A Man of Ideals

Left to right: University of St. Thomas President Robert R. Ivany, Lori Gallagher, director of the Center for Irish Studies, with Bill Flynn who spoke at the University in October, 2005.

By Dr. Robert Ivany, Contributor
Heritage Series 2008

Dr. Robert Ivany, President of the University of St. Thomas, Houston, writes about Bill Flynn’s dedication to serving others. The university has initiated a campaign to name and strengthen its existing Center for Irish Studies as the William Flynn Center for Irish Studies.

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For the past several years, I have had the good fortune to observe a great, selfless leader in action. William J. Flynn, Chairman Emeritus of Mutual of America Insurance Company, is a true leader. Bill and I met in 2002, when he was a member of the Distinguished Visitors Board for the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where I served as commandant. I admired his work promoting the peace process in Northern Ireland and his vigorous support for the men and women of our armed forces.

Bill successfully promotes the ideals in which he believes. More importantly, he does so with integrity and dedication to serving others. I doubt anyone knows all of his accomplishments, not only because he habitually understates his achievements, but also because he freely gives credit to all who have worked with him. His contributions to professionalism within the insurance industry, his lauded efforts to bring about lasting peace in Northern Ireland and his willingness to help scores of worthy causes have enriched the lives of men and women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States.

Rarely has a citizen of one nation contributed so significantly to the peace and prosperity of another. Bill’s initiatives to enlist the support of Irish-American chief executive officers to promote grass roots dialogue in Northern Ireland and to use his stature to bring opposing sides to the negotiating table have been recognized by former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and countless organizations here and abroad. Much of his work was behind the scenes facilitating cooperation and collaboration.

As President of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, I’m proud to honor Bill’s tremendous achievements. In recognition of his contribution, the University of St. Thomas has initiated a campaign to name and strengthen our existing Center for Irish Studies as the William Flynn Center for Irish Studies. Integral to the success of this project are the endowment of the Center and the collection of material relating to the Irish peace process. We are very fortunate to have gained support of donors and friends from all over the United States and Ireland. In addition, St. Thomas organized a group of individuals who value Bill and his achievements.

“The Friends of Bill Flynn,” who wish to see his legacy memorialized by nurturing Irish culture in America and promoting the study of Irish history and politics, will continue to meet with Bill and his distinguished guests to discuss the current situation in Northern Ireland and the prospects for peace throughout the world.

Bill became associated with St. Thomas through a presentation to the Houston community in 2005. Following his talk entitled “Peace in Northern Ireland: Is it Lasting Peace?” Bill reflected, “When I visited the University of St. Thomas, I was astounded by the vibrancy of its Center for Irish Studies. In partnership with the Irish Society and the Houston community, St. Thomas has created a dynamic focus for appreciating Irish heritage and culture as well as promoting peace and reconciliation through the democratic model of Northern Ireland. I am pleased to be part of this endeavor.”

The University of St. Thomas Center for Irish Studies has given particular attention to the Irish peace process. Bill’s papers relating to his role in bringing about the historic events of the last decade are key to enhancing our expertise on peace building. In addition to Bill’s lecture, the University has hosted many speakers on Northern Ireland, including Gerry Adams, who spoke on the Good Friday Agreement, and Fr. Alec Reid and Rev. Harold Good, who were the independent clerical witnesses who observed the destruction of Irish Republican Army weapons and continue to work on peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland and around the world.

The University of St. Thomas is one of a handful of universities west of the Mississippi with a minor and a graduate concentration in Irish Studies and a Center for Irish Studies. Each semester, we offer four to six interdisciplinary courses in the Irish peace process, history, politics, law and culture, film, theology, music and the Irish American experience to undergraduate and graduate students as well as to the community.

In 2006-2007, the University of St. Thomas was chosen to participate in the Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching Program to promote the Irish language. St. Thomas was in good company with New York University, the University of Notre Dame and Boston College. Through Fulbright, St. Thomas hosted Professor Méadhbh McInerney, an Irish language professor with a master’s degree from University College Cork, to teach on campus for 2006-2007. In 2007-2008, she served as a visiting scholar in Irish language. In 2008-2009, we will have a new visiting scholar in Irish language and music, Aoife Ni Ghloinn, who has a master’s degree in Irish language and music from Queen’s University, Belfast. We also have received grants from the Irish Government Department of Community, Rural and Gaeltacht Affairs to promote the Irish language and provide scholarships and books to students.

To promote peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, St. Thomas participates in the Business Education Initiative program that brings students from universities in Northern Ireland to faith-based universities in the United States. The program provides students with an opportunity to experience other cultures while studying business. Donors in Ireland and the United States provide these students with tuition. St. Thomas students, meanwhile, study abroad in Ireland and Northern Ireland.

The University of St. Thomas is dedicated to educating leaders of faith and character. Bill Flynn’s leadership, his passion for peace and his commitment to social justice serve as an inspiring role model for students and faculty alike.

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Dr. Robert Ivany is the president of the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic, Basilian university founded by Irish-born priests in 1947 in the heart of Houston. Ivany came to the university after a 34-year career in the United States Army, from which he retired as a decorated Major General. He presided over the United States Army War College in Carlisle, PA, served as the Army Aide to the President of the United States and an assistant professor of history at the Military Academy at West Point. After completing his Army service in October 2003, he joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University as an adjunct professor in Executive Education. In addition to earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy, he received a Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. ♦

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