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Longtime Trustees Connors and Gabelli Talk Monan’s Impact

When Rev. J. Donald Monan, S.J., was named Boston College’s 24th president, the joke was he was so thin that he’d only take office after BC got the results of a physical exam. That’s a story Jack Connors, BC ’63, a Boston business icon, and the only two-time chair of the Board of Trustees, tells about Monan’s early days at BC.

“He was very proud of that, because in his 24 years as president, he only took four sick days,” Connors said.

In phone interviews on Tuesday and Wednesday, Connors and Mario J. Gabelli, another major donor and longtime trustee, talked about their relationships with Monan and their perspectives on what he brought to Chestnut Hill.

Connors first met Monan a couple of years into his presidency. A founder of advertising agency Hill Holliday, Connors decided he wanted to do some fundraising for his alma mater, so he told Monan he’d raise $1,000 each at a 15-person dinner if Monan spoke at it. The next time, Connors decided to host a $25,000 dinner. He promised Monan eight people, but the night before, he only had two. He called up a friend who’d gone to Boston University after getting denied from BC—so they raised $75,000, and Monan spoke at the dinner.

Having promised him $200,000, Connors apologized to Monan, but then one of the attendees, so impressed with Monan, sent him a check for $250,000. Early on in his presidency, Monan couldn’t believe it.

“Jack,” he said, “I’ve never seen a check for $250,000. This is unbelievable.”

Gabelli met Monan when a business associate recommended he come up to BC. Having attended another Jesuit school, Fordham University, Gabelli agreed. That was in the early ’80s. Gabelli, a major Wall Street investor, was asked to manage a portion of the endowment, which began to explode. BC’s endowment has grown from $5.7 million when Monan started to about $2.3 billion today.

“There’s no university on the face of this earth that’s had that kind of success,” Connors said.

Gabelli used to golf with a member of Fordham Prep’s Board of Trustees who would talk about how good of a hockey player Monan was.

“And then I met him, and this frail guy was a hockey player?” Gabelli said.

Monan asked Connors to join BC’s Board in 1979. Connors said Monan was the first person, besides his parents, to see his potential.

“I’m sitting there with these giants of the business, insurance, and banking communities, and I was just so fortunate to be given a shot at being on the Board,” Connors said.

At the time, there was no expectation that BC would become the success it did.

“Anybody who told you they anticipated what BC would become is making it up,” Connors said. “The only person who might’ve had that vision will be buried [on Wednesday]. Father Monan, in the opinion of some of us, could have run General Motors.”

As the University’s first chancellor for the past 20 years, Monan occupied several roles—he advised the Board, for example, and he was asked by Margaret Marshall, the former chief justice of the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court, to lead a court reform effort.

St. Francis of Assisi, Connors said, is purported to have said “preach the Gospel—even if you have to use words.” Connors said Monan is an example of leading by example, referencing President Donald Trump’s claims that President Barack Obama wiretapped his offices during the 2016 campaign.

“He didn’t have to say the president wiretapped his home or his office,” Connors said. “He led by example and by his imagination.”

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March 23, 2017