Jean ’66 and Dick Thompson G’67 of McLean, Virginia, traveled to Syracuse in November to participate on the Remembrance Scholar convocation. While they didn’t know any of the students lost in the crash of Pan Am Flight 103, they appreciated meeting the 35 students who were named as the 2000-01 Remembrance Scholars. “The convocation was an eloquent testimonial to the memory of the students of Pan Am Flight 103,” says Jean Thompson. “It was an honor to meet the families of the students and learn their personal stories. We were also impressed by the very high caliber of the scholarship recipients. The University’s strong commitment to this program was clear.”
The two Syracuse University alumni gave a significant gift last summer to the Remembrance Scholarship Fund in memory of Jean’s parents, John Phelan and Jean Taylor Phelan Terry ’43. The couple decided to support the fund because of the similarities between the loss of the 35 Syracuse University students in December 1988 and the loss of Jean’s father in 1944.
John Phelan had just completed his sophomore year at SU in 1941 when he was drafted into the Army. Like so many other young men, he left to serve his country in World War II, planning to return to the promising life he was building in Syracuse. But John never returned. He was killed in action in France in August 1944, leaving behind his young wife and daughter, 6-week-old Jean. Like the Pan Am 103 students, John left SU in his prime and never made it back to the Hill. And like them, John left behind grieving loved ones and unmeasured potential.
Born on August 24, 1918, John Phelan grew up in Sherrill, a small city tucked inside the western border of Oneida County, New York, where his father worked for the Oneida Community silver manufacturer. John attended Sherrill High School, and spent a year at Perkiomen Preparatory School in Pennsburg, Pennsylvania. From 1938 to 1939, he studied at the Manlius School, now Manlius-Pebble Hill School in DeWitt. Known there as “Big John,” he played three sports and graduated with honors. In a letter to John’s parents following his death, D.P. McCarthy, headmaster of the Manlius School, said: “There was never a more popular boy ever to attend Manlius, and he will always be remembered for his kindness to others.”
Jean Taylor was born in Baltimore on September 23, 1921, and moved to Syracuse as a young girl. Her parents settled into a home on Brattle Road in the Sedgwick section of the city. Jean attended Syracuse Central High School and in the fall of 1939 prepared to enter Syracuse University.
It was here that Jean and John met. Friends remember them both as attractive, popular, and outgoing. Jean was active in her sorority, Theta Phi Alpha, and served as class president during her sophomore and junior years. Her activities set the stage for a lifetime of commitment to and involvement with the University. John was a star football player, with a personality that matched the scope of his athletic talent. “John was a very handsome, very pleasant guy,” says Mildred Lonergan McAuliffe ’43, a friend of the couple. “I was a student journalist, and he always called me ‘Scoop.’ He made me feel like a million dollars.”
Jean Taylor and McAuliffe were sorority sisters in Theta Phi Alpha, and John lived with other football players in a house close by. “Jean had a car, and she was always outside, pretending there was something wrong with it, hoping to catch Johnny’s eye,” McAuliffe says.
It was only natural that a romance would quickly blossom. The couple dated throughout their freshman and sophomore years. On July 8, 1941, just after completing his sophomore year, John was drafted into the Army. McAuliffe remembers that he was one of the first local boys to go off to war. By the end of 1941, he was stationed in Hawaii.