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New rec center at Boston College named for Swampscott woman

Margot Connell, center, with her children and grandchildren, front row, Billy McNamara, Johnny McNamara, Meghan McNamara, Sarah McNamara; back row, John McNamara, Lisa Connell McNamara, Courtenay Connell, Terry Connell, Tim Connell, Monica Connell Healey, Pam Connell, and Bill Connell.

The soon-to-be-completed recreational facility at Boston College has been named for Margot Connell of Swampscott, whose late husband, William F. Connell, as well as her six children, graduated from the university.

While her husband was one of the school’s biggest benefactors, Mrs. Connell was too.

Mrs. Connell is “one of BC’s most generous benefactors, whose civic and philanthropic endeavors have made her a role model for BC students,” the university said in a statement Thursday.

The school of nursing at BC is named for William Connell, who died in 2001.

BC President William P. Leahy, S.J., called Mrs. Connell a “matriarch of the BC community” Thursday. Her $50 million leadership gift — one of the largest in university history — enabled the recreation center to shift from a longstanding campus need to a gleaming reality that will open on the Lower Campus this summer, he said.

The 244,000-square-foot, four-story facility stands on the former site of Edmond’s Hall on Thomas More Road. Mrs. Connell wanted the building to be named for her family. But that family — Monica Healey, ’88; Lisa McNamara, ’89; Courtenay, ’91; William C. (Bill), ’94; Terence, ’02; Timothy, ’03; and J.D., ’12 — all wanted to have the facility named after their mother.

“That was a tough decision for me,” Mrs. Connell said Friday. “The powers-that-be convinced me that (naming the facility after her) was the right thing to do.

“I knew it was going to have the Connell name on it, but I wasn’t sure I wanted my name on it. But it was important to Boston College, and my kids thought it was the right thing to do.”

Also, “This is the first building at BC to be named for a woman,” Mrs. Connell said. “That was important to them as well.”

Ironically, Margot Connell did not go to BC, instead graduating from Michigan State University.

She grew up in Ossining, N.Y., and chose Michigan State “because back then, I had to pick a college that gave me the most money. And that was Michigan State.”

However, her daughter Monica Healey said, her parents often joked that she didn’t just marry her husband, but the whole university.

“Injecting herself into the Boston College community, ultimately driven by a desire to honor my father’s existing commitment, became a way to help my mother move forward,” said Healey, a trustee for Essex Media Group, which owns The Daily Item. “The beauty (of this) is that it unexpectedly allowed her to create a legacy all her own. Continued cultivation and involvement … ultimately led to the creation of the Margot C. Connell Recreation Center, a testament to a family’s fierce loyalty for all that is BC.”

The center will feature an aquatics center with lap and instructional pools, a gymnasium for basketball, volleyball, badminton, fencing and general recreation; an indoor jogging track, tennis courts, a spin studio, a climbing wall, a mind-body studio and fitness neighborhoods where guests can pursue their own workout routines.

It is twice the size of the 47-year-old Flynn Recreation Center and will provide an additional 60,000 square feet of usable program space.

“It is a beautiful building,” Mrs. Connell said. “All the new buildings at BC are beautiful because they’re just like the old buildings. They have maintained the same architecture. It all fits. It looks like it’s always been there.”

 

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