IN MEMORIAM: John Ronald Hesse

by Jane Ahrens

John Ronald Hesse (“Jack”), loving husband, brother, father, and grandfather, passed away on August 7, 2017 at the age of 83. Born on November 16, 1933, Jack grew up in New Haven with his parents John Hesse and Helen Murphy. His father died when Jack was 19 years old. Jack attended Hopkins School in New Haven followed by Mount Hermon in Gill, Massachusetts. He graduated Yale University in 1956, and Harvard Business School in 1959.

Jack was a man of intellect, curiosity, and compassion. An avid reader, he was intrigued by politics, people’s lives, and their life’s accomplishments. He beamed at the sight, indeed any mention, of his children’s and grandchildren’s names. Jack was known for his green thumb, and found tranquility in gardening. He had a fondness for animals, especially dogs, and was a benefactor of the Buddy Dog Humane Society. He loved football, playing squash and tennis, and skating with his men’s hockey league until he was 63. Jack proudly attended, watched on television, or tuned in by radio to every Yale football game and every Yale hockey game from 1949 to 2014.

As an entrepreneur, investment banker, and venture capitalist, Jack founded, financed and led several successful horticultural and biotechnology companies. In 1968, Jack served as President, CEO and Chairman of American Garden Products, the largest wholesale distributor of garden products in the US, which he brought public. In 1981, he founded one of the first biotechnology venture capital firms, providing start-up financing to companies such as Amgen (NASDAQ: AMGN), Biogen (NASDAQ: BIIB), Celgene (NASDAQ: CELG), IDEXX Laboratories (NASDAQ: IDXX), Genzyme (acquired by Sanofi), and Genentech (acquired by Roche).

Jack served on the boards of IDEXX Laboratories, United AgriSeeds (Dow Chemical), Twyford International (British American Tobacco), Hannaford Brothers Company, Chromcraft Revington, and the Yale Development Board. He also served as Trustee and Executive Committee Member of the Massachusetts Horticulture Society and as Member of The Visiting Committee of the Arnold Arboretum of Harvard University. Jack established a bioscience scholarship fund at Yale in 1977, which continues to grant scholarships.

Jack and his wife Catha Prior Hesse met in New York City. They were married 54 years. After New York City, they resided briefly in Princeton, New Jersey, then moved to Weston, Massachusetts to raise their family. They spent many happy Summers on Fishers Island playing tennis, golf, and occasionally sailing Widgeons or Bullseyes in West Harbor. Jack also served as President of The Hay Harbor Club.

Jack is survived by his wife Catha, their son Chris Hesse and his wife Merridith Minerd of Waltham, Massachusetts; their daughter Alicia Hesse-Cleary and her husband Rick Cleary of Concord, Massachusetts; his son John Hesse and his wife Kathleen Chambers of Denver, Colorado; and his sister Patricia Hesse and her partner Karen Mundy of Falls Church, Virginia. His grandchildren are Olivia Prior Cleary, Amelia Mallam Cleary, and Leona Skye Hesse.

A memorial service will be held at 2:00 P.M. on Friday September 22 at Trinity Episcopal Church in Concord, Massachusetts, which will be followed by a reception at 77 Wood Street in Concord.

Featured Photo

USCG Eagle passing the Race early morning March 18, 2023 on her return from the Chesapeake Bay . Photo Credit Marlin Bloethe

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