Irish America Celebrates
the 2017 Hall of Fame
By Irish America Staff
March 16, 2017
Irish America magazine inducted five new members to its Hall of Fame March 15 – Nobel laureate Dr. William C. Campbell, Northwell Health CEO and 2017 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal Michael Dowling, Hour Children founder Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, LIUNA general president Terry O’Sullivan, and Duke University athletic director Kevin White.
Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson received Irish America’s Spirit of Ireland Award.
On March 15, Irish America held its eighth annual Irish America Hall of Fame Awards luncheon in Manhattan, recognizing the diverse and critical work of Irish and Irish American leaders in the United States. The honorees are profiled in the April / May issue of Irish America.
The event kicked off with a moving round of “Happy Birthday” to Rosamond Mary Moore Carew, who turned 106 on Wednesday and is profiled in Irish America’s Hall of Fame issue. Rosamond’s paternal grandparents, William Moore (born in 1834), and Alicia McGough Moore (born in 1841 to John McGough and Anna McKenna) were immigrants from Drogheda, County Louth.
Introducing the honorees and invoking a spirit of humility that would run throughout the event, Irish Minister of state for the Diaspora and International Development Joe McHugh said, “There’s a humbleness to Irish people where we won’t like to take the limelight, but it’s important to do that, to remember people for their role and their contribution.”
Dr. William Campbell
Dr. William Campbell, who was the first person from Donegal to be awarded the Nobel Prize when it was given to him in 2015 for his work on river blindness with the drug company Merck, was unable to attend the event due to weather. (He lives in North Andover, Massachusetts and a blizzard the day before made the roads impassable.) Despite this, Campbell’s presence was felt in his warm words of gratitude and grace. In a recorded message to those gathered, he said:
“I had looked forward to this occasion, but the storm, unfortunately, has intervened. It is a pleasant and unexpected thing to find oneself a member of the Irish America Hall of Fame.
“It’s amazing to be in any hall of fame, but then, so many things are amazing. I have had such good fortune. It’s amazing to have grown up in Co. Donegal, in the town of Milton. It’s amazing to be American, and British, and Irish. It’s amazing to have been able to devote my career to the study of parasites. And not just any old parasites, but worm parasites. I mean, bacteria and viruses, all of those, they’re okay, but I like something bigger. Worms are bigger. Worms are something you can really get your teeth into.
Campbell went on to talk about being a member of Merck’s “wonderful team of scientists,” saying,”they could not share the big prize, the prize that came my way, but they deserved to share the big prize,” and he concluded his remarks by saying, “Thank you very much to Irish America, and to all of you who have made this occasion so very special. And again, I am sorry not to be with you in person, and thank you.”
Michael Dowling, who became CEO of Northwell Health in 2002 (then called North Shore-LIJ), spoke of the imperative for leaders to make the world a better place, something he has done at Northwell since expanding its handful of hospitals in 2002 to 21 as of this year. Dowling will also serve as New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Grand Marshal in the annual parade on March 17th down Fifth Avenue.
“Our success, however you find success, is in many ways the result of triumph over adversity,” Dowling said, referencing his impoverished childhood in rural County Limerick. “Adversity, I believe, gives perspective. It builds character. It helps you to become unbelievably determined. It fosters perseverance. It promotes concentration. And it teaches humility. I have been very, very, very fortunate…. I have been fortunate enough over all of those years to have gained leadership positions in academia, in government, insurance, and now, obviously, the privilege to be the CEO of Northwell Health.
“But leadership is an action, not a title. If you’re fortunate enough to have a leadership role in anything, at whatever level – middle, lower, top – it brings with it an obligation and a responsibility. It brings with it the obligation to try to make a difference, an obligation to do something positive, a responsibility to promote a sense of community and unity, an obligation to take advantage of whatever opportunity we have to talk about how great the United States is, and how great Ireland is. It provides the opportunity to continually push yourself to do more than you think is possible. To do better than you think is achievable. To do things differently, and challenge each and every day the status quo. To build, in a very, very small way, some little legacy, that you can say that because I was here, something is better is because of it. Otherwise, in my view, you exist. You don’t do.”
