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John Henry Sununu

Assumed office 
January 17, 2009
Preceded by Fergus Cullen

In office
January 20, 1989 – December 15, 1991
President George H.W. Bush
Preceded by Ken Duberstein
Succeeded by Samuel K. Skinner

In office
January 6, 1983 – January 4, 1989
Preceded by Vesta M. Roy
Succeeded by Judd Gregg

Born July 2, 1939 (1939-07-02) (age 70)
Havana, Cuba
Political party Republican
Profession Mechanical engineer
Religion Roman Catholic

John Henry Sununu (born July 2, 1939) is a former Governor of New Hampshire (1983–89) and former White House Chief of Staff under President George H. W. Bush. He is the father of John E. Sununu, a former senator from New Hampshire, and formerly a U.S. Representative. Sununu is the current chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party.


Early life

Sununu was born in Havana, Cuba, the son of Victoria (née Dada) and John Saleh Sununu, an international film distributor.[1] He is Roman Catholic and his father is of Palestinian descent. His father's family came to the United States from the Middle East at the beginning of the twentieth century. Most of the last two generations of Sununus were also born in the United States. Most of his closest relatives in Beirut have died, including a relative who returned to the Lebanese capital from the United States several years ago.[2]

He earned a BS in 1961, a Master's degree in 1963, and a Ph.D. in 1966 from MIT, all in mechanical engineering. Sununu is a member of Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.

From 1968 until 1973, he was Associate Dean of the College of Engineering at Tufts University and Associate Professor of Mechanical Engineering. He served on the Advisory Board of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT from 1984 until 1989.


Sununu became New Hampshire's 85th Governor on January 6, 1983, and served three consecutive terms. He served as chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, the Republican Governors Association and, in 1987, the National Governors Association.

White House Chief of Staff

Sununu was the first White House Chief of Staff for George H. W. Bush, serving from 1989 to 1991. Time magazine dubbed him "Bush's Bad Cop" on the front cover on May 21, 1990.

He resigned his White House post in 1991. [3]

Sununu is responsible for recommending David Souter to President George H. W. Bush for appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, at the behest of New Hampshire senator Warren Rudman. The Wall Street Journal described the events leading up to the appointment of the "liberal jurist" in a 2000 editorial, saying Rudman in his "Yankee Republican liberalism" took "pride in recounting how he sold Mr. Souter to gullible White House chief of staff John Sununu as a confirmable conservative. Then they both sold the judge to President Bush, who wanted above all else to avoid a confirmation battle [after Robert Bork]."[4] Rudman wrote in his memoir that he had "suspected all along" that Souter would not "overturn activist liberal precedents."[5] Sununu later said that he had "a lot of disappointment" about Souter's positions on the Court and would have preferred him to be more similar to Justice Antonin Scalia.[5]

President Bush speaks on the telephone regarding Operation Just Cause with Sununu and Brent Scowcroft, 1989.


Sununu co-hosted CNN's nightly Crossfire from March 1992 until February 1998.

Political positions

Sununu holds deeply conservative economic and social views[6] and as an engineer, he supports the expansion of nuclear energy. He is fiercely against the imposition of new taxes.[6]


From 1963 until 1983, he served as President of JHS Engineering Company and Thermal Research Inc. In addition, he helped establish and served as chief engineer for Astro Dynamics Inc. from 1960 until 1965.

Sununu is President of JHS Associates, Ltd. and is a partner in Trinity International Partners, a private financial firm.

Sununu is a member of the National Academy of Engineering and a member of the Board of Trustees for the George (H.W.) Bush Presidential Library Foundation.

Personal life

He is married to the former Nancy Hayes, and they have eight children, including former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu. In recent years, he moved to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire. He and his wife were subsequently elected as the town's honorary hog reeves and poundkeepers.[7]

Sununu has met the eligibility requirements for the Mega Society, the world's most exclusive high-IQ society, which accepts only those who score in the 99.9999th percentile on IQ tests (Mensa, for example, accepts the top 2 percent).[8]


Sununu angered some when he was the only governor of a U.S. state not to call for repeal of the extremely controversial UN General Assembly Resolution 3379 ("Zionism is Racism"). He later reversed his position on this issue and supported the Republicans' pro-Israel 1988 platform.[6]

As White House Chief of Staff, Sununu reportedly took personal trips, for skiing and other purposes, and classified them as official, for purposes such as conservation or promoting the Thousand Points of Light.[9] The Washington Post wrote that Sununu's jets "took him to fat-cat Republican fund-raisers, ski lodges, golf resorts and even his dentist in Boston."[9] Sununu had paid the government only $892 for his more than $615,000 worth of military jet travel.[10] Sununu said that his use of the jets was necessary because he had to be near a telephone at all times for reasons of national security.[11] Sununu became the subject of much late-night television humor over the incident.[9] Sununu worsened the situation shortly afterwards when, after leaking rumors of financial difficulties in his family, he traveled to a rare stamp auction at Christie's auction house in New York City from Washington in a government limousine, spending $5,000 on rare stamps.[12] Sununu then sent the car and driver back to Washington unoccupied while he returned on a corporate jet.[12] In the course of one week, 45 newspapers ran editorials on Sununu, nearly all of them critical of his actions.[13]

Sununu repaid over $47,000 to the government for the flights on the orders of White House counsel C. Boyden Gray, with the help of the Republican Party.[14] However, the reimbursements were at commercial rates, which are about one-tenth the cost of the actual flights; one ski trip to Vail, Colorado alone had cost taxpayers $86,330.[15]

In pop culture

The 1991 police comedy film The Naked Gun 2½: The Smell of Fear features Sununu who is played by Peter Van Norden.

