Jack Grinold remembered for lifetime of service to Northeastern


Women’s rowing coach Joe Wilhelm unveils the plaque memorializing Jack Grinold / Photo courtesy Brian Bae

Charlie Wolfson

Members of the Northeastern University community gathered Wednesday to celebrate the life of former sports information director Jack Grinold, who died in April. Grinold, who served Northeastern from 1962 to 2012, was known by many as the “Dean of New England College Athletics.”

The longtime director influenced the lives of countless student athletes, coaches and colleagues, many of whom attended Wednesday’s event, the Jack Grinold Celebration of Life. The ceremony was fittingly held in Matthews Arena, a building where Grinold conducted much of his work.

“The thing about Jack is that he always had a kind word, and he always had time for you,” said Richie Morrill, a football player at NU from 1974 to 1977 who came to Matthews Arena to remember Grinold and the days he spent at Northeastern.

The ceremony included a lineup of speakers who knew Grinold closely, either personally or professionally, as well as the unveiling of a plaque to be displayed in the Henderson Boathouse in Allston, which he worked to make a reality.

Grinold’s major role in the construction of the boathouse, located on the Charles River, reflected his ultimate passion for Northeastern’s rowing team. He attended all of their home races for more than forty years and made sure a reporter from The Boston Globe or The Boston Herald was at each one, NU men’s rowing coach Buzz Congram said.

Congram, along with current men’s rowing coach John Pojednic and women’s rowing coach Joe Wilhelm, presented the plaque, which featured an engraved image of Grinold’s face. The plaque memorializes Grinold and describes his significant support and contribution to the rowing program.

Other speakers were NU President Joseph E. Aoun, Grinold’s brother Richard Grinold, ESPN columnist Jackie MacMullan, former Northeastern men’s basketball coach Jim Calhoun, former Northeastern Athletic Director Barry Gallup and former TD Garden executive Steve Nazro.

A common theme of the day’s speeches was the fact that Grinold’s enthusiasm extended far beyond athletics.

MacMullan first crossed paths with Grinold as a reporter for The Boston Globe, when she was assigned to cover a Northeastern football game.

“He said to me ‘We’ve got to get lunch.’ Little did I know, lunch was at the Ritz Carlton,” MacMullan said. “I thought to myself, ‘Alright, this will be the start of my New England sports education.’ But the topic of conversation at that first lunch was history. And Jack knew history. The next lunch was art.”

Several of the speakers told of Grinold taking them on trips to the Museum of Fine Arts to impart his artistic taste, and to try to correct them if their opinion differed.

“Jack would regale us with stories and impart his wisdom on us,” Master of Ceremonies Rob Rudnick said. “We were blessed with a chance to share Jack’s curiosity.”

Another unifying point among the speakers was Grinold’s transcendence of collegiate lines. He worked at NU, but his presence and positive influence was felt all over New England’s collegiate athletic scene.

“I always loved going to the [New England] coaches’ luncheons with Jack because we talked about everything but sports,” Gallup said. “It was amazing how he made everyone in the room feel welcome, especially those that were new or he didn’t know very closely.”

Of all the things that were shared among the speakers’ sentiments, Grinold’s love for Northeastern was the most overwhelming. From his significant contributions to the rowing program to the countless student-athletes he encouraged, Grinold’s work was fueled by a passion for the university.

“No man has ever loved the place that he worked so much,” Calhoun said.

Richard Grinold shed some light on Jack Grinold’s formative years, before he arrived at NU. He told of a trying childhood which saw Jack Grinold contract Polio and lose the use of his right arm. Richard Grinold also told of his brother’s drive to overcome his disease, which he eventually did.

“He did not let his affliction define him,” he said. “His success in dealing with it defined him.”

Boston University sports information director Brian Kelley attended the ceremony to honor a legend of his field, and someone who he felt fortunate to work alongside.

“I can’t imagine anyone else having the impact he had,” he said. “You could tell his reach was wide and far — everybody seemed to know him. Hearing all the stories that have been told of him today, I feel honored to have known him.”

Members of the NU rowing team also attended to honor the man who made so much of what their program has accomplished possible. One member of the men’s team, sophomore engineering major Brendan McCarthy, talked about the special feeling he gets when he rows in the shell named after Grinold, “The Jack.”

“We just fly,” McCarthy said. “Something special is happening when we’re in ‘The Jack.’ My first day on the team, I was a walk-on and I saw that I was rowing in ‘The Jack.’ This was an emotional thing for me today because I learned about Jack’s affinity for walk-ons.”

Through the eyes of this rower, the Grinold’s impact will be felt for a long time.

“His name is always up there [in the Boathouse],” McCarthy said. “His impact was always apparent. And it always will be.”