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Scholar, athlete, and consummate family man, John F. Hennedy, 85, passed away at home on July 14. From the onset of his brief illness until his peaceful death, he was surrounded by dear ones and lovingly cared for by all of his family.
Family was central to John’s life and he nurtured a large one. He is survived by Marie, his loving wife of fifty-eight years, and their five children with spouses and fifteen grandchildren: John and Michelle Hennedy of Issaquah, Washington, with children Amy, Scott, Robert, Meghan, Keagan, and Collin; Patrick and Patricia Hennedy of Douglas, Mass., with children Ian, Sean, Samuel, and Therese; Jane Hennedy and Peter Gulaiev of Blackstone, Mass.; Peggy and Tom Arnold of Uxbridge, Mass., with children Margot, Helena, and Allison; and Kate and Jeff Kennedy of Warwick, with children Patrick and Daniel.
John’s loving parents, John and Geraldine Hennedy of Braintree, Mass., and his devoted Aunt Mary taught him family values. Those dear ones plus his sisters Christine LeProhon and Geraldine Miller, and his nieces Marybeth Thibodeau and Judy Armstrong have gone ahead to greet him in the afterlife. John is also survived by his older brother, Hugh Hennedy of Biddeford Pool, Maine, by his dear cousin Peggy Walsh of East Falmouth, Mass., and by his step-siblings Bob O’Leary of Tampa, Florida, and Cathleen Grantham of Largo, Florida. Nieces, nephews, cousins and friends from all of these branches of the family tree always looked forward to visits from “Uncle John.” Indeed, the both little and big brother who, from the time he was ten years old, gladly looked after his baby sister Christine, grew up to be a wonder-filled father and friend to his own and to all children. His many friends, colleagues and students also attest to his lifelong affinity for young people.
John attended Archbishop Williams High School in Braintree, Mass., where, despite the loss of his father at age thirteen, he excelled in academics as well as basketball and baseball. The Boston Globe’s best scholar/athlete of 1954, he won a scholarship to Notre Dame where he attained a B.A. in English literature in 1958. John served his country in the Marine Corps from 1958-1960 at non-combat posts as a communications officer with the rank of Second Lieutenant. He gladly continued his education by earning a Master’s in English literature at Boston University; then, having met and married Marie there in 1962-63, he earned a Ph.D. plus several lifelong friends at the University of Illinois at Champaign-Urbana.
In 1965, John and Marie (plus their older son John and with Patrick on the way) moved to Rhode Island so he could start what became five decades of teaching as a professor at Providence College. His long and distinguished career has featured many insightful publications, his stalwart service as English Department chair and on the faculty senate and various committees, his leading protests against the Vietnam War, his helping to initiate P.C.’s decades of MLK Scholarships, and his being a key builder of the interdisciplinary Western Civilization program and a reliable enlightener of minds for the Liberal Arts Honors Program. Professor Hennedy’s love of research and teaching was matched by his heartfelt mentorship and guidance of hundreds of students, including three of his children. The college community of faculty and staff, both priests and laypeople, provided such a mentally stimulating and emotionally supportive environment that many became outside of the college, superb friends.
In June of 1967, the family (now including Jane and soon Peggy and Kate) moved to a delightful if drafty Victorian house on “the Hill” in East Greenwich. Whether preparing for class and grading papers in the living room, watching sports in the family room, reading the paper on the porch, having a cookout in the back yard, or taking a walk in the neighborhood, John loved that location. Mowing its little lawn, trimming its tall hedge, shoveling then snow-blowing its driveway and mini-sidewalks, painting one side of that house each summer, John cared for that house, for the people in it, and for that neighborhood’s many good friends. East Greenwich was often the staging place for family trips (many in a VW van) to John’s favorite Ocean State beaches, Niagara Falls, Disneyland, D.C., and even the U.S. Pacific coastline. Several times John and Marie traveled to Europe with Providence College teaching abroad groups and to the Caribbean, the Berkshires, Seattle and Nova Scotia, often to visit family and/or friends and to enjoy live theater. They recognized after 52 good years in East Greenwich that downsizing was the wise thing to do and moved in 2019 to a one-level ranch a few miles away in Warwick, one with an equally take-care-able garden, central AC, and even a study and bathroom for both of them.
John’s interest in the wider world meant he did what he could to leave it better by supporting progressive causes. He volunteered in the community as a teacher to incarcerated people and as a Little League coach to his sons and their teammates. His abiding love for the Red Sox and PC Friar basketball never waned, and he added a midlife love of tennis with good friends, some in a senior league, and of playing against his daughter Kate until the age of 85. When he wasn’t playing tennis, he was bodysurfing at East Matunuck beach, taking long walks or exercising in the basement, all while stoically dealing with psoriatic arthritis.
This active and engaged soul enjoyed the beauty of the world around him, especially through classical music, great art, poetry, prose and drama (most of all Shakespeare’s). Their humanism spoke to that honest interest in people which he showed with his low-key friendliness and empathy, his quiet way of giving so much, and, throughout his life, his delightful sense of humor. In retirement, John wrote a series of memoirs showcasing these qualities: just one of so many ways that his family will remember him and forever keep him in their hearts.
Calling hours are 2 to 6 p.m. on Sunday (July 18) at Hill Funeral Home, 822 Main St., East Greenwich. A celebration of John’s life is at 11 a.m. on Monday, July 19, at St. Luke’s Church, 99 Peirce St., East Greenwich. John’s cremated remains will be committed to St. Patrick’s Cemetery in East Greenwich at a later date. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a donation to the Martin Luther King, Jr., Scholarship Fund at Providence College at www.givetopc.org and note that it is in memory of John F. Hennedy and for this scholarship fund.
You can leave an online condolence at the Hill Funeral Home website HERE.