Last week, we lost a leader, a friend, a champion, and most of all, a mentor. Jim Connolly, Mass Mentoring’s Board Chair, passed away of a heart attack.
For those of you who knew Jim, you know how fortunate we were to have him on this earth. For those who did not, I will do my best to give you a sense of Jim and the wonderful qualities he brought to this earth and our community. He will live vividly in our memories as we deal with this void while providing strength and support for his wife and two boys.
Jim’s talent in the corporate world is undeniable but it was his everyday approach that set him apart. Jim had a low-key, kind-hearted, friendly authenticity that was without parallel. I remember visiting him time and time again on the 38th floor at Citizens as he ran a bank at the height of the banking collapse. You would never have known. He shunned hyperbole and was a realist. He had a balance and a humanistic perspective that would not allow him to become all-consumed or self-important.
And during those visits to his office, he would sometimes look upon the cityscape and talk about his childhood. He would get up and point out the window to his South Boston neighborhood. He talked about the mentors who he believed were the reason he made what felt like a long journey from South Boston to Boston Latin to Harvard and then into the banking world. He would speak of a priest, a teacher, an admissions director as if it was yesterday. Jim saw the world as the sum of its parts: family, community, and people of all walks of life. He was the antithesis of a man who said he had gotten anywhere all on his own.
As you know, a board chair is essentially the CEO’s boss, but Jim never approached his oversight of Mass Mentoring from that lens. It always felt like a partnership and that extended to the whole staff. I remember at our year-end holiday party, Jim made the rounds in his low-key style to every staff member and AmeriCorps member in the room. He never cloistered himself or sought the spotlight but simply wanted each individual to feel welcome and to know how much he appreciated their work.
As his fellow board members called and wrote this week, they talked of how much they admired his balance, leadership, humility, and subtle humor. He recently told me that we had to change up his Champions of Mentoring speech because his son Colin, who attended with him each year, was starting to accuse him of saying the same thing each year. At a Citizens reception, a junior associate came up to us and introduced herself – not recognizing Jim – and he simply introduced himself as Mass Mentoring’s board chair and a colleague of hers at Citizens.
Jim embodied, symbolized and believed in the power of mentoring. It is not surprising that in a recent story in the Globe, a colleague talked about the great value Jim placed in mentoring younger staff. On the day of his death, he was with one of his professional mentors, Larry Fish, and we were honoring one of his boyhood friends, Sen. Jack Hart, who shared his belief in mentoring based on their friendship and similar life path. These were the legacies he cared about – the legacy of real and lasting human connection.
As a board member reminded me this week, Jim’s passing reminds us of the illusion of our control. It reinforces that human connection is what’s in our grasp. Jim passes as an example to all of the truest form of human connection in his demonstration a life lived as a great father, husband, friend and mentor.
By David Shapiro, CEO Mass Mentoring Partnership