Joseph R. McCormick, a 1934 graduate whose decades-long devotion to UConn brought him from the gridiron to the trustees’ table, has died at 101 years old.
McCormick, UConn’s oldest known football alum and a highly decorated combat veteran, died Feb. 13 after a short illness. His life was celebrated in a memorial Mass at a West Hartford church on Monday.
“Joseph McCormick was among UConn’s oldest living graduates – if not the oldest – but more importantly, he was truly among the greatest,” says UConn Board of Trustees Chairman Larry McHugh.
“On behalf of the University’s Board of Trustees, we are so proud of the life he led as one of our graduates and one of our fellow trustees,” McHugh adds. “His service to UConn, the state of Connecticut, and the nation fills each of us with the deepest sense of admiration for him and all he achieved over the incredible arc of his life. In all that time, he never forgot the University of Connecticut, and we will never forget him.”
McCormick was a three-sport letterman and graduate of Bloomfield High School when he enrolled at what was then Connecticut Agricultural College in 1930.
McCormick held records in several sprinting events as a member of the track team at the college, which changed its name to Connecticut State College during his junior year, and played offensive halfback and defensive end on the football team. He was also an avid golfer and was described by his family as a true renaissance man, with a broad range of interests and abilities. He earned his degree in economics.
He was active in many community organizations throughout his life and was highly successful in business, joining the Hartford Electric Light Co. (now Connecticut Light & Power) in 1934 and working his way up to retire from the position of president and CEO.
McCormick remained a loyal Husky throughout his life, sharing his knowledge as a member and vice president of the Board of Trustees, and was president of the UConn Alumni Association in 1954-55.
“The world is so different now than it was when a young Joseph McCormick was a student at UConn, running track and playing football in Storrs in the early 1930s,” says UConn President Susan Herbst. “This year will be the 80th anniversary of his graduation from the University, yet the young men and women who are our students today are not so different from the undergraduates of his day; they also have great dreams and aspirations for themselves and the world. Joseph and the life he lived serve as an extraordinary inspiration.”
Throughout the decades, McCormick was a regular fixture at UConn football and basketball games, and several who knew him say he took as much joy in the young athletes’ accomplishments as if they were his own.
McCormick’s devotion to UConn was reciprocated; in 2003, when he was honored by the University during a football game, the fans’ shouts of “Go Joe, Go Joe” reverberated throughout Rentschler Field.
According to an interview he gave The Hartford Courant in 2012, the fact that he played football at all was a fluke.
“When I went out to Storrs, I had never been to a football game,” McCormick told the paper. “We had soccer here in Bloomfield. I was captain of the soccer team and basketball team, but I had never seen a football game and knew absolutely nothing about football, but I wanted to play football.
“So I went out for football. I can remember very vividly, a chap comes alongside of me and says, ‘Where’d you play football?’ He was from Massachusetts. I said, ‘I never played football.’
“’Oh my God!’ he says, ‘Don’t ever tell anybody; don’t ever tell anybody you didn’t play football.’ I still remember it, ‘Don’t tell anybody,’ and I never did.”
His speed won him a spot on the team, he told the Courant, and although he didn’t know what that entailed, he very quickly found out.
“We had a game and I started,” McCormick said. “We didn’t have much time for the first game, either, but somebody threw a pass and I caught it. Then what did I do? I stood there. I just stood there. Obviously, I got sat down pretty quickly after that, but that was my introduction to football.”
He continued playing until he broke his leg during the Huskies’ victory over Cooper Union in the first game of his senior year. In addition to sports, he also participated in ROTC at the University, which later was reflected in the service he gave on his country’s behalf.
According to his obituary, he began active duty in the U.S. Army in 1941 and, during World War II, he commanded amphibious training for 170,000 troops in the Pacific Theater of Operations, participated in the invasion of the Philippines, and served as a member of Gen. Douglas MacArthur’s staff. He was called back to active duty during the Korean Conflict between 1950 and 1952, and retired from the active reserve as a Brigadier General in 1967, having earned three Battle Stars and a Bronze Star with Oak Leaf Cluster.
“He exemplified what it means to strive, achieve, succeed – and give back,” Herbst says. “What was so remarkable about his life was not simply his longevity, it is what he chose to do with the time he had. UConn will always wear the fact he was our student, our graduate, our trustee, and our lifelong friend as a great badge of honor.”