Former Pitt Board of Trustees Chair J. W. Connolly Dies

Issue Date: 
August 26, 2009
J. Wray ConnollyJ. Wray Connolly

The Pitt community paused last week to remember former Pitt Board of Trustees Chair J. Wray Connolly, a man whose leadership led to a period of dramatic growth and progress at the University. Connolly died Aug. 19 at UPMC St. Margaret hospital.

Connolly, who received his Juris Doctor degree from the University of Pittsburgh School of Law in 1958, was elected in 1985 to the Pitt Board of Trustees and elected in 1995 chair of the Board, a position he held for six years.

Physical improvements to the main campus during Connolly’s tenure included the construction of the Bouquet Gardens dormitory complex and the John M. and Gertrude E. Petersen Events Center and the transformation of the former Masonic Temple to Alumni Hall.

During his first year as Board chair, Connolly led a series of Board retreats that resulted in five institutional priorities that were adopted by the Board in 1996. Those priorities—aggressively pursuing excellence in undergraduate education, maintaining excellence in research, ensuring operational efficiency and effectiveness, securing an adequate research base, and partnering in community development—have continued to provide the framework for the University’s recognition as one of the nation’s top public research universities.

When Connolly stepped down as Board chair in 2001, the Board of Trustees and the University named the ballroom of Alumni Hall the J. W. Connolly Ballroom in recognition of his devotion and outstanding leadership.

Pitt Chancellor Mark A. Nordenberg said, “I first met J. in the spring of 1995. Within a matter of weeks, he had asked me to serve as Interim Chancellor. I was elected to that position in June 1995 at the same meeting at which Mr. Connolly was elected Chairperson. Over the course of the many years we worked together, I came to know him well as a leader, as a mentor, as a partner, and as a friend. I had enormous respect for him as a person and as a professional. His contributions to the University’s progress have taken many forms and are immeasurable. He will be greatly missed by me and his many friends and colleagues at the University.”

In 2006, Connolly was elected a Pitt emeritus trustee. Throughout his tenure on the Pitt Board, he was one of the University’s most dedicated trustees. He served on numerous Board committees and also served as first vice chair of the UPMC Health System Board of Directors and as second vice chair of the UPMC Presbyterian/UPMC Shadyside Joint Board of Directors.

Connolly was a retired senior vice president of the H. J. Heinz Company, where his career began in 1961 and continued for more than three decades. One of his accomplishments there was leading the initiative to put Heinz ketchup into a plastic bottle when many other companies were still using glass containers. Connolly oversaw the effort to prove the ketchup would maintain its shelf life just as well in plastic as it did in glass.

“J. will always be remembered for his loyalty, his humanity, his inspired leadership, and his commitment to the highest ethical practices,” said Heinz President William R. Johnson. “J. was a man of his word, he was objective, and he was principled,” he said.

Connolly was a recipient of the University Bicentennial Medallion and was honored as a Distinguished Alumni Fellow. Connolly and his wife, Shirley Connolly, were inducted into Pitt’s Cathedral of Learning Society in recognition of their extraordinary devotion and generosity, which included the establishment of the J. Wray Connolly Jr. Scholarship Fund and the Connolly Family Chair in the Stroke Institute, as well as contributions to many other important University programs.