Francis X. Hennessy, a judge who rose to the state's second-highest court and a political adviser to Democrat Ella Grasso in her campaign for governor, died Tuesday at the age of 82.
During a 36-year career in the state courts, Hennessy was a juvenile judge, a trial judge and deputy chief court administrator — a demanding position overseeing the work of Superior Court judges and the judicial system. He served as the No. 2 judge under longtime court administrator Aaron Ment, a well-known jurist at the state Capitol.
Nominated to the state Appellate Court in September 1994 by Gov. Lowell P. Weicker, Hennessy served until his retirement in 2000. Afterward, he continued hearing cases part time as an appellate trial referee.
Those who knew Hennessy described an oldtime, 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 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.''
Hennessy was a graduate of Fordham University and the University of Connecticut law school. While working in private law practice, he was the Democratic Town Committee chairman in Windsor and served as an adviser on the statewide political campaign for Grasso, who became governor in 1975 and served through 1980, and the unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign of Emilio "Mim" Daddario.
Hennessy started his judicial service when he was appointed as a judge for the Juvenile Court in 1976 by 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 justice could not serve.
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. He was appointed to the 11-member task force on gender issues 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.
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 St. Patrick's Day Parade.
In addition to his wife of 55 years, Mary Frances, Hennessy leaves two daughters, Maura Hennessy Shaw and her husband, Steve Shaw, of Washington D.C., and Margaret Mary Hennessy Knight and her husband, Tom Knight, of Washington D.C ; and two sons, Mark Hennessy of West Hartford and Matthew Hennessy and his wife, Barbara, of Hartford.