Those We Lost
By Irish America staff
August / September 2009
Charles Jerome “Chuck” Daly, head N.B.A. coach and Hall of Fame inductee, died at age 78 on May 9 of pancreatic cancer in Jupiter, Florida. Born in St. Mary’s, Pennsylvania, and raised in the 1930s by an Irish Catholic family in the midst of the Depression, Daly’s humble roots kept him grounded throughout his successes. He resolved in high school to become a basketball coach and began his career in 1955 at Punxsutawney High School in PA, where he coached for eight years. From there, Daly became an assistant coach at Duke University in 1963, and then landed the head coach position at Boston College in 1969. Daly joined the N.B.A. in 1978 as an assistant coach for the Philadelphia 76ers, but his status as a coaching legend was secured when he was hired by the Detroit Pistons in 1983. The team had never won an N.B.A. championship since 1948, but they made the playoffs every year during their 9 seasons under his coaching. Daly’s Pistons reached the N.B.A. finals three years in a row, winning two consecutive championships in 1989 and 1990. In 1992, Daly led the first United States Olympic “Dream Team” to the gold medal in Barcelona, and in 1994 he was inducted into the Basketball Hall of Fame in Springfield, Massachusetts. He retired permanently at the end of the 1998-99 season with a 638-437 record spanning 14 seasons. Known for his self-effacing and personable nature as well as his good taste in clothing, Daly’s communication skills and charm allowed him to coach some of the largest egos in basketball to great success. He is survived by his wife Terry, daughter Cydney, and two grandchildren.
Austin Delaney came to New York in 1963 from Carrowkeel, Irishtown in Co. Mayo, when he was in his early twenties and possessed little more than
a union card. He died May 15
a much richer man at the age
of 70, with the Midtown Manhattan Rosie O’Grady’s saloons and the South Street Seaport’s Harbour Lights Restaurant to his name. Hundreds of friends and admirers attended his wake and funeral in New York. Besides his significant success in the bar and restaurant world, Delaney was known in the New York Irish immigrant community as a great benefactor and networker, fundraising and assisting generations of Irish immigrants in making their first contacts in New York as well as serving as a friend to those in need of one. Ciaran Staunton, co-founder and president of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, called Delaney “the greatest Irishman I have ever met in this country.” Delaney’s coffin was flown back to Ireland, along with around twenty of his friends and family who attended his last cross-Atlantic flight back to Co. Mayo. Delaney, who died of cancer, is survived by his three children, three grandchildren, nephews and nieces.
Dr. Jerri Neilsen FitzGerald, Irish America’s 2001 Irish American of the Year, died June 23, a decade after she treated herself for breast cancer at the South Pole. The cancer returned in August 2005. The sole doctor among 41 staff members at the National Science Foundation’s Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station in the winter of 1999, she diagnosed and treated her own disease, performing a biopsy on herself with the help of colleagues that she directed, and receiving medical advice and medication through long-distance assistance from the U.S., including anti-cancer drugs dropped by the Air Force. Neilsen FitzGerald was rescued by the Air National Guard and her cancer went into remission after surgical interventions in America. Her book Ice Bound: A Doctor’s Incredible Battle for Survival at the South Pole, which was later made into a movie for television, details her story. For the past ten years, she traveled the world to speak about her life-changing experience, and worked as an ER doctor across the Northeast. In an e-mail to her parents from the North Pole in 1999, she wrote, “More and more as I am here and see what life really is, I understand that it is not when or how you die but how and if you truly were ever alive.” She is survived by her parents Lorine and Phil Cahill, brothers Scott and Eric Cahill, three children, Julia, Ben, and Alex, and her husband Thomas FitzGerald.
