John Hanna Jr. died peacefully at home on December 25, 2019, after a long illness.
John was born in New York City in 1934, son of John and Irene Hanna. The family split their time between New York and Cape Cod, Ma., where John developed his life-long love of sailing and the ocean. John attended Princeton University, graduating in 1956. He was a passionate alum, and stayed connected with the University throughout his life, including in recent years as a member of the Old Guard. After college, John attended Harvard Law School, graduating in 1959.
In 1958, he married Jane Merchant, from Minneapolis, whom he met while both were living in Cambridge, Ma. Theirs was a wonderful marriage, lasting almost 60 years, until Jane’s death in 2017. The marriage produced 3 children, 9 grandchildren, and many, many happy moments together.
John’s professional career in Law began in public service. He served in Robert Morgenthau’s US District Attorneys office, and later he was Deputy Commissioner and General Counsel for the NY State Department of Environmental Conservation under Governor Nelson Rockefeller. In 1975, he went into private practice, and was a founding partner of the Albany, NY firm of Whiteman, Osterman, and Hanna. The firm grew from its four initial partners, to becoming a pre-eminent firm and the largest in Albany. Mr. Hanna concentrated on the fledgling area of environmental law and helped define this specialty as a distinct discipline. John worked on some of the biggest cases of the time, including Love Canal in Buffalo, and the Hudson River contamination in upstate NY. His law firm was one of his passions, and his partners and co-workers were loyal, lifelong friends. John was active professionally in the NYS Bar Association throughout his career, serving in multiple leadership positions and committees. He also taught environmental law at the John Marshall law school in Chicago.
Personally, much of his life revolved around his beloved Wendover Farm. In 1972, He and Jane purchased an old farmhouse in Old Chatham, NY. They spent the next 40 years renovating Wendover; adding gardens, ponds, and a multitude of pets. The friendships formed on the farm were multi-generational. In the early years, it was their family and friends whom they welcomed to the farm, then Jane and John added their family and friends’ children, who became important friends in their own rights. Mixed into this, were their 9 adored grandchildren and their friends who would descend on Wendover for family holidays and summer visits. Jane and John were never happier than during “Camp Hanna,” having a full house and picnics by the pond.
John was very active in his community. He served on the Chatham Planning Board for more than 35 years. He was Chair of the NYS Archives Trust, and a Trustee on the Olana Partnership. However, perhaps the civic contribution he was most proud was starting the Old Chatham 4th of July Parade. He, and another neighborhood couple, decided to start a parade to celebrate the 4th of July. The first parade in 1980 featured 5 lonely marchers. By the time John had to stop leading the color guard in 2014, the parade had grown to feature marchers, fire engines, tractors, homemade floats filled with children, vintage cars, and streamer adorned bicycles everywhere. Between participants and spectators, more than 1,000 people fill the small hamlet to celebrate.
John was pre-deceased by his wife, Jane, in 2017. He is survived by 3 children: Elizabeth Hanna Morss, her husband Stephen Morss, and their children Alexandra, Abigail, and Caroline; Katharine Hanna Morgan and her children Sarah, Jasper, Lucy, and Anne; and John Merchant Hanna, his wife Kimberly Davis Hanna, and their children John Williams and Genevieve. He was predeceased by his sister Elisabeth Hanna Von Braitenberg, and survived by sisters Margaret Hanna Jones and Cornelia Hanna McMurtrie, both of Falmouth, Ma. A Celebration of Life will be held in the late Spring.