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Hon. John T. Downey, 1930 - 2014

Tuesday, November 18, 2014   (0 Comments)
Posted by: Julia Baldini
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The New Haven County Bar Association would like to extend our condolences to the family, friends, and colleagues of NHCBA member Hon. John T. Downey who passed away.


The following obituary was forwarded on behalf of the Office of Chief Court Administrator:  


The Hon. John T. ("Jack") Downey of New Haven, loving husband of Audrey Lee Downey, passed away on Monday, November 17, 2014 at the Connecticut Hospice in Branford, in the company of beloved family.

Jack was born on April 19, 1930 in Wallingford, CT, and lived 40 years in the city of New Haven. Jack was the first son of Wallingford probate judge John E. Downey and Mary V. O'Connell of New Britain. He graduated from Saint Joseph's School in 1943, and the Choate School in 1947. In 1951, Jack graduated from Yale University, having been a member of the university's football, wrestling, and rugby teams. He was also a member of fraternal order Saint Anthony Hall. 

He joined Central Intelligent Agency directly out of college, and after six months of training, was sent to Japan as part of the US's efforts during the Korean War. On November 29, 1952, he was ordered onto an airborne mission over the People's Republic of China, but his plane was ambushed and shot down. He and the only other survivor - CIA officer Richard G. Fecteau - were immediately captured, and eventually sentenced to "life" and twenty years in prison, respectively.

After Richard Nixon reestablished relations with China in 1971, Jack's life sentence was commuted to an abridged term limit. A year and half later, spurred by Jack's ailing mother, Secretary Henry Kissinger negotiated an expedited release, and Jack came home on March 9, 1973 to be reunited with his family after twenty-and-a-half years. 

In 1976, Jack graduated from Harvard Law School, and passed the Connecticut Bar. He practiced private law briefly at a firm in Wallingford, until 1978, when he was appointed Secretary of Business Regulation by Gov. Ella T. Grasso, and, later, Commissioner of the Public Utility Control Department. In 1987, Jack was appointed to a Superior Court judgeship by Gov. William O'Neill. He eventually reached the position of Chief Administrative Judge for Juvenile Matters, before retiring in 1997 - although he continued to work part-time as a trial referee until this past winter. In 2002, the New Haven Courthouse and Detention Center was renamed in his honor.

In 2004, Jack was inducted into the Choate Rosemary Hall Athletic Hall of Fame, and has also served as an associate fellow of Timothy Dwight College at Yale University. In 2013, He received an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Albertus Magnus College, and an honorary plaque from the Henry C. Lee College of the University of New Haven. 

In 1974, Jack and Richard Fecteau received the Exceptional Service Medallion and Distinguished Intelligence Medal from the Central Intelligence Agency, awarded by then-director William E. Colby. They were also awarded the Director's Medal for service by George J. Tenet in 1998, and a National Clandestine Service Medal from the Agency's East Asia Division by Leon Panetta in 2010. On December 9, 2013, Downey and Fecteau received the Distinguished Intelligence Cross - the CIA's highest honor for valor - from the current Director of Central Intelligence, John O. Brennan. 

He is survived by Audrey Lee Downey, his wife of forty years, son Jack Lee Downey, a professor at La Salle University in Philadelphia, and brother William F. Downey, of New York City. He is predeceased by his sister Joan Walsh of Nashua, NH, who is survived by her children, Mary Pacheco, Sheila Walsh, Daniel Walsh, Anne Walsh, and Eileen Walsh. 

Visitation will be held Wednesday, November 19, 2014 from 4 p.m. until 8 p.m. at the Wallingford Funeral Home, 809 N. Main Street Ext., Wallingford. A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated Thursday, November 20, 2014 at 10 a.m. in Most Holy Trinity Church, 84 N. Colony Street in Wallingford. Those attending the mass are asked to meet directly at church. Family and friends are invited to attend the burial service at St. John's Cemetery, on Christian St., in Wallingford. In lieu of flowers, donations may be sent to: The Connecticut Hospice Inc., 100 Double Beach Rd., Branford, CT 06406 or The Dorothy Adler Geriatric Assessment Center, 789 Howard Ave. Bldg. 3, New Haven, CT, 06519. For more information, go to:

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