“The Silver Fox” demonstrated that professionalism and a sense of humor can go hand-in-hand

Friday, July 10, 2015
Lionel J. "Junie" Carbonneau, Jr. '51

One of his former students at Tilton School dedicated a book to Lionel “Junie” Carbonneau ’51, calling him “a maker of men.” In the classroom and on the playing field, Carbonneau led by example, teaching the core values of hard work and sportsmanship by which he led his own life, says his wife, Jane. He knew just how to mentor students, she says, including a little tough love if it would bring out the best in someone.  

An all-star athlete in high school, Carbonneau played basketball and lacrosse at UNH, and joined Kappa Sigma fraternity. After graduation and two years in the Army Air Corps, he taught and coached at Tilton and later at Laconia High School. In 1965, he joined the UNH coaching staffs in basketball, football and lacrosse.

He did whatever it took to keep his teams playing, recalls Jane. “At one point, in 1986, there was a heavy snowstorm the day before a big game. The maintenance crew was busy clearing the roads, so Junie came home, got his snow blower, and cleared the entire football field.” Another time, noticing that the basketball court was looking scruffy, he spent hours cleaning and polishing it.

Grady Vigneau ’77 played football at UNH and later became a member of the coaching staff. Life lessons learned from Carbonneau as both a player and a colleague have always stayed with him, he says, and in a eulogy he delivered at Carbonneau’s funeral following his death on January 24, Vigneau recalled the coach’s sense of humor. Every fall, as the UNH football team practiced to play archrival Maine, a two-footed “black bear” (the University of Maine mascot) would suddenly emerge from the nearby woods. Proclaiming himself the defender of Wildcat pride, Carbonneau dramatically chased off the “bear” and celebrated afterward with a rousing dance his players called the “Black Bear Jig.”  

“This theater-in-the-wild would be accompanied by the appreciative roar of 100 suddenly very energized football players,” says Vigneau.

Carbonneau — whose thick white hair earned him the nickname “The Silver Fox” —  helped the football team win Yankee Conference titles in 1976 and 1978 and held the posts of UNH assistant athletic director and interim athletic director before retiring in 1990. In honor of his roles as a player, teacher and coach, in 2003 he was elected to the UNH Hall of Fame.

Despite a busy career, Carbonneau always found time for his family, says Jane, his wife of 61 years. Parents of four children, Gail Linehan ’76, Susan Detrick, Nancy Kennedy ’79 and the late Michael Carbonneau ’85, they enjoyed attending their children’s sports events. Carbonneau’s fatherly advice centered on sportsmanship and effort rather than technique. “His goal was to make sure we gained a sense of self-worth and became the best we could be, whatever path we chose in life,” says his daughter Gail.


Originally published in UNH MagazineSpring/Summer 2015 Issue