By Jui Shrestha, Class of 2007
James Augustine Healy (1890 – July 22, 1975) was a philanthropist and active proponent of Irish literature. He was one of the first Irish-American success stories. One of four children, Healy was born to John and Catherine Deane Healy in Portland, Maine. Though a minority, the Irish-American immigrant families were growing in number and becoming politically active in this small Yankee port city. John Healy held a coveted job of a purser and steward on steamers running between Portland and New York. James Augustine grew up around this bustling harbor. Young Gus, as the family named him, went to New York at the age of 12 when the family moved there in 1902.
By 1904, he had secured a position as a page boy on the New York Stock Exchange. He made a name as the youngest telephone clerk to be employed on the Exchange floor. He went on to have an illustrious Wall Street career. His experience landed him a position with Shearson, Hammill & Co. as a telephone clerk. The New York Times later reported that Healy handled the sale of 160,000 shares of United States Steel Company in an hour, the largest volume ever sold at the Exchange in such a short time. In 1924, he bought a seat on the Big Board for $82,000 and shortly thereafter was made a partner in Kinkead, Florentino & Co. During WWI when the Exchange was closed, he was the secretary to the Director of the Commission for Relief in Belgium. He became lifelong friends with Texan oil man “Buckskin Joe” Cullinan who provided support to Ireland’s fight for freedom and Herbert Hoover who went on to become a U.S. President.
Although a powerful figure in the finance world, Healy lived a quiet life with his wife Josephine in their New York residence at 350 Central Park West. He also had a summer home on Chebeague Island in Casco Bay. He was dedicated to promoting Irish history and culture. Interest in his father’s homeland prompted him to start collecting books by Irish writers. As his collection grew, he felt it would be more suitably housed in college libraries. Thus, Colby College became the recipient of the James Augustine Healy Collection of 19th and 20th Century Literature, which include the Connolly collection, Cuala Press Publications, a personal collection of Irish Renaissance books, manuscripts, a generous endowment and the establishment of the John and Catherine Healy room. In recognition of his work Colby awarded him an honorary degree as doctor of humane letters. He also received the Eire Society gold medal in 1959. Healy built up a collection of modern Irish history at the Hoover Institution in Stanford University, California. He also added on to the libraries of Boston College, Villanova, Cornell, Kansas University and the library of the American Historical Society, New York. His dedication to Irish literature was such that he sent all the first editions of the twenty-five books by James Brendan Connolly, an American-Irish novelist, to the National Library of Ireland, Dublin. His benevolence was not limited to literature. He always felt a special connection with Maine and considered Portland home. In 1947, he and Josephine contributed $115,000 to Portland’s Mercy Hospital fund drive. Later another donation of half-million dollars was made to the hospital. He had a keen interest in the city and would comment on details regarding the possible expansion of the hospital. His donation of early modern paintings to the Portland Museum of Art marked a turning point in the museum’s history as the board members were staunch upholders of the regional landscape tradition. He valued the Maine coastline and wanted to eventually come live in the bay. However, he passed away in his New York home on 22 July 1975, at the age of 84, following his wife Josephine’s death in January.
The Colby Alumnus. Summer 1955.
Portland Press Herald. March 23, 1959.
Curtayne, Alice. The Critic. August – September 1961. Vol. XX No.1.The New York Times. Thursday, July 24, 1975.
The Colby Alumnus. Fall 1975.
Barry, William David. Portland Monthly Magazine. May 1976.