John J. Donnelly, 76, of Gladwyne, the former owner of the L.F. Driscoll Co., and a Philadelphia area philanthropist, died Wednesday, June 10, of cancer at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania.
Born in Philadelphia, he was the youngest child of Michael and Della Coyne Donnelly, both Irish immigrants.
“A man who came from nothing and sought everything, he was intelligent, quiet, private, and peaceful,” his family said in a statement.
Mr. Donnelly was a devout Catholic and member of St. John Vianney Church in Gladwyne. His faith informed both his public and private actions. When he prospered in the construction industry, he used his success to support institutions and charitable causes throughout the Philadelphia area.
“He was a man who rose to the top and never stopped giving back,” his family said.
For 30 years ending in 2009, he led Bala Cynwyd-based L.F. Driscoll. The firm built some of Philadelphia’s best-known projects, including the 2004 Citizens Bank Park baseball stadium and the 2017 Comcast Center.
Before being sold in 2009 to Structure Tone in New York, Driscoll derived much of its revenue from the education and health-care construction markets. Driscoll did extensive work at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia and the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, according to the Engineering News Record, an industry publication.
While in the early days Driscoll built projects primarily in Philadelphia, the firm later took on work from Connecticut to Washington, the Engineering News wrote in 2009. At the time of the sale, Mr. Donnelly said geographic growth was a goal of his management team and that a merger with Structure Tone would help reach that goal.
Mr. Donnelly, who was called “Jack,” started his career at Irwin & Leighton Construction in Philadelphia and joined Driscoll in 1979. He implemented the construction-management approach to building as opposed to having his company perform all the work on any project. In 1994, he became the firm’s majority owner.
“Jack was an amazing and respected leader and developed longstanding and trusted relationships with his clients,” his family said. “He was a significant instrument in changing the skyline in Philadelphia.”
Mr. Donnelly had a term for his ongoing philanthropic efforts called “pounding the pavement,” and he challenged others to do the same.
“Pound the pavement, not in protest, but with your talents and gifts that you are blessed with,” he liked to say, according to family. “Give back to those who have not, be an example, a mentor.
“With that comes a feeling of pride and satisfaction and knowing at the end of your life, you regret nothing.”
Mark Schutta, Mr. Donnelly’s physician, once accompanied him on a visit to St. Martin de Porres School in the Swampoodle neighborhood of Philadelphia.
“He supported efforts to prevent childhood diabetes and obesity, and when our team spent a morning at St. Martin de Porres School educating the students, Jack was there,” Schutta posted in an online message. “This is one of many examples of his actions pounding the pavement.”
In 2018, Pope Francis honored him with the Medal of Honor for his work on the board of directors of the Independence Mission Schools in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
“The Independence Mission Schools effort has been more than innovative, it’s been vital to keeping Catholic education alive in Philadelphia’s economically challenged communities,” former Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput told Legatus magazine in 2013. Chaput praised Mr. Donnelly for his generosity and leadership.
Mr. Donnelly served on the mission’s board entrusted with managing 15 elementary schools enrolling about 5,000 students.
A passionate advocate of fighting cancer, he received the 2016 Humanitarian Award from the American Association for Cancer Research.
Mr. Donnelly graduated from Drexel University with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering. In 2005, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
He is survived by his wife of 55 years, Kathryn A. Donnelly; children John J. Jr., Victoria McCue, Michael, and Mary Marchese; 11 grandchildren; and two sisters.
Services were June 15, with interment in Calvary Cemetery, West Conshohocken.