Sister Tesa Fitzgerald
“I am truly humbled and honored, not to mentioned ‘blessed among men,’ to be part of this glorious celebration today,” Sister Tesa Fitzgerald remarked from the podium after accepting her award.
Her father’s family came from Kerry and her mother’s from Ardagh, County Donegal. Sister Tesa was born and raised on Long Island. She joked that her father once told her the most important life lesson she would learn – “There are two kingdoms: the kingdom of God and the kingdom of Kerry.”
Speaking of her work with Hour Children, which Sister Tesa founded in 1986 and serves to provide a pathway for incarcerated and previously incarcerated mothers to rehabilitate once they have been released from prison, Sister Tesa said that it’s her faith and her Irish heritage that have “been a source of many blessings and have nurtured my lifelong work with children and their families.”
“Our programs and our eight homes have a heart as well as a hearth, so symbolic of our Irish hospitality and welcome,” she said. “As a sister of St. Joseph of Brentwood, I don’t consider it my ministry work, but a sacred, passionate, and energized outreach to the poor, the marginalized, and the all-too-often stigmatized women of our society. They are the same women I live and work with, who have transformed my life. Today, in deep gratitude for this recognition, I challenge all of us, as faithful daughters and sons of St. Patrick, to walk the extra mile, and to live the motto of our children, which is: ‘Love makes a difference.’”
Introducing Duke University’s athletics director Kevin White, General Martin Dempsey, former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff and 2016 Irish America Hall of Fame inductee,wrote and performed new lyrics to the Clancy Brothers’ classic “Brennan on the Moore” as “Kevin in the Hall,” changing the words to praise White, his long-time friend. Dempsey also invoked James Joyce’s famous dictum, “In the particular is contained the universal,” to describe his long-time friend. “I would suggest to you today that this man Kevin White is an example of that. In the particular case of Kevin White, is a bit of what’s best in all of us,” he said.
“I have never been more honored, more proud, and quite frankly more humbled. This is an incredible moment for me,” White said in his acceptance speech. “The moment for me speaks to the fact that I’m not just here representing myself – that’s the last thing I represent. I’m representing our immediate family, and I’m representing my ancestral family. I know they’re all here with me and that gives me goose bumps as I stand in front of you today.”
White’s maternal grandparents emigrated from Dungloe, County Donegal in 1902 with only his grandmother speaking English, White explained. They eventually made their way to Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, where his grandfather found work in coal mines and his grandmother taught Irish step dancing. His mother would eventually go on to dance with the Rockettes. White was the first member of his family to graduate high school, as well as the first to have an opportunity to go to college.
“I’m surprised I’m not at some New York deli by myself having lunch. I can’t believe I’m here with all of you,” he joked. “When I think about who I am and what opportunities I’ve had – and I’ve been so ridiculously fortunate over all these years – I think I look at the intersection of education and entertainment. Education comes from the old country; entertainment comes from the Roxy Theater and Radio City. I think I come from that intersection and I think I’m there naturally. I live in the neighborhood of sport. And sport is at the intersection of entertainment and education, so I think I’m in the right place, and I take that back to my ancestors.”
Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams introduced Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America. “In my experience with him, he has shown a tenacity and determination to give a voice to his members to show them that they can make a difference to argue and to encourage activism through education and training,” he said.
“I want to thank you for your time, your attention, for your rousing speeches, particularly at our Ard Fheis last year on the historic date of the Rising, I want to thank you for your love of Ireland and of America, and your vision for the future. And I think the recent election earlier this month in the North where Sinn Féin moved into a pivotal position and where the unionists in the North lost the majority in the assembly vindicates in many ways the work that Terry has done and others here in the U.S. have done.”
O’Sullivan accepted the award on behalf of the half a million members of the Laborers International Union of North America, whom he represents, he said, adding that “I am not only the general president of this great international union, but I am a product of it. Everything I am, from the clothes on my back to the education and opportunities I have received, I owe to the goodness and the greatness of the members and the leaders of my union.”
