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George Matthews, former chairman of the Northeastern Board of Trustees and namesake of Matthews Arena, dies at 93

Born on Feb. 13, 1930, George James Matthews grew up in working-class East Boston. He joined the Board of Trustees in the 1980s and was elected its chairman in 1989, a position he held for 10 years.

Headshot of George Matthews.
George Matthews was chairman of the Board of Trustees for 10 years and the namesake of Matthews Arena. Northeastern University Archive Image

George Matthews, a Northeastern University graduate and former chairman of the Board of Trustees for whom Matthews Arena is named, died peacefully on Jan. 11 surrounded by his family. He was 93.

Matthews, who established himself as a successful entrepreneur after earning degrees in business administration and industrial engineering from Northeastern in 1956, served the university as a proud graduate, administrative leader and philanthropist.

He joined the Board of Trustees in the 1980s and was elected its chairman in 1989, a position he held for 10 years. 

Crucial to that future was Matthews’ creation of a special trustees’ committee in the 1990s, chaired by Neal Finnegan, that would initiate measures to reshape the university around a major building campaign, a more selective admissions process and a refined budget. In partnership with university President Jack Curry, Matthews helped make Northeastern “smaller and better” while emphasizing the importance of faculty. 

“George Matthews was a perfect alum,” says Finnegan, who would succeed Matthews as chair of the trustees. “In George we had a person who had come up through the school in a non-routine way — and he made the school a part of his life.”

Born on Feb. 13, 1930, George James Matthews grew up in working-class East Boston to become a player on the high school football team. His belief in the importance of all people as contributors was affirmed routinely by his actions: Every stroll across campus elicited greetings and conversations with the university community.

“George knew everybody,” says Vincent Lembo, who served as secretary to the Board of Trustees in addition to vice president and university counsel. “He not only knew the faculty, he also knew the grounds people, he knew the truck drivers — and he always told them to call him George. Not Mr. Matthews, not Dr. Matthews, not Chairman Matthews. He said, ‘Call me George.’ That was the kind of guy he was. 

Matthews’ lifelong devotion to his alma mater was a natural outcome of his enduring belief in Northeastern’s signature co-op program, which enables students to integrate semesters of academic study with periods of full-time employment. Today, Northeastern students work, study and do research in 149 countries and on all continents, including Antarctica.

He was the namesake of Matthews Arena, which underwent a major renovation thanks to his philanthropy and leadership. (The arena, which has undergone several name changes since it opened in 1910, was at one time known as the George J. & Hope M. Matthews Arena in honor of Matthews and his first wife, Hope.)

Matthews is a member of the Northeastern Athletics Hall of Fame in honor of his support for the Huskies’ athletic programs, including women’s athletics. He was a driving force behind the creation of the Center for the Study of Sports in Society at Northeastern.

“In all of his roles, George Matthews was dedicated to helping Northeastern become better,” says Gene Reppucci, the former senior vice president for development at Northeastern who developed a close relationship with Matthews while working alongside him. “Besides being a very wise person and having lots of compassion for others, he had a great sense of humor. And he never forgot his roots.” 

In partnership with Mikhail Gorbachev, the final leader of the Soviet Union who helped end the Cold War, Matthews established via Northeastern the Gorbachev Foundation of North America, which takes on pressing issues of economic development, democracy and justice while hosting events for world leaders.

Headshot of George Matthews.
George Matthews. Northeastern University Archives Photo

In addition to serving on many boards of directors, Matthews owned and managed a variety of companies, including The Registry, which pairs interim executives with colleges and universities and is now led by his son, Kevin Matthews as chief executive officer.

He was founding owner of the United States Football League and co-owner in the 1980s of the Boston Breakers franchise.

Eventually he settled in Manchester-by-the-Sea, Massachusetts, enabling Matthews to relax on his sloop, aptly named “It’s About Time.” But his family and friends knew that he always identified himself as the man from the working class Boston neighborhood known as “Eastie.”

George Matthews is survived by his wife Kathleen Waters Matthews; his son Keven Matthews and daughters Karen Matthews, Maureen Matthews McClintock and Kathleen Matthews Rodgers; his sister Ann Regan and his brother Wallace Matthews; and his eight grandchildren and one great-grandson. 

His funeral Mass will be celebrated at Visitation Parish (formerly Sacred Heart Church), 62 School St., Manchester-by-the-Sea at 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 15. Relatives and friends are invited to attend. A visiting hour will be held prior to the Mass in the church at 10 a.m. Monday. The burial service will be private at the convenience of the family. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be considered to Visitation Parish.