July 2, 2021

Dear Members of the Trinity College Community,

A little more than a year ago, I wrote to you with the sad news that Trinity’s 16th president, James Fairfield English Jr. H’89, died at his home in Noank, Connecticut. Just nine days later, his wife, Isabelle Spotswood Cox English H’88, also passed at their beloved home. The Englishes were married for more than 60 years and were blessed with four children, 10 grandchildren (including Thomas W. Unsworth ’09), and eight great-grandchildren. For reasons we know all too well now, we could not gather then to appropriately honor and recognize the lives and legacies of Mr. and Mrs. English.

Thankfully, today we are able to begin to gather again as a community to mourn and to celebrate the contributions of members of our college community. Together with the English family, we have planned a memorial service in the Chapel for Saturday, July 24, at 1:30 p.m. Officiants for the service will be the Reverend William Eakins ’66 and President and Professor of History, Emeritus, Borden W. Painter Jr. ’58, H’95. Celebrating the life of a president emeritus is a college-wide event, and you all are welcome to attend and to participate in honoring the couple.

President English earned a B.A. in English from Yale University, an M.A. in English from Cambridge University, and an LL.B. from the University of Connecticut School of Law. He began his esteemed career at Trinity in 1977 as vice president for finance and planning. He brought with him the enormous experience that he gained during 26 years with Connecticut Bank and Trust Company, where he rose to CEO and chair of the board. In his vice president role at Trinity, he was responsible for overseeing fundraising and management of the college’s endowment, as well as long-range financial planning.

He was inaugurated as Trinity’s president in 1981. During his tenure, the college added requirements for writing and mathematics proficiency and an interdisciplinary minor. The five-part distribution requirement, which fostered well-rounded intellectual growth, also was implemented. He also approved Trinity’s participation in the CTW Library Consortium with Connecticut College and Wesleyan University, greatly expanding the library’s offerings. President English also led the expansion of college-related programs in Hartford, including internships and faculty and student opportunities at area organizations. In addition, he oversaw the renovation of the Smith Alumni-Faculty House, which was completed in 1990 and includes a second-floor room named after his father, the Reverend James F. English, Class of 1916.

Mrs. English attended Oxford School and Havergal College and then earned a B.A. in studio art from Hollins College in Roanoke, Virginia. An active supporter of the anti-war and civil rights movements, she led by example, raising her children to be responsible, caring adults, committed to the common good. An avid gardener and painter, she continued her studies in painting and drawing at Hartford Art School through the 1970s and 1980s, developing a distinctive style of landscape with her many renderings of the marshes and estuaries of southeastern Connecticut. Mrs. English contributed to the life of Trinity through her support of the establishment of what is now the Trinity College Community Child Center, her many collaborations with the Art History Program and the Austin Arts Center, and her meticulous work with the landscaping staff to beautify the campus. In recognition of her achievements, the college awarded her an honorary doctor of fine arts degree in 1988.

Given that the memorial service will take place in the Chapel, masks will be required, which is consistent with our current COVID-19 health and safety policies. For those unable to attend in person, the service will be available at https://trincoll.zoom.us/j/96659519173. I hope you will be able to join us as we gather to honor the memory of James and Isabelle English.


Joanne Berger-Sweeney
President and Trinity College Professor of Neuroscience