In memoriam: Notre Dame Trustee John Kaneb

Author: Dennis Brown

Candles in the Grotto

John A. Kaneb, a University of Notre Dame Trustee for 41 years, died Sunday (Aug. 29) in Manchester-By-The-Sea, Massachusetts. He was 86.

“John’s wisdom, generosity of spirit and dedication to the University’s Catholic mission have been invaluable assets to Notre Dame and our Board of Trustees for more than four decades,” University President Rev. John I. Jenkins, C.S.C., said. “As we mourn his passing, we give thanks for his cherished friendship and inspiring witness.”           

Born in Worcester, Massachusetts, Kaneb graduated from Harvard University in 1956 and, following his marriage to Virginia “Ginny” Pyne a year later, he was commissioned as a junior officer in the U.S. Navy. After the sudden death of his father, Kaneb received a hardship honorable discharge in order to succeed him as head of the family’s company, Northeast Petroleum.

Kaneb and his brother, Albert, built the company into the largest petroleum distribution firm in New England before selling it in 1983. Three years later, Kaneb and his son Gary founded Catamount Petroleum, which became the controlling general partner of Gulf Oil until 2005, when the family sold its interest in the company. At the time of his death, Kaneb was the chairman and chief executive officer of the Lynnfield, Massachusetts, dairy company HP Hood.

A center for teaching and learning at Notre Dame was established in 1996 with a gift from Kaneb. Located in DeBartolo Hall, the Kaneb Center for Teaching Excellence supports the pursuit of teaching by stimulating scholarly reflection and conversation about teaching and encouraging the adoption of practices that enhance learning.

In addition to his service to Notre Dame, Kaneb was a trustee emeritus of McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, and a member of the Harvard Medical School’s board of fellows. He was a limited partner of the Boston Red Sox.

Active in the Archdiocese of Boston, Kaneb was a past chairman of the board of the Priests Retirement and Healthcare Fund, a past chair of the archdiocese’s finance council and a past chair of its Catholic Charitable Bureau.

In 2004, President George W. Bush appointed Kaneb vice chair of the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission. He also was director of the Innocence Project, an organization that seeks to exonerate innocent prisoners and prevent wrongful convictions.

He was the recipient of honorary degrees from Notre Dame and St. Anselm College.

Kaneb is survived by Ginny, his wife of 64 years; six sons; five daughters-in-law; 18 grandchildren; three great-grandchildren; his brother, Albert; and many other relatives.

Upon his request, a service and interment will be private, and a celebration of his life will be held Oct. 9.