Sununu's travel scandal was mentioned at least three times on Mystery Science Theater 3000, once during the fourth-season episode Monster A Go-Go[16], in the season 8 episode The Deadly Mantis, and then again during Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie,[17] although all were variations on the same joke: A jet is seen flying through the sky, and one of the characters remarks that Sununu is (frivolously) using the vehicle to travel to get a haircut.

Sununu's travel scandal also spawned the alternative band, "Traveling Sununus" from Downey, CA. In 1992 the L.A. Times gave honorable mention to the Traveling Sununus for having the best band name in Los Angeles.

John Sununu is also mentioned in the Family Guy episode "A Picture Is Worth a 1,000 Bucks." The mention is made in a Murphy Brown parody where Jim Dial, voiced by the actor who played the character Charles Kimbrough, starts to babble and at the ends of the blahs he says "John Sununu."

Sununu is featured in a "Dilbert" comic strip in which Dilbert suggests that Dogbert not start frothing at the mouth and barking whenever attractive women are near. Dogbert responds with, "That's just my John Sununu impression."


  1. ^ 1
  2. ^
  3. ^ NY Times (xx 1991) "Sununu as Symbol; Departure of Embattled Chief of Staff Removes Convenient Target of Critics"
  4. ^ "Chief Justice Souter?". Wall Street Journal. 2000-02-29.  
  5. ^ a b Tinsley E. Yarbrough (2005). "David Hackett Souter: Traditional Republican on the Rehnquist Court". Oxford University Press. Retrieved 2008-06-27.  
  6. ^ a b c Duffy, Michael (1988-11-28). "The Markets Vote". TIME.,9171,956398-2,00.html.  
  7. ^ Morse, Susan. "From governor to hog reeve". Portsmouth Herald. March 25, 2007
  8. ^ Chotzinoff, Robin (November 20-26, 1985). "It This the Smartest Man in America?". Westword.  
    Thompson, D (July 5, 1986). "Marilyn's Most Vital Statistic". Courier-Mail (Australia).  
    Seipp, Catherine (November 1987). "Brains – They’re the smartest people in L.A.". Los Angeles (magazine). pp. 210–216.  
    Anderson, Jack; Dale Van Atta (November 28, 1988). "Is 176 I.Q. Enough for White House?". Washington Post.  
    Baumgold, Julie (February 6, 1989). "In the Kingdom of the Brain". New York Magazine.  
    Morris, Scot; Ronald K. Hoeflin (April 1990). "Mind Games: the hardest IQ test you'll ever love suffering through". Omni magazine. pp. 90 ff.  
    Lichfield, John (June 30, 1991). "Profile: Fat Man on a Jet Plane: John Sununu". The Independent (London). pp. 23.  
    Derfner, Larry (August 8, 2003). "It smarts!". The Jerusalem Post. p. 5.  
    Sager, Mike (November 1999). "The Smartest Man in America". Esquire (magazine). pp. 143ff. Retrieved 2009-09-23.  
    "Introduction to the Hoeflin Tests". Retrieved 2006-07-29.   Similar reports about the actress Uma Thurman are an urban myth.
  9. ^ a b c "Air Sununu Grounded". Washington Post. 1991-05-10.  
  10. ^ "The control tower takes over Air Sununu.". US News & World Report. 1991-05-20.  
  11. ^ Sununu Travel Records to Be Opened - New York Times
  12. ^ a b The White House: A Bad Case of the Perks - TIME
  13. ^ "Too Much Sununu News?; Post Said to Ignore Democrats' Abuses". Washington Post. 1991-06-28.  
  14. ^ My so-called famous classmate -
  15. ^ "The flights of Air Sununu; the White House chief of staff mixed politics and playtime on some of his 'official' trips. (John Sununu)". US News & World Report. 1991-05-06.  
  16. ^ Monster A-Go Go - Mystery Science Theater 3000 Wiki
  17. ^ MST3K: The Movie (This Island Earth)
Political offices
Preceded by
Vesta M. Roy
Governor of New Hampshire
1983 – 1989
Succeeded by
Judd Gregg
Preceded by
Bill Clinton
Chairman of the National Governor's Association
1987 – 1988
Succeeded by
Gerald L. Baliles
Preceded by
Kenneth Duberstein
White House Chief of Staff
1989 – 1991
Succeeded by
Samuel K. Skinner


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