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W. John Driscoll

, Star Tribune

W. John Driscoll: An icon in industry, arts, education

  • Article by: JAMES WALSH
  • Star Tribune
  • December 29, 2012 - 10:52 PM

He was a proud Korean War veteran, a Marine Corps captain who became a captain of Twin Cities industry, arts and entertainment. An heir to one of Minnesota's most influential families, he became the quiet supporter of multiple causes and enjoyed nothing more than being outdoors and spending time with his loved ones.

And when W. John Driscoll, 83, of Sunfish Lake, died Dec. 22 after battling Parkinson's disease for years, the Twin Cities -- and especially St. Paul -- lost a piece of its cultural, historic and economic bedrock.

It seems there is little of importance to the local community with which Driscoll was not somehow involved. A graduate of St. Paul Academy and Yale University, where he played hockey, Driscoll helped found the Minnesota North Stars of the National Hockey League, serving as the team's first chairman.

A great-grandson of Frederick Weyerhaeuser, a lumber baron and a pillar of Minnesota history, Driscoll would go on to a long business career that included years at the Weyerhaeuser Co. and as CEO of Green Valley Holding Co., a private investment firm. He also served as director of several companies, including Weyerhaeuser, the St. Paul Companies, Northern States Power, Burlington Northern, the First National Bank of St. Paul and Life Time Fitness.

A lover of art, he became chair of the Minneapolis Institute of Arts. He also was a supporter of education, serving as chairman of the Macalester College Board of Trustees. A lover of the outdoors, he became a longtime supporter of the Minnesota Landscape Arboretum. He even helped start Valleyfair.

Yet, for all these positions of leadership, Driscoll was more likely to serve as a modest mentor, guiding rather than directing, his son Bill Driscoll said. That included a tumultuous time at Macalester during the Vietnam War, when protesters raised their voices often.

"If you knew Dad, you would think that he was not the right person to help with that job. He could be pretty brusque," Driscoll said of his Marine Corps officer father. "But he proved pretty adept at that. Despite the stereotype, he helped navigate that and did it in a way that was not confrontational."

Driscoll's wife of 58 years, Lee, said he was generous, giving money to the United Way, the Art Institute, St. Paul Academy, Yale, his church and the schools that his children attended. But his generosity went beyond financial, she said, because he also gave his time.

"He went to the office every day," Lee Driscoll said. "But he didn't tell people what to do."

Over time, his reputation for ethics, fairness and loyalty grew, his son said.

"His word really was his bond," Bill Driscoll said.

In addition to his wife and son Bill, Driscoll is survived by another son, Jack; two daughters, Libby and Peggy, and 11 grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. on Jan. 11 at House of Hope Church in St. Paul.

James Walsh • 612-673-7428

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