John Connelly, who served as the third president of the McLean, Virginia, USA-headquartered National Fisheries Institute (NFI) for almost two decades, died on November 20 at the age of 61 after battling bile duct cancer (cholangiocarcinoma) for close to a year. He leaves behind a wife, Margaret, four children, extended family members and hundreds of friends and colleagues in the international seafood fraternity.
The NFI has released the following statement about its revered leader, who drove fundamental change at the trade association with wit, foresight, and honesty:
“His impact and loss is immeasurable. In early 2003 John stood before the NFI Presidential Search Committee, dug back to his history degree from his beloved College of the Holy Cross and made the analogy that the seafood industry was like the German states in the 1860s. Each industry sector fought their own battles, like pre-Bismarck Germany. He suggested a better approach was to unify the seafood industry – and with that the posture of an industry changed forever. From those early days John began to transform NFI into an effective advocacy group that commands
respect across a global industry.
“John was not afraid of hard work with a professional mantra of ‘no job too big, no job too small.’ He was a master communicator who would weave in charming personal antidotes while breaking down complex issues like corporate responsibility, sustainability, free markets and whatever was keeping the consumer awake at night – all in the manner of an affable sweater-wearing professor.
“The catalog of John’s achievements is lengthy, including the creation of the Better Seafood Board; the merger of the National Tuna Federation and subsequent development of the NFI Council system; plus, the annual Global Seafood Market Conference; the conception of the Seafood Nutrition Partnership; and contributing his steady voice on multiple industry Boards. NFI members will long remember his unwavering presence and leadership during the early days of the pandemic. These are just a few of the contributions that will have a lasting impact.
“The NFI staff will remember his indelible impact on our lives. He was a hard-working boss whose naval officer pedigree taught him to lead from the front. He was a warm-hearted father figure who cared deeply about those around him. He was a tough, honest and funny man – with a genuine twinkle in his eye and a story for every occasion. He was someone who wrote postcards to family and friends from his travels around the world. He was a man of deep faith and happiest spending time with his family.
Even before falling ill, Mr. Connelly had announced his retirement for February 2023 and spent 2022 preparing for a smooth transition of leadership. As they say when a US Navy commander departs
his ship for the last time, “We relieve you, Sir.”
In recognition of the retired captain’s love of education, the seafood industry and the College of the Holy Cross, NFI has established “The John Connelly Intern Scholarship” at the College of the Holy Cross in Worcester, Massachusetts, to benefit the Semester in DC Program. John mentored Holy Cross interns for over 10 years at NFI and took great pride in demystifying advocacy as a career. The scholarship will be awarded annually to an NFI advocacy intern and benefit other interns at DC food trade associations.
A Mass of Christian Burial to celebrate the life of Mr. Connelly will be held at 11 AM on November 26 at Saint Luke Catholic Church in McLean, Virginia. NFI will salute its dearly departed president and chief executive officer on January 15 during the Global Seafood Market Conference at La Quinta Resort in Palm Springs, California.