John A. Kaneb, 86, of Manchester by-the-Sea and formerly of Lynnfield died peacefully on August 29, 2021, with Ginny, his wife of 64 years, at his side and surrounded by his six sons. John was born in Worcester to the late Beton Michael Kaneb (“Mike”) and Rachel (Couillard) Kaneb. John graduated from Melrose High School in 1952 and Harvard College in 1956. Following his marriage to Virginia Pyne (“Ginny”) in June 1957, he was commissioned as a Junior Officer in the US Navy. Upon the sudden death of Mike in 1959, John received a hardship honorable discharge permitting him to succeed his father in managing Northeast Petroleum, a company formed by Mike shortly before his death. John was joined at Northeast Petroleum by his brother Albert in 1961. Together they built Northeast Petroleum into New England’s largest petroleum distribution business before selling it in 1983. John re-entered the oil business with his son Gary in 1986 with their founding of Catamount Petroleum. Subsequently, Catamount became the controlling general partner of Gulf Oil Limited Partnership until 2005 when the family sold its interest in Gulf. During this period, the family also entered retail gas distribution through the acquisition of Gibbs Oil. The family acquired HP Hood in 1995 and grew the iconic New England dairy into America’s largest privately-owned processor with 3,400 employees and 13 plants spread across the United States from Maine to California.
A parishioner of Sacred Heart Church in Manchester by-the-Sea, John was also a leader within the Roman Catholic Church having served as first Chair of Catholic Charities, as Vice Chair of the Archdiocesan Finance Council, as Chair of the Clergy Health Care and Retirement Trust, and as Vice Chair of the Catholic Schools’ Council. John has served in leadership roles for a number of other organizations, as Trustee for Massachusetts General Hospital, Trustee and Board Chair of McLean Hospital, Trustee and Finance Chair of Partners Healthcare, Member of the Board of Fellows at Harvard Medical School, Trustee of University of Notre Dame, Board Chair of St. John’s Preparatory School (from which all six sons graduated), and Director of The Innocence Project. In addition to his work with The Innocence Project, an organization that seeks to exonerate innocent prisoners and prevent wrongful convictions, in 2004, John was also appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as Vice Chairman of the bipartisan National Prison Rape Elimination Commission.
A lifelong baseball fan, John was a limited partner of the Boston Red Sox. Also, an avid football fan, he was a Harvard football game season-ticket holder for all of his adult life. For his first date with Ginny while in college, John took her to a rainy Harvard football game where a roommate later commented, “You are going to marry that girl.” In the 64-year marriage that produced six sons, 18 grandchildren, and three great-grandchildren, this prediction has taken on greater meaning than when it was first expressed on that rainy day.
John affected the lives of many people with his wisdom, his empathy, and his generosity. As all John’s sons say, “Our father was a very good and great man.” His philanthropy and thoughtfulness extended well beyond the institutions he served and led. Quietly, and acting on his own initiative, he reached out to innumerable individuals in need over his lifetime. His acts of kindness ranged from financing educations to seeking out medical procedures for individuals, to filling in as a father figure for children upon the loss of a parent. According to his sons, daughters-in-law and grandchildren, over the years, they have been both astonished and touched by the random stranger who upon hearing the name Kaneb shares a story of gratitude for John’s boundless generosity. John’s own humility and respect for privacy would have prevented him from mentioning such deeds. His sons feel that it is the human stories that make John the man of compassion they so admire.
John is survived by his loving wife, Ginny, six sons, and five daughters-in-law: Stephen and Andrea; Peter; Gary and Diane; Bruce and Deb; Jeff and Karla; and Chris and Lisa. He was grandfather to Michael, Phillip, Jacqui, Kevin, Angel, Julia, Luke, Daniel, Blair, Brian, Kyle, Kristen, Holly, Nicholas, Anna, Ned, Margaret, and John; and great-grandfather to Mariana, Estrella, and Zoe. John is survived by his brother Albert and Albert’s wife Diane; his sister-in-law Dorothy Lucas and her husband Louis; his sister-in-law Beverly Pyne; and many nieces and nephews. John was predeceased by his parents and by his brother-in-law, Robert Pyne. He will be deeply missed by his entire family.
Upon John’s request, the service and interment will be private. However, a celebration of his life will be held on October 9. Details will be forthcoming. In lieu of flowers, the family would like donations to be made to any of the aforementioned causes that John supported during his lifetime.