April May 2017 Issue – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Thu, 18 Apr 2019 19:22:17 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Hall of Fame: Dr. William C. Campbell https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-dr-william-c-campbell/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-dr-william-c-campbell/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:59:34 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29018 Read more..]]> ­For centuries, onchocerciasis, commonly known as river blindness, had plagued remote communities in Africa, Latin America, and Yemen. Lifelines for villagers, the rivers are breeding grounds for black flies that, when infected with a parasitic worm, transmit the disease through repeated biting. In return, those infected transfer the disease to uninfected flies who bite them, resulting in a plague characterized by extreme itching and eventual blindness.

That the simple chore of getting water in these communities is no longer as much of a danger as it had been for generations is due to William “Bill” Campbell, an Irish-born scientist who, with his colleagues at Merck Research Laboratories, discovered a novel therapy for treating the disease. In 2015, he was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, sharing it with Satoshi Ōmura of Japan.

It was in the late 1970s when, working with a batch of microbe strains that Ōmura sent over for evaluation, Campbell developed the drug Ivermectin (later named Mectizan) and suggested it would work for river blindness in humans. Not only did the drug work, it also proved effective against the parasite that causes elephantiasis, which co-exists with river blindness in many places.

More than 25 years later, since Merck made the drug free in those countries most affected, treating 250 million annually, the results speak for themselves. Several countries in Africa are making significant progress towards eliminating both diseases. In Latin America, three countries – Colombia, Ecuador, and Mexico – have effectively eliminated river blindness.

The discovery, Campbell says, “Was a long process of finding a drug that worked against some worms, and then testing it against other worms, and following up with more testing, and more experiments. That involved a lot of hard work and a lot of persistence. Knowing enough about worms to draw analogies between the different types, and where they live and what they do, was a key factor.”

William Campbell  works with Drew  undergraduate student Emmanuel (Manny) Gabriel. He was,  Campbell says, “a truly exceptional student. After graduation he did a joint M.D.-Ph.D.  program and became a surgeon. He is now  engaged in advanced cancer surgery.”

William Campbell works with Drew undergraduate student Emmanuel (Manny) Gabriel. He was, Campbell says, “a truly exceptional student. After graduation he did a joint M.D.-Ph.D. program and became a surgeon. He is now engaged in advanced cancer surgery.”

In terms of Merck making the drug available for free in poor countries, Campbell defers credit to the executives of the company after successful human trials done in collaboration with French tropical medicine experts in Africa.

“It worked just wonderfully well and the question then was what to do with it. As a pharmaceutical company, it would have been nice to sell it at a profit, but those most affected lived in poor countries, so there was no way people were going to get it unless it was donated,” he says.

“This decision was decided by the chairman and CEO of the company in conversation with a handful of three or four top associates, and I was not one of them. To my mind, they are the ones, and the only ones, who deserve credit for that donation.”

I met with Campbell at his cottage in Cape Cod last summer. At 86, I found him to be fit and trim with twinkling eyes, a keen mind, and self-effacing wit, as well as decidedly modest about his Nobel Prize.

“I think of it as an award in which I’m the representative of the Merck company’s research teams,” he said. The Nobel experience itself was “just out of this world,” he allows. “And then to meet President Obama was a great honor. I think the main positive [of being awarded the prize] is being contacted by people you haven’t been in touch with for many, many years and to know that people still remember you. In fact, the most positive thing is that people actually enjoy hearing about it. They actually get pleasure out of talking to someone who had [the Nobel] experience.”

William Campbell receiving his Nobel Prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall, December 10, 2015.

William Campbell receiving his Nobel Prize from H.M. King Carl XVI Gustaf of Sweden at the Stockholm Concert Hall, December 10, 2015.

At the time we met, Campbell was dealing with all the attention that being a Nobel laureate brings. “There is no way you can stop it from changing your life because there is just a constant barrage of invitations and letters and emails and requests. And while they are all wonderful to have, there are just so many of them and I am now very ancient and have no secretary or manpower or secretarial skills, it is stressful for me. Whether I say yes or no, it is just a constant preoccupation, especially if the invitation is from someone I know, and I have a lot of speeches to give and lectures to write.”