Danny La Rue
Danny La Rue, born Daniel Patrick Carroll in Cork City, Ireland in 1927, died at the age of 81 on May 31 of cancer after a groundbreaking career as both a female impersonator and one of the most highly paid performers on the British stage. With his combinations of elaborate costumes, musical acts, and celebrity impersonations, La Rue delighted diverse audiences and blazed a trail in drag theater. His debut performance as a “comic in a frock,” as he called himself, took place when he enlisted in the Royal Navy in 1944, after moving to London with his mother as a child and leaving school at age 14. He entertained his shipmates in the female role of Tondelayo in White Cargo, but reached larger audiences in 1954 in the revue Men Only, using his stage name for the first time. This breakout performance led him to jobs performing at top nightclubs, and in 1964 he opened his own club, Danny La Rue’s, where he entertained the likes of Judy Garland and Princess Margaret. In 1966, he brought the house down in the musical Come Spy With Me, his West End debut. His revue, The Danny La Rue Show, was viewed by over a million audience members during its two-year tenure at the Palace Theater in London. In 1984, La Rue took on the title role in a revival of the musical Hello, Dolly in London, the first time that role had been played by a man. In his 1987 autobiography, From Drags to Riches, La Rue called his style of drag entertainment “irresistible fun.”
Ed McMahon, the well-liked sidekick to Johnny Carson on The Tonight Show for almost thirty years, died June 23 at age 86 in Los Angeles after struggling with multiple health problems. He had had a series of operations after breaking his neck in a fall in 2007. Born in Detroit in 1923, McMahon dreamed of a career in entertainment. His father was an Irish Catholic vaudevillian who moved the family from one town to the next for his work, and by the time McMahon was a senior he had gone to 15 different high schools, holding various jobs including several as a salesman. His mother, Eleanor Russell, was Pennsylvania Dutch. McMahon’s paternal grandparents were Joseph F. and Katherine Fitzgerald McMahon of Lowell, Massachusetts. His grandfather, a master plumber, founded the J.F. McMahon Plumbing Company, and his grandmother was Rose Kennedy’s cousin. McMahon’s passion for business persisted even after he began working with Johnny Carson, and he was a paid spokesman for various companies and products throughout his career. McMahon was married three times, the last in 1992 to fashion designer Pam Hurn, who survives him.
Niall Millar, former director of the Irish Tourist Board in North America, died May 22 after a short illness. He was 61. A Dublin native, Millar came to the United States in 1987 after earning a master’s degree in economics from University College Dublin. Millar played an integral role in the 1990s expansion of Ireland as a U.S. tourist destination, working on negotiations that brought several airlines on the route between Ireland and the U.S. Most recently, Millar was the president of the Atlantic Golf Company. He participated in charitable activities in New York for Irish organizations and was a leading member of the U.S. Ireland Council. Millar was buried on May 26 in Rye, New York, where he died. A Memorial Mass was held June 5 in the Church of the Annunciation, Rathfarnham, in Dublin. He is survived by his wife, Pauline, and three children.
Dr. Michael Vincent O’Brien, Irish champion racehorse trainer, died at 92 on June 1 at his home in Straffan, Co. Kildare. Born in Churchtown, Co. Cork, O’Brien’s stunning training career spanned half a century, during which he won 16 English classics and 27 Irish classics. He won the Cheltenham Gold Cup four times, in 1948, 1949, 1950, and 1953, as well as 25 races at Royal Ascot, three Grand National wins and three Arc de Triomphe victories. Besides his triumphant racing record, O’Brien bred generations of champion horses and formed the Coolmore Stud breeding syndicate with his son-in-law John Magnier and breeder Robert Sangster in 1975. In 2003, a poll by The Racing Post named Mr. O’Brien at the top of their list of the hundred most important people in horse racing. President Mary McAleese said, “As one of the most successful horse trainers in the industry, he played a key role in the establishment of Ireland as a centre of racing excellence.” His wife, Jacqueline, three daughters, two sons, and his grandchildren survive O’Brien. His daughter Sue said in a statement, “Dad’s racing career speaks for itself and needs no elaboration. There was nobody like him.”