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John H. Sununu
Chair of the New Hampshire Republican State Committee
In office
January 17, 2009 – January 22, 2011
Preceded by Fergus Cullen
Succeeded by Jack Kimball
14th White House Chief of Staff
In office
January 20, 1989 – December 15, 1991
President George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Ken Duberstein
Succeeded by Samuel K. Skinner
75th Governor of New Hampshire
In office
January 6, 1983 – January 4, 1989
Preceded by Vesta M. Roy (acting)
Succeeded by Judd Gregg
Chair of the National Governors Association
In office
July 28, 1987 – August 9, 1988
Preceded by Bill Clinton
Succeeded by Gerald Baliles
Personal details
John Henry Sununu

(1939-07-02) July 2, 1939 (age 83)
Havana, Cuba
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Nancy Hayes
Children 8, including John and Chris
Education Massachusetts Institute of Technology (BS, MS, PhD)

John Henry Sununu (born July 2, 1939) is an American politician who was the 75th governor of New Hampshire from 1983 to 1989 and later White House Chief of Staff under President George H. W. Bush. Born in Cuba to an American father and a Salvadoran mother, he is of Greek, Hispanic and Lebanese descent, making him the first Arab American, Greek American and Hispanic American to be governor of New Hampshire and White House Chief of Staff. He is the father of John E. Sununu, the former United States Senator from New Hampshire, and Christopher Sununu, the current governor of New Hampshire. Sununu was the chairman of the New Hampshire Republican Party from 2009 to 2011.

Early life and education

Sununu was born in Havana, Cuba while his parents were visiting Cuba on a business trip. He is the son of John Saleh Sununu, an international film distributor, and Victoria Sununu (née Dada). His father's family came to the United States from Lebanon, as Greek Orthodox practitioners at the turn of the 20th century and his ancestry was Greek and Lebanese from Jerusalem and Beirut respectively. John Saleh Sununu was born in Boston, Massachusetts. His mother Victoria Dada was born in El Salvador. Her family were also Greek Orthodox practitioners, of Greek and Hispanic ancestry, and had settled in Central America at the turn of the 20th century. Sununu visited Beirut, Lebanon as a child in the late 1940s. He grew up in New York City and graduated from the La Salle Military Academy on Long Island.

Sununu earned a Bachelor of Science degree in 1961, a Master of Science degree in 1963, and a PhD in 1966 from Massachusetts Institute of Technology, all in mechanical engineering. He is a member of the Phi Sigma Kappa fraternity.


From 1966 to 1982 he taught at Tufts University, where he was an associate professor of mechanical engineering. He was the associate dean of the University's College of Engineering from 1968 to 1973. As of 1988, Sununu retained his title and family tuition benefits from Tufts during an "extremely rare" unpaid six-year leave of absence that coincided with his governorship. He was on the Advisory Board of the Technology and Policy Program at MIT from 1984 until 1989.

A Republican, Sununu held a seat in the New Hampshire House of Representatives from 1973 to 1975.


Sununu became New Hampshire's 75th Governor on January 6, 1983, and was re-elected twice to hold the position for three consecutive terms. He was the first Arab-American Governor of New Hampshire. Sununu was chairman of the Coalition of Northeastern Governors, the Republican Governors Association and, in 1987, the National Governors Association.

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

White House Chief of Staff

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

Sununu is considered to have engineered Bush's mid-term abandonment of his 1988 campaign promise of "no new taxes". In his report Losing Earth: The Decade We Almost Stopped Climate Change, Nathaniel Rich wrote that in November 1989 Sununu prevented the signing of a 67-nation commitment at the Noordwijk Climate Conference to freeze carbon dioxide emissions, with a reduction of 20 percent by 2005, and singled him out as a force starting coordinated efforts to bewilder the public on the topic of global warming and changing it from an urgent, nonpartisan and unimpeachable issue to a political one. Interviewed as to his involvement in preventing an agreement, he stated: "It couldn’t have happened, because, frankly, the leaders in the world at that time were at a stage where they were all looking how to seem like they were supporting the policy without having to make hard commitments that would cost their nations serious resources. Frankly, that’s about where we are today."

Sununu is responsible for recommending David Souter of New Hampshire to President George H. W. Bush for appointment to the Supreme Court of the United States, at the behest of his close friend, then-U.S. Senator and fellow New Hampshirite 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]." Rudman wrote in his memoir that he had "suspected all along" that Souter would not "overturn activist liberal precedents." 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.

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

At the recommendation of George W. Bush, Sununu resigned his White House post on December 4, 1991. He remained at the White House as Counselor to the President until March 1, 1992.

Other activities

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

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

In 2012, Sununu as a national co-chair for the Mitt Romney presidential campaign made controversial comments directed towards then President Barack Obama calling Obama "un-American." After receiving backlash for the comment, Sununu apologized soon afterwards. A few months later, Sununu again caused controversy for the Romney campaign when he said that the reason he believed former Secretary of State, Colin Powell (a Republican) endorsed President Obama over Romney was because both Powell and Obama are the same race. After the election, Sununu blamed Romney's loss to Obama on Obama's supporters being "dependent" on government programs.

Sununu is President of JHS Associates, Ltd. and is a partner in Trinity International Partners, a private financial firm. He is also a member of Honorary Council of Advisors for U.S.-Azerbaijan Chamber of Commerce (USACC).

Awards and honors

He was elected a member of the National Academy of Engineering in 1990 for exceptionally significant creativity in energy systems development, in engineering education, and in integration of technological advances with public policy.

Personal life

John Sununu 2015
Sununu in 2015

Sununu is married to the former Nancy Hayes, and they have eight children, including former U.S. Senator John E. Sununu and Chris Sununu, formerly a member of the New Hampshire Executive Council and currently the Governor of New Hampshire. In recent years, he moved from Salem, New Hampshire to Hampton Falls, New Hampshire to be closer to relatives. He and his wife were subsequently elected as the town's honorary hog reeves and poundkeepers. The title is usually given to an unsuspecting newcomer each year.

Sununu's daughter Cathy is the president of the Portsmouth Museum of Art in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

Sununu is a fluent Spanish speaker.

In popular culture

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

In January 1995, John Sununu made a cameo appearance on the first episode of the Delta Burke CBS sitcom, Women of the House, titled "Miss Sugarbaker Goes to Washington". In the episode, Suzanne Sugarbaker is a guest on the CNN political program, Crossfire. Michael Kinsley also appears.

In the 1996 film Mystery Science Theater 3000: The Movie, a clip (from This Island Earth) of a jet plane prompts Tom Servo to quip, "John Sununu goes for a haircut." The joke was a recurring one on the original series, as well.

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