying Eileen on June 25, 1966, he was on track to climb an ad agency ladder due to his success on the Dodge Motors account. Jack soon became the lead salesman in his division and was asked to join the meeting at their headquarters in Motor City. While there, the CEO told him that if he kept up the good work, he would find himself sitting in the VP seat. “Being a Boston guy, that would mean moving to Detroit, so the next day I left the company.”
Taking a risk, Jack was willing to go unemployed with a wife and young child to support. With the full support of his young, adventurous wife Eileen and every penny they owned, Jack cofounded the Hill Holliday Advertising Agency. Jack stated, “One must never fear failure as it is a part of growing and success. As a lifelong baseball fan, I believe you should get up to bat, try, and get ready to strike out.” This mindset has let Jack take on more than he ever thought he could and continue to accomplish great feats.
For example, one of the most remarkable ads his agency ever created was the award winning Budweiser ad “Respect” that aired on the Super Bowl after 9/11. The emotionally moving ad featured the Clydesdale horses bowing to the ghosts of the Twin Towers. You can view it at this link: http://jacksonville.com/video/2017-01-23/respect-2002
Years later, while still running his Hill, Holliday, Connors and Cosmopulos Ad Agency, he was invited to a meeting at Harvard. They asked him to become a member on the board of Brigham and Women's Hospital. He responded, “I know nothing about healthcare. I have never been sick at this point in my life, and I am too busy.”
However, the next day, he decided to ride by the hospital. After driving around the block, he realized his mother had been born nearby, which prompted Jack to change his mind. He served on the Brigham and Women’s Hospital board for 19 years and chaired it for 1 year. After they merged with Massachusetts General Hospital to become Partners Health Care, he served on that Board for 16 years.
He emphasized, “Eileen and I are so fortunate to have we what do, that we want to share it. It is so important to give back. Those are the values we learned so many years ago in our Jesuit education here at BC. I still go to Mass here 3 or 4 mornings a week in a little chapel here on campus in St. Mary’s. We gave $10 million for the Connors Family Retreat Center to nurture spiritual growth and we established the Connors Family Learning Center for students who may need academic support services. The late Mayor Menino asked me to help provide a safe environment for the inner city kids during the summer, so we established a summer camp that we named Camp Harbor View on Long Island in Boston Harbor. Since we opened it, we have raised $88 million to support these youngsters.”
Then Eileen mentioned, “We are not the only ones who have contributed, look around this campus, we are in the Stokes building, there is the Lynch School and the Morrisey College. These are all named after successful people we know who did what we did – give back.”
As students, we were very fortunate to hear from Jack and Eileen Connors, who model the way for us as BC students.