By Sarah Siock
Michael J. Hennessy ’82, a Rider alumnus and former trustee known for his generosity and passion for politics, passed away on Nov. 21 at the age of 61.
Hennessy was a member of the university’s Board of Trustees for nine years, completing his third three-year term in 2017. Those who knew Hennessy described him as a passionate individual with strong beliefs.
“Mike was a very active and very passionate board member. He’s the kind of guy that wasn’t back in the shadows. He was very much an outgoing personality, a larger-than-life individual. I found it really refreshing as a new president and getting to know Rider University because he was somebody with who I was able to connect with right away,” said Rider President Gregory Dell’Omo.
Hennessy graduated from Rider with a bachelor’s degree in political science. He went on to be the founder and chairman of the largest privately held, independent, full-service medical media company in North America, MJH Life Sciences.
Hennessy was heavily involved at Rider after receiving his degree, most recently seen through his $4 million donation in 2020 to fund the expansion of the Science and Technology Center, the largest gift Rider has ever received for the sciences. Hennessy provided the gift in dedication to his late wife Patrice “Patti” Shelmet Hennessy ’82. The building will be renamed the Mike and Patti Hennessy Science and Technology Center once the project is complete in 2022.
“He had the resources available through his success and he wanted to give back as much as possible to Rider and to our students,” said Dell’Omo.
Hennessy also supported the Rider Arena Project and provided gifts to the university’s Annual Fund. Hennessy’s love for politics was seen through the Hennessy Fund he established for the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics. He also created The Hennessy Family Lecture Series, which hosted several prominent conservative speakers on Rider’s campus over the years, including former Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives Newt Gingrich in 2017.
Political science professor and Director of the Rebovich Institute for New Jersey Politics Micah Rasmussen said, “His [Hennessy] events were large, it wasn’t unusual to have 400 people that would come out to a Hennessy Lecture. … He was very specific about what he expected from a good event. … He had a very definite idea about what was going to meet his standard of quality and what wasn’t and that was going to result in a better event, a better educational experience and a better learning experience for students and for members of the community.”
In recognition of Hennessy’s long-standing interest in the success of Rider, the university awarded him with the Gordon E. Prichard Award for Volunteer Service in 2017.
“He challenged us to represent every part of the political spectrum. It was important to him that all viewpoints in the spectrum got aired. I think that was ultimately a very positive influence for us,” said Rasmussen.
Hennessy is survived by his children Shannon Hennessy Pulaski, Ashley Hennessy Talamo ’08, Michael Hennessy Jr. and Christopher Hennessy ’11 and many grandchildren.