Leo C. McKenna

Thursday, March 16, 2017

Hanover, N.H. — Leo C. McKenna of Hanover died on Monday, March 6, 2017, after a long period of failing health. He was 83.

Leo was a proud Dartmouth college alumnus and former athlete, a man of great charm, humor and generosity. His nearly six-decade career included working on Wall Street, buying racehorses, banking, helping start a professional sports franchise, financial consulting and sitting on numerous corporate boards of directors, as well as behind-the-scenes involvement with countless businesses and nonprofits large and small, nationally and in the Upper Valley.

He was born on Oct. 9, 1933, in Concord, Mass., to Joseph H. and Gertrude (Mara) McKenna. He went to Concord schools and was quarterback of his high school football team, helping lead it to a 57-game winning streak. At Dartmouth, he was active in student government (including president of his senior class), one of the football team’s two-quarterback rotation, and a near-constant presence at Lou’s restaurant, where he worked at least 30 hours a week as a waiter and cook for most of his college career. That job also was the start of a life-long friendship and business association with the restaurant’s owner, Lou Bressett, and his wife, Ann.

Leo graduated from Dartmouth in 1956, and from the college’s Amos Tuck School of Business Administration a year later. He was awarded the Barrett Cup, which one newspaper account referred to as “the highest accolade that can be given to a graduating senior” at Dartmouth. He remained a loyal supporter of the college and its athletics programs throughout his life, and in 2007 was given the prestigious Dartmouth Alumni Award. He also was a major supporter of Aquinas House, the college’s Catholic student center, serving as an overseer for many years.

In 1954, Leo married Ginger Fultz. They eventually settled in New York, where they raised their family of four children. The marriage ended in 1983.

In the 1960s, he worked as special assistant to J. Peter Grace, president of W.R. Grace and Company in New York. Among his responsibilities were advising Grace on mergers and acquisitions, performing financial analysis and traveling to evaluate racehorses that Grace might be interested in adding to his stable.

In the ’60s and ’70s, he worked on Wall Street with his long-time Dartmouth friend Paul Paganucci in their own firm, which later merged with Dominick & Dominick Inc. Leo was a vice president and board member of Dominick & Dominick after the merger.

While working as a Wall Street banker, Leo helped an old Army friend, Nick Mileti, arrange financing for the expansion of Mileti’s sports holdings in Cleveland. One of Mileti’s holdings was the Cleveland Cavaliers, then a new franchise of the National Basketball Association. Leo was briefly a part owner and a member of the board of directors.

Over the course of his career, Leo also served on the boards of several other companies and foundations, including Life Insurance Co. of Boston and New York; Johann Haviland China Corp. (a subsidiary of Rosenthal, AG); Reliable Electric Co.; True Basic, Inc.; Jansport, Inc.; the John Brown Cook Foundation; School Specialty, Inc.; and Dartmouth National Bank, among many others. It was while working with School Specialty, which was based in Wisconsin, that Leo became an avid fan of the Green Bay Packers; among his more treasured possessions was a football signed by members of the team, including quarterback Bart Starr.

In the 1980s and early ’90s, Leo was a member of the St. Lawrence Seaway Development Corporation’s U.S. advisory board, appointed by President Ronald Reagan.

He was one of the founders and original directors of Ledyard National Bank in 1991 (with Paul Paganucci and Lou Bressett, among others), and represented Dartmouth for many years on the board of Eastman, the residential community in Grantham. (The college at the time was a part owner of the development.)

In 2007, he helped his friend Steve Gordon start The Hand to Heart Project, a nonprofit that provides free massage and compassionate touch to people in the Upper Valley who have cancer. He was a member of the program’s board of directors until leaving for health reasons nearly four years ago.

For all of his successes, Leo preferred to remain in the background, which is why the owners or founders of more than a few Upper Valley businesses can point to his quietly given advice and guidance as important reasons for their own continued successes.

In 1984, he bought an old farmhouse in Windsor and was a weekend visitor to the area for many years, gradually adding parcels to his original purchase until the home and barn sat in the middle of six hundred acres of forest, wetland and field. He moved to Windsor full time in 1990 and opened his financial consulting office in Hanover in two rooms above Lou’s restaurant.

Leo married his long-time partner, Christine Tompkins, in 2005. As his health declined following his diagnosis of Alzheimer’s disease, they moved from their beloved farm to a home in Hanover three blocks from his office. For the last three and a half years, he lived on the memory care unit at Wheelock Terrace in Hanover.

He is survived by his wife, of Hanover; daughters Katie and Ann; sons Steve and John; one sister, Margaret; brothers Jim and Joe; several grandchildren; and many nieces and nephews.

No services are planned. The family asks that donations in Leo’s memory be sent to The Hand to Heart Project, PO Box 248, Cornish Flat, NH 03746.