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Epilogue | Thomas Joseph Hennessy

Builder Thomas Hennessy, who helped change face of St. Petersburg, dies at 83

Thomas Hennessy walks on flooded Al Lang Field, site of the Festival of States band contest. He was one of its organizers.

Times files (1996)

Thomas Hennessy walks on flooded Al Lang Field, site of the Festival of States band contest. He was one of its organizers.

ST. PETERSBURG — His family-owned construction business built many of the structures that have made this city what it is.

Since 1920, A.P. Hennessy and Sons has built or added to several Catholic churches, the Museum of Fine Arts, and completed major additions to Webb's City and two hospitals.

For 35 years, Thomas Hennessy and his brother ran the business their father started using an old-fashioned business model.

"We were just, to me, the right size," Mr. Hennessy said in 2010 at the 90th anniversary of the company's founding. "We know our people."

Although the company has been sold twice since 1983, both buyers have kept the Hennessy name.

Mr. Hennessy, who played key roles in building several local landmarks, died Sunday at home. He was 83 and had congestive heart failure.

The family story starts with AEneas Hennessy, an immigrant from County Limerick, Ireland, who founded A.P. Hennessy Construction in 1920. Erecting St. Joseph Catholic Church in 1926 and St. Mary Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church in 1928, with its Byzantine style, brick exterior and octagonal roof, helped put the builder on the map.

Thomas Hennessy was born in St. Petersburg, delivered by a midwife who turned out to be the grandmother of his future wife. As a boy, he seemed to believe marriage to Barbara was predestined, his family said. When she went to the prom with someone else, he was so disconsolate he went to her house and waited for her to come home.

"Now we call that stalking, but I guess it was different then," said granddaughter Bridget Hennessy.

He attended St. Paul's School and served in the National Guard. He left Stetson University when his father became ill. The company changed its name in 1948 to A.P. Hennessy and Sons when Mr. Hennessy and his brother, Lawrence "Kell" Hennessy, joined it; the brothers took over upon the death of AEneas Hennessy in 1951.

The younger Hennessys led the company through dozens of projects that changed the face of the city, including the south wing of St. Anthony's Hospital in 1949. In the 1950s and 1960s, they built a residential school for nurses at Mound Park Hospital (now Bayfront Medical Center), did further construction on the interior of St. Mary's; the YWCA; a Webb's City supermarket and warehouse; First Federal Savings; the Museum of Fine Arts; and numerous substations for Florida Power Corp.

Mr. Hennessy also built at least one residential structure — his waterfront home in southeast St. Petersburg. With floor-to-ceiling windows reflecting the light off Tampa Bay, "it was kind of like going into the kitchen and having a different picture in the window every day," said Barbara Hennessy, his wife.

In 1999, Mr. Hennessy flew his extended family to Winona, Minn., surprising his wife on their 50th wedding anniversary.

"I had absolutely no idea," she said. "It was his claim to fame — that I'm so nosy and I couldn't possibly have discovered it."

Over the years he has served as president of numerous civic groups, including the Suncoasters, Squires, and the Associated General Contractors; and sat on the boards of numerous organizations. He also worked for the Diocese of St. Petersburg.

He and Kell, his brother, have both been named an annual Mr. Sun by the Suncoasters. They also shared a 40-foot yacht, Ishpa ("A. Patrick Hennessy and Sons, Inc.," backwards), which Mr. Hennessy took to Canada.

A favorite expression reflected his sunny disposition: "Don't be such a stick-in-the-mud."

The company was sold to Hall Contracting Corp. in 1983, and sold again to Bronson Alexander in 1999. Hennessy Construction Services, as the company is now known, has also completed numerous high-profile projects over the last decade including the Jim and Heather Gills YMCA; a renovation and addition to the Mahaffey Theater; the Hazel Hough wing of the Museum of Fine Arts; and a recently completed $30 million emergency responder building in Clearwater for Pinellas County Public Works.

Mr. Hennessy continued to keep in touch with former employees.

"I worked for (the company) for 44 years," said Clinton "Peanut" Allen, a laborer and heavy equipment operator Mr. Hennessy hired in 1963. "He was very, very nice to me."

A few years ago, in fact, Mr. Hennessy showed up at Allen's retirement party.

Times researcher Natalie Watson contributed to this report. Andrew Meacham can be reached at ameacham@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2248.

. biography

Thomas Joseph Hennessy

Born: April 23, 1928

Died: Nov. 27, 2011

Survivors: wife, Barbara; sons, Thomas and A. Patrick Hennessy; daughter Anna Colleen "Missy" Hennessy-Hennessy; sister Margaret Hennessy "Muggy" Allison; seven grandchildren.

Builder Thomas Hennessy, who helped change face of St. Petersburg, dies at 83 12/02/11 [Last modified: Friday, December 2, 2011 11:19pm]
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