Nell Hennessy died February 4, 2011 after a brave battle with cancer. Her passing was announced earlier today by Phyllis C. Borzi, Assistant Secretary of Labor Employee Benefits Security Administration.
Ms. Hennessy, Chief Executive Officer of Fiduciary Counselors Inc., was widely respected in the employee benefit community for both her professional leadership in the development of employee benefit law and her generous mentorship and friendship to employee benefits practitioners throughout her career.
Ms. Hennessy began her legal career as an attorney in two of the three federal agencies that regulate employee benefits, first in the Office of the Chief Counsel at the Internal Revenue Service (1978-80) and then at the PBGC (1980-81). She later served as Deputy Executive Director and Chief Negotiator of the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corporation (PBGC), the federal agency that guarantees private defined benefit pensions. She represented PBGC in negotiations with major corporate pension plan sponsors and unions in a wide range of industries, including auto, steel, chemical, textile and airlines. Working closely with the Department of Labor, she negotiated an agreement with General Motors that permitted GM to contribute employer stock to its hourly plan – the largest such transaction in U.S. history — forming the basis for a ground-breaking prohibited transaction exemption that allowed GM to subsequently spin off its EDS subsidiary. She negotiated the restructuring of TWA’s debt to PBGC and Carl Ichan, which allowed TWA to successfully reorganize. The Early Warning Program she headed at PBGC was awarded one of the first federal Innovations in American Government Awards by the Ford Foundation and the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
In addition to her professional service, Ms. Hennessy also generously mentored others in the profession. Ms. Hennessy chaired the ABA Joint Committee on Employee Benefits and the Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Committee in the ABA Section of Business Law. She was a member of the ABA Standing Committee on Technology and Information Systems and was a member of the ABA Presidential Task Force on Corporate Responsibility, which produced the “Cheek Report” cited favorably by the SEC in regulations regulating the conduct of lawyers under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act.
Since 1985 Ms. Hennessy has been an adjunct professor at Georgetown University Law Center, where she helped develop the graduate certificate program in employee benefits. She was a founding Board member of the American College of Employee Benefits Counsel and she a founding member and past President of the Worldwide Employee Benefits Network (WEB). Ms. Hennessy is also a member of the National Bankruptcy Conference, a non-partisan, organization of approximately 60 lawyers, law professors and bankruptcy judges who advise Congress on bankruptcy law.
Ms. Hennessy received her B.A. from James Madison College at Michigan State University in 1971, her J.D. from the Catholic University of America in 1978 and her L.L.M. in Taxation from Georgetown University Law Center in 1984. Her publications include ERISA—Fiduciary Responsibility and Prohibited Transactions (BNA Tax Management Portfolio No. 365) and the HR and Benefits Guide to Mergers and Acquisitions (Thompson Publishing 2001).
A memorial service for Ms. Hennessy is planned for Saturday, February 26th at 11 a,m.at St. Joseph’s Church on Capitol Hill, 313 2nd St NE, Washington DC 20002, followed by a reception at the Irish Channel at 500 H St. NW, Washington DC 20001.
According to Ms. Borzi, persons wishing to memorialize Ms. Hennessy are encouraged to contribute to the Nell Hennessy Employee Benefits Scholar Award at the Catholic University of America, Office of Development and Alumni Relations, 3600 John McCormack Rd., NE, suite 339, Washington, DC 20064.
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