Related: Living, Social Issues, Trinity Alumnae

Trinity Heroes: Phil and Mary Shannon ’60


“The legacy of heroes is the …inheritance of a great example.”  (Disraeli)

Generosity of spirit and action, zest for life and unquenchable instinct for charity and justice — such are the qualities of a heroic ‘great example’ for all of us to emulate.  Phil and Mary McMahon Shannon ’60 set a high standard for these virtues, embracing the ideal of sharing wealth and talent for others to enjoy their many gifts.  They created the Shannon Challenge to encourage Trinity alumnae to support our alma mater robustly, making their own gift of $350,000 contingent upon receiving gifts of an equal amount from alumnae in the Classes of 1960 through 1964.  This was a tremendous challenge, a great effort — and our alumnae rose to the occasion, fulfilling the terms of the challenge with cash and pledges.

When I heard the shocking news that Phil died suddenly on December 30, I could hardly believe it.  Here was a man whose lived life to the fullest, whose vibrant enjoyment of family and friends, great causes and the earth itself was truly charismatic.  Phil and Mary had been generous Trinity supporters all along, and wonderful friends to many classmates.   I recalled the time that Phil and Mary invited me to join them and some of her friends from the Class of 1960 on their boat.  I wasn’t sure what to expect when I arrived at the dock along the Potomac, but I found a handsome craft full of amazing people who spent the evening talking politics, social issues, families, friends, trips and the great causes of their lives.   I learned that Phil was an avid sailor, and he and Mary had seen a large part of the world from the deck of the Aisley.

A 1960 graduate of Seton Hall University, where he served on the board and created generous scholarship and lecture programs, Phil Shannon was a successful business entrepreneur, working in and eventually leading emerging software companies in the early days of the technology boom.   He eventually retired from business practice but was hardly “retired” in any other sense, devoting his time, talent and resources to the cause of education and environmental sustainability, serving on the advisory council of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida, and taking up the particular cause of preserving the Florida Keys through founding an advocacy organization “Citizens Not Serfs.”

Characteristically, when Phil and Mary decided to make a very significant gift to Trinity in the form of a challenge grant, they did so with humility and a lack of fanfare, but with a serious intent to leverage greater support for Trinity from classes coming upon their 50th reunions this year and in the next few years.  In the same spirit that our last major challenge donors approached Trinity’s need for philanthropic leadership — Ross and Eleanor Millhiser ’41 helped us to launch the Centennial Campaign with their $1 million challenge in 1999, leading to the creation of the Trinity Center  — the Shannons clearly recognized that Trinity needs great examples of generous benefactors to encourage others to do the same.   Moreover, like the Millhisers, the Shannons recognized that Trinity’s remarkable story needs affirmation from within the Trinity family — it’s one thing for me to say we are worthy of support, which is what a president does, but it’s quite another when members of the family voluntarily step forward to announce their support for Trinity in a very major way.  People notice, and want to do the same!

Our success in meeting the Shannon Challenge is a great tribute to the memory of Phil Shannon and wonderful statement of support for Mary Shannon at this difficult time for her and her family.  This success is also a great credit to the leadership of many alumnae in the Classes of 1960, 1961, 1962, 1963 and 1964 who stepped forward with their own remarkable gifts, and who encouraged classmates to participate as well.  You did it!  In meeting this challenge, you affirmed the generosity of the Shannons while also making your own vital statements about the worth and necessity of Trinity’s mission today.

Trinity students are the real beneficiaries of the vision of Phil and Mary Shannon and the generosity of our alumnae.  On behalf of the students whose opportunities in education are stronger today because of the success of the Shannon Challenge, my thanks are immense.

Let’s remember and give thanks for knowing Phil Shannon as a remarkable example of generous and wise investment in the lives of others.  Our gratitude to Mary and Phil is immense.  Our thoughts and prayers are with Mary, her children (David, Liam, Eamon and Brettany) and their families, and Mary’s sisters who are also Trinity alumnae, Kathleen McMahon Dooley ’61 and Nora McMahon Glover ’64.  May the power, wisdom and love of the Trinity be with them.

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Patricia A. McGuire, President, Trinity, 125 Michigan Ave. NE, Washington, DC 20017
Phone: 202.884.9050   Email: