Bill Connolly Jr. ’69: A passion for rugby

by Virginia Weir

Bill Connolly ’69 developed his passion for rugby as a freshman at Fairfield alongside classmates Tom Crowley, Mark Feeley, and Steve Carre. They were inspired to play by the late John Swanhaus ’67, Bart Franey ’67, Gary Kirwin and his brother, the late Jay Kirwin ’67.

“These guys were big-hearted and tough” said Connolly. “They taught us not only to play but to be committed to the game.”

In Connolly’s senior year, 1968-69, Fairfield rugby was especially successful playing against the very best college and club teams on the East Coast, including Georgetown, Holy Cross, Villanova, Fordham, Manhattan, and others. “There was terrific chemistry on our team. We were fit and committed to playing good rugby. We did not have a lot of star players, but we played together.”

Perhaps the most satisfying win that season came against Old Blue, a team of principally Columbia University graduates, rated the third best rugby club in the country at the time.

“All of us were pumped up for that game,” Connolly recalled. “It was Homecoming Weekend; the guys had their girlfriends there; we had a terrific crowd cheering us on, and we won the game in grand style.”

Besides athletic success, Connolly and his friends organized and planned the dedication of Grauert Field, along North Benson Road. Chris Grauert ’68, who was president of the Rugby Club at the time, and the Grauert family wanted a way to commemorate Chris’ brother, Lt. Hans Grauert, a Navy pilot who was killed in action during the Vietnam war. At the time, Grauert Field was one of the very few dedicated college rugby facilities in the country.

After graduation, Connolly remained involved in the sport for two decades, playing for a club team in the New York Metropolitan Union, coaching, and eventually becoming an assistant coach for the United States national team, the Eagles. “Many of the friends I made in rugby, both at Fairfield and after, remain close friends today, even though I’m out of the game for more than 25 years. For all of us, it was about playing a game that was fun and different. Most of us started from scratch as rugby players, which helped build the camaraderie that we share today.”

When he wasn’t playing rugby at Fairfield, Connolly was majoring in English. Connolly named the Reverends William Carr, Thomas McGrath, and Oliver Nickerson among favorite professors who both inspired and supported him. “Being involved on campus taught us about living in and being responsible to a community, about personal relationships and, of course, about the value of friendships.”

After graduation, Connolly joined the Army National Guard at Ft. Sill, Okla., and then returned to his home town of Montclair, N.J., to join the family in the insurance business with his father, William H. Connolly. He has been there ever since.

“The work itself is never boring and, particularly after events like Superstorm Sandy, we know that we are helping people and solving problems,” Connolly said. He has headed up the company, which employs more than 50 people, for more than 25 years. Although the firm handles personal insurance, the majority of its business is commercial and institutional, with a specialty in healthcare. “We got into the healthcare business insuring hospitals, physicians, nursing homes and the like the way many of us stumble into business opportunities serendipitously,” Connolly noted.

Today the Connolly Company has a large healthcare business in all lines of insurance, particularly medical malpractice, workers’ compensation, directors and officers liability, and property insurance.

Connolly has been married to his wife Melinda for 35 years. They have three grown children Jim, who works with Connolly at William H. Connolly & Co., and Kristen and Will, both of whom are successful actors. “By marrying Melinda,” Connolly said, “I made my classmate, roommate and rugby buddy Tom Crowley my brother-in-law! (Crowley is married to Melinda’s sister, Diane) Some friendships are destined to last forever.”

Over the years, Connolly has stayed involved with the University serving as Chairman of the President’s Circle and as a Trustee for six years. “Serving with people like Les Quick (P’77, 79, 82), Bill Egan (’67, P’99), Joe Berardino (’72) and John Swanhaus (’67) was an incredible honor,” he noted. “It was an opportunity to learn a great deal about the business of running an institution, and a chance to fully appreciate just how much work and commitment goes into making Fairfield the great place that it is.”

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