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Former Tuck Dean Dies at Age 92

  • Former Tuck School of Business Dean John W. Hennessey Jr. in an undated photograph. (Courtesy photograph)



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 16, 2018

Hanover — Friends and family on Monday remembered John W. Hennessey Jr., a former dean of Dartmouth College’s Tuck School of Business, as a lifelong learner, a mentor to countless people and a man ahead of his time.

He pushed Tuck toward co-education in the late 1960s and co-founded the Council on Opportunity in Graduate Management Education, a nonprofit that worked to bring minorities to top business schools.

Later in life, he lost his wife of 56 years, Jean Hennessey, but then opened a chapter that  he, least of all, predicted, marrying former Vermont Governor Madeleine Kunin. The pair met while serving as directors of a campaign reform organization, one of many charitable boards Hennessey contributed to.

Despite his accomplishments, and even into his old age, he made time for younger people. Whether they were students, colleagues or family members, Hennessey had a way of listening intently and treating people as equals, his family said.

“He never talked about what he got out of it,” his daughter, Martha Hennessey, said. “He talked about how much he enjoyed their company. He wanted so much to be a part of their lives.”

A former Hanover resident of many years, Hennessey died Jan. 11 at Wake Robin, a retirement community in Shelburne, Vt. He was 92.

He was born on March 25, 1925, in Danville, Pa., to Martha Scott Braun and John W. Hennessey. An exemplary student, he skipped grades and enrolled at Princeton University in 1941, at age 16. 

“He felt much too young,” said Martha Hennessey, now a New Hampshire state senator who lives in Hanover. His age, along with a desire to join the war effort, led Hennessey to enroll as an officer in the U.S. Army. Over the next few years, he rose to first lieutenant and managed hundreds of service members in the Philippines.

By the time he returned to Princeton, in 1946, Hennessey was seasoned enough to graduate magna cum laude and Phi Beta Kappa with a degree in economics and social institutions.

Even then he was looking to the future, his daughter said. His senior thesis, a research paper that fourth-year Princeton students are required to write, was an argument in favor of establishing a comprehensive national health care system — something the United States wouldn’t see for half a century.

Soon after graduation, Hennessey married Jean Marie Lande, a newly minted alumna of Vassar College, and settled in Cambridge, Mass.

Jean Hennessey, a prominent environmentalist and Democratic Party activist, died in 2004. Friends, family and the press described her as a “power broker” and “doyenne” of the New Hampshire branch of the party. Like Hennessey, she served on innumerable charitable and public boards, including as a trustee of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars, a presidential appointment.

After Hennessey completed a master’s at Harvard Business School, the family moved to Seattle as Hennessey worked on a doctorate in organizational behavior. There, their two children, John and Martha, were born.

In 1957, Hennessey came to Dartmouth, where he accepted a professorship in organizational behavior. But he didn’t stay rooted in the Upper Valley for long. Only two years later, Hennessey was off to Switzerland, followed by Turkey, the U.S.S.R. and China, for short-term teaching positions in the field of professional management.

In 1967, Dartmouth President John Sloan Dickey offered Hennessey the deanship of Tuck. Hennessey accepted, but with conditions: he wanted to keep teaching, and he wanted the business school to start admitting women. 

And so Tuck went co-ed in 1968, three years before the undergraduate college began accepting its first four-year classes of women. Hennessey contributed to the larger co-education push, too, serving on a college-wide committee that studied whether the whole school should follow Tuck’s example.

Martha Hennessey, who was in that first class of female undergraduates, said the rollout was smoother at small, close-knit Tuck than throughout the school, where fraternity members and the alumni old guard offered resistance.

“I think it was hard on a lot of women,” she said, “but I also felt myself like I was kind of entitled to be here. It certainly didn’t ruin my time here. It was hard being one of the pioneering classes, and I think it was tough on my dad to watch that.”

As a member of Dartmouth’s first female a cappella group, Martha Hennessey remembered going on singing tours and meeting alumni who griped that “I was the reason they weren’t giving money anymore.”