Since we spoke last summer, Campbell has traveled Ireland. He spoke at the Institute of Technology Sligo, then headed to Donegal for a homecoming reception in Ramelton, and following a few days break to visit with family, he traveled on to his alma mater, Trinity College Dublin, where a new fellowship, “The William C. Campbell Lectureship in Parasite Biology,” has been created.

We keep in touch by email, and he tells me that our Hall of Fame event is one of the last he will do. He’s looking forward to a return to a quieter life with his wife and family in North Andover, Massachusetts. He and Mary Mastin Campbell met at a church function in Elizabeth, New Jersey over 50 years ago, and she’s been at his side ever since. They have two grown daughters and a son, and family and grandchildren are an important part of their lives.

Campbell keeps fit playing doubles ping pong games, several times a week, enjoys solitary kayak trips in early morning, and the occasional hike up nearby half-mile hill. He spends much of his time painting and writing poetry, which reflects his passion for roundworms and other kinds of parasitic worms.

Campbell and his wife, Mary, pictured with their daughter, Besty, her husband, Adam Learner, and their children, Jackson, Keira, and Maya.

Campbell and his wife, Mary, pictured with their daughter, Besty, her husband, Adam Learner, and their children, Jackson, Keira, and Maya. (Photo: Kit DeFever)

“I consider them beautiful,” he said. “They are just doing their own thing and not meaning to be destructive. And I have said in some recent papers that the objective is not to get rid of parasitic worms, the objective is to get rid of parasitic diseases.”

The American Society of Parasitologists has been a staple in Campbell’s life since he moved to Wisconsin in the 1950s. The society’s annual auction raises money to bring students to the meetings, and Campbell’s donated art, sees bidding wars that drive the prices skyward. He also helped create an award to recognize student achievement in parasitology.

Campbell has worked with both human and veterinary medicine because parasites are so integral to both. Among the other diseases he has helped eradicate is trichinosis, a disease that comes primarily from eating under-cooked pork.

“I gave a talk at George Washington University, in D.C., and at the end of the lecture, a young fellow put up his hand and said, ‘I heard that you once gave Scotch whiskey to pigs. Can you confirm that?’ And I said, ‘I never in my entire life gave Scotch whiskey to pigs. I gave them Irish whiskey!’ I fed the pigs seven-year-old John Jameson whiskey because of reports that alcoholic beverages would prevent trichinosis, and published a paper on it.” (It worked, he says, but “you would have to drink an awful lot of it. It would be a very expensive and hazardous cure.”)

Today, there is a big focus on using one’s own autoimmune system to target disease – some of the treatments use worms. “There is a connection between early childhood worm infections and a stronger immunity,” he says. “There is evidence that you can cure some diseases with worms. In some countries you can pay to become infected with worms as a cure for irritable bowel syndrome. It hasn’t caught on here because people are put off by the idea of worms. Most of the research, with a notable few exceptions, is being done on the fringe. Established researchers won’t touch it.”

“Parasite  Window,” 1992, featured in Campbell’s book, Poem, Paint and Pathogen.  As well as being a renowned parasitologist, Campbell is a talented artist and poet. His work usually features parasitic worms which he considers “very beautiful.”

“Parasite Window,” 1992, featured in Campbell’s book, Poem, Paint and Pathogen. As well as being a renowned parasitologist, Campbell is a talented artist and poet. His work usually features parasitic worms which he considers “very beautiful.”

He told Adam Smith, the chief scientific officer of Nobel Media, “There is a certain amount of hubris in humans thinking that they can create molecules as well as nature can create molecules in terms of the diversity of molecules, because nature consistently produces molecules that have not been thought of by humans.”

Campbell’s appreciation of nature is rooted in his childhood. He grew up in Ramelton, a small farming town in County Donegal, with two older brothers and a younger sister. Situated on mouth of the River Lennon, it is one of the most beautiful and remote spots in Ireland. His parents, Sarah Jane Campbell (née Patterson) of Dunfanaghy, and R.J. Campbell of Fanad, ran a general store supplying farmers. His father was a man ahead of his time, alway looking for ways to make improvements. “One thing that sort of typified my father was that he brought electricity to the Ramelton. He hired people to set up the poles and the wires to bring electricity to the whole town,” he recalls. His mother he describes as saintly. “I don’t use ‘saintly’ in a religious or liturgical sense, though she was devout, but rather to convey a sense of her profound goodness. She was very caring. I never heard her say a bad thing about anyone.”

