A stately figure in regional collegiate athletics, Jack Grinold spent some 50 years directing sports information at Northeastern University, where he was as well known for his generosity as he was for his tenure and expertise.
In 2008, he and his wife, Cathy, established a $1.25 million endowment for the men’s rowing program, and Mr. Grinold also financially supported or directly funded other programs, including a sports information internship that bears his name. Asked a few years ago what inspired his expansive philanthropy at Northeastern, he said: “It’s where I’ve been for 47 years. It’s my home. So what the heck.”
Mr. Grinold, who was associate athletic director emeritus at the university and was known informally as the dean of sports information directors in New England, died Friday. He was 81.
Esteemed in cultural circles, too, he had a range that extended far beyond the final whistle of any competition. Mr. Grinold was a proprietor of the Boston Athenaeum, an officer of the Victorian Society in America’s New England chapter, a trustee of WGBH-TV, and a member of the Colonial Society of Massachusetts and the Massachusetts Historical Society.
“He was as adept going into Matthews Arena, Boston Garden, or Fenway Park as he was he was going into the Museum of Fine Arts or Symphony Hall,” said Jim Madigan, men’s hockey coach at Northeastern. “Not many people had that level of depth.”
First and foremost, though, Mr. Grinold “was a Northeastern treasure,” Madigan added.
Peter Roby, director of athletics and recreation, said in a statement that “no one is more synonymous with Northeastern athletics than Jack Grinold, and his passing has left us with a deep void. Jack loved Northeastern and all the athletes that ever represented the university.”
At times, it seemed as if Mr. Grinold remembered each athlete by name, too.
“He was an encyclopedia for us,” said Matt Houde, assistant athletic director for communications, who added that seven people in the office now do what Mr. Grinold used to accomplish alone.
In the 1960s and ’70s, Mr. Grinold tucked away vast troves of information in filing cabinets, and stockpiled even more in a prodigious memory that was a searchable database of sorts for generations of reporters.
“He referred to himself as a squirrel — he would gather and keep everything because you never knew when you were going to need it,” Houde said.
Because of Mr. Grinold’s philanthropy and decades-long dedication to the sport, “he was Mr. Northeastern Rowing,” said John Pojednic, the men’s rowing coach, “but his level of dedication to all sports at Northeastern was unbelievable and unparalleled.”
Honored repeatedly by many organizations during his career, Mr. Grinold was inducted into the Beanpot Hockey Hall of Fame (2012), the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame (2009), and the New England Basketball Hall of Fame (2003). The College Sports Information Directors of America added him to its Hall of Fame in 1994, and five years later gave him the organization’s Community Service Award.
From the Eastern Collegiate Athletic Conference, Mr. Grinold received the Service Bureau Award in 1979 and the Commissioner’s Award in 2009. The following year, the conference and sports information directors’ organization honored him with its Award for Distinguished Achievement.
Last year, he became the first sports information director to receive the James Lynah Distinguished Achievement Award, which the ECAC gives annually to former conference athletic administrators who achieve outstanding success and make unusual contributions to intercollegiate athletics.
In 1985, Mr. Grinold became the first person who was neither an athlete nor a coach to be inducted into Northeastern’s Varsity Club Hall of Fame.
“When I first arrived at Northeastern, Jack’s name was on a short list of people I was told I must meet,” Northeastern’s president, Joseph E. Aoun, said in a statement. “I quickly learned why. Jack had a remarkable passion and love for Northeastern, and his impact on our university over more than five decades of dedicated service was immeasurable.”
John P. Grinold grew up in Belmont, a son of John and Kathleen Grinold. His mother belonged to the local historical society and hospital auxiliaries.
“My father was the town doctor,” Mr. Grinold said several years ago in a Voices of Northeastern interview on the university’s website. “Matter of fact, he handled the Belmont High School football team and never missed a game in 48 years.”
Mr. Grinold attended Browne & Nichols School, which was then a boys’ school, and graduated from Bowdoin College in Maine in 1957.
Afterward, he was a Merchant Marine for a couple of years before returning to Boston.
His father also was on the medical staff for the Boston Braves baseball team, whose public relations director was Billy Sullivan. When Sullivan left to found the Boston Patriots football team, he hired Mr. Grinold to help handle the mail.
One day, “Mr. Sullivan came in and said, ‘Weren’t you an English major?’ I said yeah. He said, ‘Can you write a press release?’ And I said I’ve never seen one. So he said, ‘Well, here’s one,’ and I did it and I said, ‘Yeah, I think I can do that.’ ”
Two years later, when the team wanted him to sell season tickets to businesses in the offseason, Mr. Grinold left to take a job at Northeastern. “On Aug. 2, 1962, I entered the confines of Richards Hall, never to leave again,” he quipped in the Voices of Northeastern interview.
Mr. Grinold was codirector for many years of the Beanpot hockey tournament, which he said became “part of our lore in the city, like the Marathon.”
Valued by coaches past and present, Mr. Grinold “made everybody’s life around him so much better,” said Jim Calhoun, a legendary former University of Connecticut men’s basketball coach who formerly coached at Northeastern.
A service will be announced for Mr. Grinold. In addition to his wife, Cathy, whom he married in 1967, he leaves a brother, Richard of California.
In the Northeastern voices interview, Mr. Grinold said part of his legacy lies in the careers of interns who are trained through the program he funds, and in the student co-ops he nurtured. “My kids are now all over the country, in various jobs, doing very well,” he said.
His most significant impact, however, was on the rowing program. In 2013, Northeastern dedicated the Jack and Cathy Grinold Training Center at Henderson Boathouse on the Charles River.
“He was the heart and the soul and the spirit of Northeastern rowing,” said Pojednic, who added that Mr. Grinold missed nary a home rowing competition from 1964 until 2015.
He was as faithful to other sports as well, and once estimated to the Globe that he had attended 464 consecutive Northeastern football games.
Jackie MacMullan, a former Globe sports columnist who is now an ESPN TV analyst and senior writer for espn.com, recalled that for reporters, Mr. Grinold was a font of information and adventurous suggestions — and not just about Northeastern sports. When Northeastern played in the Great Alaska Shootout basketball tournament in Anchorage, for example, he arranged for MacMullan to go mushing with sled dogs.
“You never just went to a sporting event with Jack. There was always more to it,” she said, adding that “I’m a better person for knowing him, and I know I’m a more knowledgeable person.”