John Philip Dunfey, a former Maine developer and well-known New England businessman who dedicated much of his life to fostering world peace and social justice, died last week. He was 96.

Dunfey, a World War II veteran, died in Hampton, New Hampshire, on June 22, his family said. Dunfey lived in York Harbor for a number of years during the 1970s and 1980s, according to his nephew, Robert Dunfey Jr. of Portland.

John Philip Dunfey

John Dunfey, known to his friends as Jack, and his brother, Robert Dunfey Sr., helped found the Maine Mall in South Portland, developing the land where the mall’s first store, Jordan Marsh, was built in the late 1960s. The Jordan Marsh store is now occupied by a Macy’s department store.

The brothers also owned the former Eastland Hotel in Portland and the Sheraton Hotel in South Portland, Robert Dunfey said. He said his uncle was an inspiration to many, especially for his work in defending human rights and social justice globally.

“My father was my mentor, but Uncle Jack was the second greatest influence on my life,” Robert Dunfey said.

Jack Dunfey spent decades working to support causes such as the peace process in Northern Ireland and human rights efforts in South Africa, Cuba, Central America, South America and the Middle East, his family said in his obituary. Dunfey led his family’s efforts in 1974 to launch the Global Citizens Circle, a nonprofit agency dedicated to fostering diversity, inclusion and civil discourse with the goal of creating constructive change around the world.

Dunfey was born in Lowell, Massachusetts, on Jan. 7, 1924, to former millworkers, Catherine A. Manning and LeRoy W. Dunfey. He was the fifth of 12 children.

He joined the U.S. Army Air Force in 1943 and served as a B-24 and B-29 pilot instructor. Following his honorable discharge in 1946, he earned a bachelor of science degree in business at the University of New Hampshire in 1952.

The Dunfey family business began modestly in the 1950s by operating clam stands, luncheonettes and pizza shops in New England, Dunfey’s nephew said. Jack Dunfey and his brothers founded Dunfey Hotels in 1958, with Dunfey becoming the CEO.

The company focused on refurbishing downtrodden inner-city hotels and eventually acquired Omni Hotels International, which held dozens of properties worldwide, the family said. Jack Dunfey consolidated corporate headquarters in Hampton, New Hampshire, in an effort to preserve the relationships that management had formed with its employees.

The family acquired and restored the historic Parker House Hotel in Boston in  1968.

“(Jack) was the force behind buying in 1968 the then-run-down Parker House Hotel in Boston and restoring it to its glory,” his nephew said.

Dunfey’s family, in his obituary, said he led human rights missions into neglected corners of the world with his goal to seek the release of political prisoners. One mission to Cuba and his meeting with Fidel Castro led to the release of 87 prisoners.

In 1984, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dunfey to serve on the nine-member United States Institute for Peace, which was tasked with promoting conflict resolution and peace worldwide. When John Hume and David Trimble were awarded the 1998 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts to bring peace to Northern Ireland, Jack Dunfey and Robert Dunfey Sr. were invited to travel with them to Oslo, Norway. Jack was also appointed as an independent, international monitor in South Africa during the historic first election in which Nelson Mandela became president.

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give,” was Dunfey’s favorite saying, his family said.

Robert Dunfey Jr. said his uncle often worked behind the scenes supporting freedom fighters and peacemakers.

“Jack not only was the consummate businessman, but like his siblings, his life was dedicated to defending human rights and social justice globally,” his nephew said.

Dunfey’s family is planning to hold a memorial service to celebrate his life at a later date, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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