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The First Word:
Making the Most of
What You’ve Got

The cottage in Donegal where Kathleen’s Lynch’s mother grew up. Watercolor by M.A. Kitchel, 2005.

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
October / November 2014

“Being Irish means being the best you can be by making the most of what you’ve got. It’s about being loyal to your friends and family, sharing with them all the joys that make life worth living.”  – Wall Street 50 Honoree Sean Kelly.

In the 1980s when Kathleen Lynch was making her way to Wall Street, Irish America was in its infancy. With little money and few staff, we all became dab hands at multi-tasking.

One of the duties I was charged with was keeping accounts.

Looking back, I probably wasn’t the best person for the job.

When we finally got an accountant, he gave us the good news/bad news scenario.

The bad news was that we owed $20,000 more than what was on the books. The good news was that we had $20,000 more in the bank than recorded.

So, no problem, right?

Over the years, I’ve driven our financial people dolally with my attitude towards money. I could blame Sister Dolores who read to us from The Lives of the Saints when she was supposed to be teaching us about bookkeeping, but in fairness, I think my outlook is caused by something in my DNA – inherited from my father.

Money was never talked about in our household. I would pick up clues as to the state of our finances by watching my father go through the mail. As the postman pedaled his way back down the avenue, Dad would slip the brown window envelopes – the bills – into his inside pocket. What my mother didn’t know wouldn’t worry her.

(When my father died, I found a couple of old envelopes in his tweed jacket. On the back of one, he had written all our names and dates of births).

In contrast to my father Pat, my mother Norah was marvelous at budgeting.

“Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves,” she used to say. Though she was careful with money, mother was never cheap. She went without so that we kids didn’t have to. And always made sure that we had great presents at Christmas.

On meeting Kathleen Lynch, the COO of UBS, whose own mother, Norah, was also “good at stretching a buck,” I thought about what it is that we inherit from our parents – the mapping that’s in our DNA.

I once heard of a linguist who could pin-point with some accuracy, the generation of an Irish American by the inflections and rhythms of speech that had gotten passed down from one generation to another.

But it’s more than the subset of language that we inherit. It’s gesture, too. I swear to you as Kathleen Lynch stood in her office, arms folded across her chest, engaged in conversation and listening, I could picture her maternal grandmother and aunts standing in front of the hearth fire in the cottage in Donegal where her mother grew up, and know the stuff of which she is made.

(There’s a good reason why the song, “The Homes of Donegal,” tells of the welcome found there.)

Inherited too, as we see from the profiles of our honorees, is a work ethic passed down from ancestors who left home to travel to a place where they could earn a wage, and send money back to those who stayed behind. (Irish women domestics sent millions, in small amounts, back to Ireland in the years following the Famine and through the middle of the following century, and paid passage for countless family members to join them in America.

I once met the descendants of a mill worker in Holyoke, MA, who had saved her money, and a few years after she emigrated, made a trip home and returned with her entire family, including her parents and a new husband!

As we honor our Wall Street 50, we honor their ancestors too, with the knowledge that the many contributions our honorees make to community programs are done in memory of those who endured.

Of course, if we had listened to financial advisors we would never have started Irish America with just $50,000 – back in 1985 we thought it was a lot of money.

We have survived for almost 30 years because of our loyal readers, advertisers and sponsors. We approach the holiday season knowing that our readership will swell, as it does at this time every year, because of the gift subscriptions that you give. Thank you for your continued support and interest in your heritage.

Congratulations to Kathleen Lynch, who will give the keynote address at our Wall Street 50 gala celebration, and to all our honorees.

You do us proud.

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