Part of her resolve, she said, came from knowing that “my father was totally behind this.”

In addition to his advocacy for women, Hennessey worked to increase the numbers of minority students in the country’s most competitive MBA programs by helping to found the Council on Opportunity in Graduate Management Education.

He launched numerous other initiatives as dean, including the Tuck Executive Program, Tuck’s education loan program and Tuck Today, the school’s alumni magazine.

Most of all, Hennessey earned a reputation as a mentor. Martha Hennessey, who teaches at Dartmouth and lives in her parents’ old Hanover home, says she routinely runs into people who learn her name and then tell her, “Wait a minute — your father changed my life.”

Hennessey played that role not only with students and junior colleagues, but also within his own family.

He and Jean took Martha’s children on road trips across the country, spending months driving through all 50 states. It was also his habit to keep up on his grandchildren’s studies. Years ago, when his 11-year-old granddaughter was reading To Kill a Mockingbird, he re-read the book and then called her to discuss it — and then later took her to a live show.

More recently, as his eyesight degenerated, he apologized to Martha’s youngest daughter, a law student, that he couldn’t read her law books along with her.

Hennessey retired as Tuck’s dean in 1976 and returned to full-time teaching. He remained active in management, too, co-founding Dartmouth’s Ethics Institute, where he taught ethics to students in a wide array of fields, as well as to alumni and community members.

He returned to administration in 1986, when he became the University of Vermont’s provost, or chief academic officer, followed by a year-long stint as interim president of the school. 

He served on myriad boards in the decades that followed, including as chairman of the board of Mary Hitchcock Memorial Hospital when it moved from Hanover to Lebanon. One of those appointments — to the board of Americans for Campaign Reform — introduced Hennessey to his future second wife: Madeleine Kunin.

Hennessey and his colleagues asked Kunin, the first and so far only female governor of Vermont, to serve on the board. Despite some skepticism about the organization’s objectives, she said yes.

“That was probably the best decision I made,” she said on Monday.

In 2005, the two met for lunch to discuss the nonprofit’s progress. It just so happened that Kunin had two tickets to the Vermont Symphony Orchestra, and on a whim she invited him.

Hennessey, a classical music aficionado, asked what the program was. Beethoven’s Ninth, she told him.

He went along.

“I have to thank Beethoven to some degree,” she said.

They married about a year later, in 2006, when Hennessey was in his 80s and Kunin in her 70s. Meeting someone that late in life was a gift, Kunin said, adding that their union was successful especially because it was “totally egalitarian.”

“He was a democrat and a feminist,” she said, later emphasizing that he was a man of the people, a democrat with a small “D.” 

“It’s not exactly what you’d expect from a dean of a business school. I think he was unique in that way — that he spanned the worlds of business and of thinking and literature.”

About a year ago, the current dean of Tuck, Matthew Slaughter, drove to Shelburne to seek Hennessey’s counsel. Among other things, Slaughter, who knew about Hennessey’s efforts to make the school more inclusive to women and minorities, wanted to know how the older man had fought through resistance to the changes.

The former dean’s health had been failing, but they talked for three hours without realizing where the time had gone. The sharpness of Hennessey’s mind “was just remarkable,” Slaughter said. “Sometimes you have a conversation with a learned and wise soul — it seemed like it was 20 minutes, and then we looked up at the clock and the afternoon had run away.”

Slaughter said he was struck by Hennessey’s forward-looking vision for the school, a trait the current dean called “inclusive imagination.”

“He underscored for me that when you serve in a leadership role at a great school like Dartmouth, like Tuck, you are stewarding something for the future,” Slaughter said of Hennessey. “...It was clear that he was thinking about making the Tuck of tomorrow better than the Tuck of today.”

A Circle of Remembrance will be held on Saturday, Jan. 27 at 2 p.m., at Wake Robin in Shelburne, according to his obituary. The event will be open to the public. A service in Hanover also is being planned for a later date.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or at 603-727-3242.