Edward L. Hennessy, Jr. ’45: Making the Dream a Reality
From ‘No Irish Need Apply’ to the World Stage: Hobnobbing with Business Titans, the Pope and Presidents
Perhaps no other alumnus in The English High School of Boston’s first 200 years better exemplifies the school’s bicentennial motto, ‘Daring to Dream,’ than 1945 graduate Edward L. Hennessy, Jr.
Lessons learned during rough formative years, then fine-tuned during his years at English High, prepared him well for a career that would transform him into a legendary business leader and a mergers and acquisitions guru. You may not recall his name, but his imprint remains to this day on several of the world’s biggest and iconic companies he led including Allied Co. (merged with Honeywell, at the time a $12 billion multinational conglomerate), United Technologies (merged with Raytheon), Colgate-Palmolive, Heublein and others.
Hennessy, the great-great grandson of Patrick O’Neal who arrived in America in 1829 from County Cork, grew up on Lagrange Street in Boston’s West Roxbury neighborhood during the Depression. His grandfather was a welder. His father, the first in his family to finish high school, was selected for officer candidate school during WW I. He was sent overseas as a second lieutenant just as the Armistice was signed. On his discharge, he worked for a millwork company for 56 years. Hennessy’s mother immigrated from Canada at age 18, worked for State Street Trust, and played for the Boston Skating Club’s women’s hockey team.
During the post-Depression decade, America and the world suffered tough times – recovering from the Great War, a flu epidemic that killed 100 million worldwide, and saber-rattling that led up to World War II. Hennessy recalls that, while walking to English High, he and his schoolmates “had to step over drunks huddled or sprawled in the street. It was an Irish ghetto.” He writes in his memoir, Making the American Dream a Reality, “We ate well and were clothed well, but we didn’t have much else.” He helped with family finances working as a paperboy and played in the church band. Despite tough times – perhaps an indication of his financial prowess –he even saved enough to buy a 1937 Hudson.
A best friend and classmate growing up in West Roxbury was the late General Paul X. Kelley ’46, who rose to become Commandant of the U. S. Marine Corps and a member of Joint Chiefs, whose EHS education, experience and discipline also helped to shape his character and contribute to his lifelong successes.
At English High, Hennessy joined the band and the track team. He played in Thanksgiving Day games between Boston Latin and EHS at Harvard Stadium, earning a letter as a lineman. But injuries sidelined a sports career. Although he was awarded a football scholarship at Northeastern, he decided to follow in the footsteps of several relatives and joined the seminary. But after three uneventful years and introductions to successful family friends, he found his new true love – Business. He enrolled in night classes in accounting and business where he sharpened his skills and set lofty goals.
Descriptions of Hennessy by those who have known him tell of a man who always put English High’s motto into his everyday life. A business leader who worked with Hennessy during the 1970s, 80s and 90s in a 1983 New York Times article remarked on his “strong sense of his own abilities.” Another called him “aggressive, decisive…a strong believer in strategic planning…very competitive and likes to win,” A former chairman of Allied said of Hennessy, “He does what’s expected of him – plus, plus, plus.”
In addition to his corporate leadership, Hennessy has generously given back in both time and money leading fundraising campaigns for many worthy organizations mainly “dedicated to bettering the lot of young people who need a hand.” His long, rich and full life have enabled him to develop friendships with world leaders like Pope John Paul II, four U. S. Presidents, renowned journalists and entertainers.
Hennessy reflects on his “American life in which hope, persistence and hard work have combined to make the American Dream a reality for me and my family.”