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The Dartmouth
April 18, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Ahead of Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation-sponsored CHaD HERO fundraiser, feature on their generosity to Upper Valley

Several buildings on campus are named after the Byrnes, while the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation funds several organizations in the Upper Valley.

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The 18th annual CHaD HERO fundraiser on Oct 15., sponsored by the Jack and Dorothy Byrne Foundation, spotlights the foundation’s generosity to the Upper Valley and Dartmouth community. The foundation is named for Jack Byrne, who passed away in 2013, and his wife Dorothy Byrne, who still lives in the Upper Valley. The fundraiser, which began in 2006, includes a half marathon and a 5K run and walk and benefits the Children’s Hospital at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, according to the event website. 

10 years after the death of her husband, Dorothy Byrne remains a dedicated philanthropist and leader of the foundation, which was founded in 1999. She makes private donations to the Upper Valley, including the Dartmouth community. Between 2003 and 2017, the foundation donated $72 million to several hundred organizations across the Upper Valley, according to the Valley News. Government professor Russell Muirhead added that the Byrne Foundation partners with civic and volunteer groups, helping them raise money by offering a matching grant. When anyone gets together and does something in the community, the Byrne Foundation is always there ready to help, he said. 

“The Byrne Foundation does not seem to be about claiming credit or bringing attention to itself,” Muirhead said. “[Yet] it supports almost every volunteer endeavor, charitable endeavor and public service endeavor that goes on in the Upper Valley.”

Organizations supported by the Byrne Foundation include Upper Valley Habitat for Humanity, Vermont Public Radio, Public Health Council of the Upper Valley, the New Hampshire Music Festival and the Red Cross in the northern New England region, according to their websites. Additionally, they support local community organizations such as a nursery school in Hanover, a coworking and a community theater in Bradford, a makerspace and an arts center in Claremont, a food shelf in Springfield and Northern Stage theater in White River Junction, according to the websites of these groups. 

“It is hard to imagine Dartmouth, Hanover [or] Lebanon functioning without Dorothy’s generosity,” senior lecturer in economics John Welborn said. “Ask anyone who runs any institution of size in the Upper Valley how they survive, and you will hear Dorothy’s name.”

The Upper Valley Haven, a beneficiary of the foundation, is an integral part of the local community, providing food, shelter and help to families and individuals in need, and named its new family shelter and program space Byrne House in 2004. 

In 2022, Dorothy Bryne donated $25 million to Dartmouth and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health to create the Byrne Family Cancer Research Institute –– the largest joint gift ever given to Dartmouth and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health — according to Candid Philanthropy News.

Additionally, the Jack Byrne Center for Palliative and Hospice Care broke ground in 2016 at Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center, and now serves as an advanced clinical facility serving people from across the northern New England region. 

The Byrne name is very prominent on campus, including the Byrne II dorm, Byrne Hall at the Tuck School of Business, the Byrne room in Kemeny Hall and the Jack Byrne Scholars Program, which provides scholarship funds to students studying mathematics.

“[The foundation has] very quietly helped fundamentally improve public services and public things in the Upper Valley in the last decade,” Muirhead said. “I think they have made a transformative difference in the region.”

Dorothy Byrne directs the foundation in a manner  “very consistent” with she and her former husband’s benevolent character, according to Muirhead. 

John “Jack” Byrne was an investor and former CEO of GEICO, Welborn said. 

“Jack was an expert on how the insurance industry works, and I speak about him often when I teach [economics],” Welborn said. “Jack was a wonderful person with a tremendous sense of humor and love for Dartmouth.”

“He was a real genius, and a truly extraordinary business person,” Muirhead added. “I think by all accounts an extraordinarily gentle and generous person, not just brilliant.”

The Byrnes have three children — John Byrne ’81, Patrick Byrne ’85 and Mark Byrne ’85. Of the three children, Patrick Byrne has the largest public profile. He started and ran Overstock.com, an online home goods retailer, for over two decades before stepping down in 2019, according to the Associated Press. He has since been vocal in promoting the theory that the 2020 election was fraudulent, and in December 2020 went to the Oval Office to talk about ways the President could contest the election result, according to the Salt Lake Tribune.

While Patrick Byrne is “complicated and controversial,” Welborn said he has only ever known him to be “honorable, generous and brilliant.”

Despite Patrick Bryne’s controversy, the overwhelming feeling was one of appreciation for Jack and Dorothy Byrne’s support of the Upper Valley and the Dartmouth community. 

“It is an extraordinarily lucky thing to have a charitable foundation that is oriented toward local things and that wants to help people come together to address concrete problems in a participatory way,” Muirhead said. “I can’t say how fortunate we are to have a foundation like that in our midst. They are very modest about it, but there is nothing quiet about the benefit that they’ve had in the region.”