LIUNA, one of the largest building trades unions in America, took O’Sullivan’s father in when he was 15 years old, O’Sullivan said, recalling how the union allowed his father to become a member but not pay dues because his father was supporting his widowed mother and younger brother with his earnings. When O’Sullivan himself was old enough to work, he also joined the union in Washington, D.C., helping to build the Washington Metro system.
“Growing up, my father imparted and instilled in me a deep and abiding love for my union and the labor movement, for the United States, and for our Irish heritage. For my family, and for many of us here this afternoon, these three loves – labor, America, and Ireland – have always been intertwined and inseparable,” he said.
O’Sullivan also spoke of being in Ireland during the 1916 Easter Rising centenary commemorations, and offered a damning but hopeful assessment of the status of the task that began Easter Monday day 101 years ago:
“As we marched up the Falls in wind and rain on Easter Sunday, we remembered our lost leaders and freedom fighters, and as we laid wreaths at Milltown Cemetery in Belfast, and Glasnevin Cemetery in Dublin, we were reminded that the revolution remains incomplete. As long as workers are exploited, the revolution is incomplete. As long as all immigrants aren’t treated with compassion, dignity and respect, the revolution is incomplete. As long unjust and oppressive economic conditions continue to force so many of Ireland’s children to live in exile, the revolution is incomplete.”
The Irish fight for independence is inextricably linked to the rights of workers, he said, citing James Connolly’s labor activism, arguing that the struggle for economic justice continues to this day and Irish Americans have a paramount role in the process.
“The greatest homage we can pay to all who have worked for, fought for, and died for the cause is to recommit ourselves to building a world of economic justice for all,” he said. “As Irish Americans, we must continue to support the peace process, the fight for workers’ rights, and pursue justice…. We will not be denied, we will not be deterred, and we sure as hell will not be defeated. So let us stand together, let us stay together, let us fight together, and let us win together, and when we do, we ourselves will change the course, the direction and the destiny of Ireland, of the United States, and of the world.”
Dr. James Watson
Nobel laureate Dr. James Watson, who along with Francis Crick and Rosalind Franklin discovered the structure of DNA in 1953, received Irish America’s Spirit of Ireland Award from co-founder and editor in chief Patricia Harty and founding publisher Niall O’Dowd.
Watson, whose ancestors come from County Tipperary and is 53 percent, expressed his pride in his Irish heritage. He also discussed his inspiration for genomic research in the first place – his son, who suffers from schizophrenia. Watson said he began the Human Genome Project in part to isolate the genes that cause mental illnesses.
“From cancer you die, but from mental disease you just live on and on – it doesn’t get any better,” he said. “I think one has to have grand visions.”
As the event came to a close, General Martin Dempsey sang a beautiful rendition of “Red is the Rose” for Rosamond Mary Moore Carew in honor of her birthday, who was surrounded by her daughter Kathleen and great-granddaughter Ava Rosamond DeSane.
Also in attendance were 2015 Irish America Hall of Fame inductee Ed Kenney, Tom Moran of Mutual of America, Loretta Brennan Glucksman, 2014 Hall of Fame inductee Bob Devlin, Consul General Barbara Jones, Jack Haire of Concern Worldwide U.S., appointed Concern Worldwide U.S. CEO Colleen Kelly, Sinn Féin’s representative to the U.S. Rita O’Hare, and deputy leader of Sinn Féin Mary Lou McDonald.
Founded in 2010 in celebration of Irish America magazine’s 25th anniversary, the Irish America Hall of Fame honors the extraordinary achievements of Irish-American leaders, from their significant accomplishments and contributions to American society to the personal commitment to safeguarding their Irish heritage and the betterment of Ireland.
The Irish America Hall of Fame is housed at the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience in New Ross, Co. Wexford. For more information on the Dunbrody Famine Ship Experience, please visit our archives to see a special feature printed in Irish America magazine
The 2017 Irish America Hall of Fame is sponsored by: Mutual of America, LIUNA, Guinness, University College Dublin Michael Smurfit Graduate Business School, Northwell Health, CIE Tours International, House of Waterford Crystal, The Ireland Funds, 1-800-Flowers.com, Tourism Ireland, and the Irish Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade. ♦