“There is so much that I could say about John and his legacy at Fordham. He gave of his time and energies as a member of the Board of Trustees from 2000 to 2012, including eight years as chairman, guiding us through a pivotal period of institutional striving and growth,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham.
“He was a constant presence in the life of the University—taking part in our events, supporting our students, and sharing advice from his distinguished career in the securities industry. He was warm and kind, always. His presence added joy to our events and our endeavors.”
During his tenure as board chair from 2004 to 2012, Tognino helped usher Fordham into a new era of preeminence, advocating for an increase in international academic programs and partnerships while anchoring the University’s transformative $500 million capital campaign, Excelsior | Ever Upward | The Campaign for Fordham.
The campaign, which kicked off in 2009 and concluded in 2014, was the University’s most ambitious and daring fundraising campaign in its history at the time, raising $540 million. That success enabled Fordham to increase endowed chairs and scholarships, expand academic and programmatic initiatives, and build much-needed facilities such as world-class residence halls for 800-plus students, a new Fordham Law School building, and a new home for the Gabelli School of Business.
Tognino was born on September 20, 1938, and grew up in the Jerome Park section of the Bronx, in the shadow of Fordham’s Rose Hill campus. His father, Gennaro, was a bus driver and his mother, Catherine, was a homemaker. He had a brother named Alexander, who died in 2008.
He graduated from Dewitt Clinton High School in 1956 and went directly to work in the financial sector, with a job in the mailroom at Merrill Lynch. He worked there for more than 35 years, retiring in 1993 as managing director of global equities. He went on to serve as executive vice president of global sales and members affairs at NASDAQ, and later, chairman of the Pepper Financial Group.
His path to success involved many treks from his workplace in downtown Manhattan to Fordham’s Rose Hill campus in the Bronx. It was there that he earned a bachelor’s degree in economics in 1975 by attending classes at night twice a week and all day on Saturdays. In 2013, when he was honored at Fordham’s annual Founder’s Dinner at the Waldorf Astoria Hotel, he reflected on those years in the early-1970s.
“It’s a short distance from the Bronx to this stage, but it is a long journey,” he said.
“Fordham opened their doors to me and gave me a chance. Attending Fordham at night and working full time on Wall Street during the day was not without its challenges, but I can tell you honestly, sincerely, that I would not have graduated, nor would I have been standing here, had it not been for one person, my wife, Norma.”
Norma Tognino, whom he referred that night to as “the real chairman of the board,” died in 2018. Together, the couple supported Fordham both financially and with their time, appearing at nearly every major University event. In 1997, they established the Tognino Family Endowed Scholarship to support nontraditional students enrolled in the Gabelli School of Business and Fordham School of Professional and Continuing Studies, and the Tognino Endowment for Disability Services, which supports special-needs students.
In 2007, on the cusp of the Excelsior | Ever Upward campaign, the couple made a gift of $3.5 million to Fordham to support the great hall in Duane Library. In recognition of their generosity, the hall was renamed in their honor.
Upon his retirement in 2012, John Tognino was appointed Trustee Emeritus and awarded an honorary degree at the University’s 168th commencement for exemplifying “in his personal and professional endeavors, the spirit of service and commitment to the human family that lies at the heart of the University.”
Michael A. Tognino, GABELLI ’92, said it was hard to overstate how thoroughly his father lived and breathed the ideals of service. When his mother died, he said, Michael found himself on the phone with his father and a friend who was also going through a rough patch. His father, he said, turned the conversation to the friend’s needs.
“I’ll never forget it because it was a conference call, and the person was like, ‘John, your wife just passed.’ And he said ‘I know, but you’re going through what we just went through. What can we do to help you?’” he said.
Gerald R. Blaszczak, S.J., FCRH ’72, an assistant to the president and alumni chaplain at Fairfield University who rejoined the Board of Trustees this year after serving from 1998 to 2004, echoed the sentiment, calling Tognino a man “of loyalty, warmth, and skill.”
“John Tognino was a friend you could go to at any moment with any sort of problem, and he was there for you,” he said, noting that he solicited Tognino’s counsel when he left Fordham in 2005 to become rector of St. Ignatius Church in Manhattan.
“It was normal to turn to John Tognino. He had his Rolodex in his head, and he was never afraid to turn to people and say, ‘I know how to solve this,’ or ‘I know who you need.’ He wasn’t arrogant to think he could solve everything himself.”
Patricia McGlynn Nazemetz, TMC ’71, GSAS ’89, PAR ’04, a member of the board from 1997 to 2017 who was appointed vice-chair the same year that Tognino became chair, called him “the great connector.” In 2006, for instance, a group of trustees traveled to Rome together for what would become the first of several trips that served as bonding exercises for the group.
“John always put his best leadership foot forward, in terms of the way he brought people into the conversation, the way he engaged with people,” she said.
Working together with Father McShane, she said he used his background in business to transform the way the board operated, making it more productive and collaborative.
“You were expected to participate on committees, and you were expected to attend extracurricular activities,” she said, noting that John and Norma led by example.
“He inspired the rest of us on the board to do the same. Lots of people will attend ball games and sporting events, but this was every assembly, every graduation, every building opening, Founder’s dinner—he was always present. You always felt you needed to be there too,” she said.
“He made you feel like a partner in building the university community.”
Peter Howe, GABELLI ’70, served with Tognino on the board from 2008 to 2013. He got to know him well on the executive committee and stayed friends with him and Norma after their terms were up.
“He not only knew all the trustees well, he knew the faculty, the deans, the administrative staff, he knew the maintenance people at Fordham. He was the kind of person who just attracted people, and he would make these unusual connections, introducing you to people you might have never met,” he said.
That ability to connect with people is ultimately what made him successful at Fordham, Howe said.
“There were periods of time on the board when difficult decisions were made, and he was able to balance the interests of as many as 40 trustees to get things accomplished. I felt he was a mentor to me, but if I asked anyone in that room, they would say the same thing,” he said.
Rosemary Berkery, who worked at Merrill Lynch for 25 years, said Tognino stood out not only for his business acumen and as a pioneer in NASDAQ, but also for his ability to bring people together. She accepted his invitation to join Fordham’s board and served for six years.
“I knew him by the floor he was on, depending on what building we happened to be in at the time, whether it was the World Trade Center or the World Financial Center. His area was always called ‘the Tog Shop.’ Everybody would say, ‘I’m going down to the Tog Shop, or I’m going up to the Tog Shop,’ and we would say, ‘Oh, I wish I could go with you,’” she said.
“He built a great team in London, and they called themselves the ‘Across the Pond Tog Team.’ He just engendered such loyalty, such respect, and such affection.”
Tognino is survived by his daughter, Katherine Albanese, and her husband, Mark; his son John Jr. and his wife, Teri; his son Michael Tognino, GABELLI ’92, and his wife, Jennifer Daddino, GSE ’19; and five grandchildren: Christopher, John III, Michael Jr., Joseph, and Isabella.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be held on Wednesday, Dec. 29 at 10 a.m. at the University Church on the Rose Hill campus. Out of an abundance of caution, the Mass is limited to family members. It will be live-streamed here.
Notes of condolence can be sent to Michael A. Tognino, 4 Fairview Court, Cross River, NY 10518.
In lieu of flowers, the family has asked that donations be made to either the Tognino Family Scholarship Fund at Fordham or the Parkinson’s Disease and Movement Disorders Institute in the Weill-Cornell Department of Neurology.