One of the state’s most eminent jurists, the Hon. Francis X. Hennessy of West Hartford, died Tuesday at the age of 82.
A longtime state court trial referee, deputy court administrator, and former political advisor to Gov. Ella Grasso during a decades-long career, Hennessy was retired from the state Appellate Court.
A graduate of Fordham University and UConn law school, Hennessy started his judicial career when he was appointed as a judge of the Juvenile Court in 1976 by then-Gov. Ella Grasso. He later served as the first administrative judge of the combined family and juvenile division of the Superior Court. While serving on the Appellate Court, he wrote numerous opinions while serving by invitation on the state’s highest court, the Supreme Court, when a particular member could not serve on the case.
Hennessy also served as the deputy Chief Court Administrator – a highly demanding position overseeing the work of Superior Court judges and the judicial system. He served as the number two official under his friend, Aaron Ment, a well-known jurist at the state Capitol. Hennessy was succeeded in that post by Judge Robert C. Leuba.
Nominated by then-Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, he served on the Appellate Court from September 1994 until his retirement in 2000. He continued on the bench in senior status as an Appellate trial referee until his death. Hennessy was among the final judicial picks by Weicker, who left office soon after in January 1995.
Those who knew Hennessy essentially described an old-school, modest Irish gentleman who was always more interested in what others were doing than in touting his own accomplishments.
“He was a wonderful human being, exceedingly thoughtful,’’ said Richard Palmer, a longtime justice who was nominated by Weicker for a seat on the State Supreme Court. “I never heard him raise his voice. He always had a smile. He was serious minded, but didn’t take himself too seriously. He loved being a judge, and he was a terrific judge – both as a trial judge and an appellate judge.’’
Known as a strong advocate for equal access to the courts for women and minorities, Hennessy served on two important panels, co-chairing the Connecticut Task Force on Gender, Justice, and the Courts and Connecticut’s Task Force on Minority Fairness. Hennessy was appointed to the 11-member task force on gender justice in November 1991 by then-Chief Justice Ellen Peters. He was also recognized as a national leader in juvenile justice reform as he emphasized rehabilitation over punishment for juvenile criminals.
Besides his legal and judicial career, Hennessy served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War – receiving the Purple Heart and Combat Infantryman’s Badge. Through the years, he also served on the Connecticut State Library Board, the national board of directors of the American Heart Association, and the State Gaming Commission, among others. While working in private law practice, he served as the Democratic Town Committee chairman of Windsor and served as an advisor on statewide political campaigns for Grasso and the gubernatorial campaign of Emilio “Mim” Daddario.
He was instrumental, with others, in 1991 in reinstalling the annual Red Mass for judges and lawyers in the Roman Catholic Diocese of Norwich. In 1995, he led the West Hartford contingent in the annual Hartford Saint Patrick’s Day Parade.
In addition to his wife of 55 years, Mary Frances Callery, Hennessy is survived by his daughter Maura Hennessy Shaw and her husband Steve Shaw of Washington D.C.; a son, Mark Hennessy of West Hartford; son Matthew Hennessy and his wife Barbara of Hartford; and a daughter, Margaret Mary Hennessy Knight, and her husband Tom Knight, of Washington D.C. He is also survived by six grandchildren – John, Grace, Teddy, Fin, Cormac, and Patrick Xavier Hennessy.
Calling hours are from 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Friday at the Molloy Funeral Home on Farmington Avenue in West Hartford. A Mass of Christian Burial is scheduled at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at the Church of St. Timothy at 1116 North Main Street in West Hartford, near the Bloomfield border.