In addition to running the store, Campbell’s father also farmed, raising shorthorn dairy cattle that won prizes at agricultural shows. It was at an agricultural show that 14-year-old Campbell picked up a leaflet on fluke worms in sheep that, in hindsight, may have influenced his interest in becoming a scientist. But then Campbell could just as easily have become a writer, an artist or a historian. His teacher during his formative years, Miss Martin, “instilled a love of learning, not in the sense of a chore to be mastered, but getting the satisfaction of knowing something, and remembering something. She had a tremendous influence on me,” he said.

Campbell’s path to becoming a parasitologist began in college, with Desmond Smyth, the renowned science professor at Trinity College, Dublin. “He changed my life by developing my interest in parasitic worms,” he told me. And Smyth was there again to make sure that his student took it to the next level.

The picturesque town of Ramelton, County Donegal, where William Campbell grew up. The town had a homecoming reception for Dr. Campbell last September.

The picturesque town of Ramelton, County Donegal, where William Campbell grew up. The town had a homecoming reception for Dr. Campbell last September.

“As I was nearing graduation, a professor at the University of Wisconsin wrote to Smyth in Dublin. They knew each other’s work, and as a result of this contact, I applied to do research and graduate studies at Wisconsin,” he says of the decision to move to the U.S. “When I got there, my professor had a project on liver fluke that he and his department were working on. This was the giant liver fluke that is very pathogenic in deer and sheep, so it turned out to be the perfect spot for me.”

Recruited by Merck out of school, Campbell stayed with the company for over 30 years, developing many significant drugs for humans and animals. But it is his hope that the future of science in medicine will be one free of chemicals. “We need to look at the immunological response and other biological approaches rather than chemical contrivances. We need to continue to work on other ways of interrupting life cycles and disrupting transmission of disease. One would hope that eventually [chemicals] would be replaced but certainly we are not anywhere near that yet, except in certain cases such as virus diseases,” he said.

After his retirement from Merck, Campbell taught undergraduate biology and graduate history at Drew University until 2012.

Former Drew student Manny Gabriel (see opening page photo), who just finished a fellowship at Roswell and will soon be working at the Mayo Clinic Florida, wrote to me of Campbell’s influence.

“Dr. Campbell was integral to my decision to becoming a physician scientist. It is amazing to me that my first publication was with him, but truth be told our initial submission was rejected. He told me not to worry and that this was simply part of the scientific process. A few short months later, he was right and our paper was accepted. Since then, I’ve had my share of rejected projects and papers, but each time I recall Dr. Campbell’s humble and practical words of encouragement. My two and a half years in the lab with him built up my perseverance and resilience, which is essential in this profession. I’m happy to say that his training has guided productivity and success in my academic pursuits. I am truly fortunate to have spent this time with Dr. Campbell, and am a better scientist and person because of it.”

As a teacher, Campbell often began his lectures by showing a picture of his father’s cows. “Of course it has absolutely nothing to do with the lecture, but I like to tell people where I’m from because it is such a part of me,” he said. When I remark that he still has a hint of an Irish accent after all this time in America, he laughs. “After about three days in Donegal, Mary says it comes back.”

“His lovely mother used to put together such wonderful picnics for us on Marble Hill beach,” Mary, who was an attentive host throughout my visit, adds. Campbell agrees. “I was very lucky to have had a great mother and a great father.” He pauses. “That’s one of those things about the Prize – you wish they were around.” ♦

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Hall of Fame: Michael Dowling https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-michael-dowling/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-michael-dowling/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:58:56 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29027 Read more..]]> In 1995, Limerick-native Michael Dowling was offered the position of senior vice president of hospital services at Northwell Health, formerly North Shore-LIJ Health System, which was then a collection of several hospitals on Long Island. In 1997, he advanced to the position of executive vice president and chief operating officer, and a short five years later was named president and CEO of the organization.

It was a quick ascendancy, though no surprise. Under Dowling’s leadership, growth has been explosive at Northwell. Its service potential has expanded to include 21 hospitals and more than 550 ambulatory care facilities, and it is one of the nation’s largest healthcare systems and New York State’s largest integrated healthcare network. It is also the base of operations for the Center of Learning and Innovation (the largest corporate university in healthcare) as well as the Patient Safety Institute, the most prominent patient simulation center in the country. And, with 62,000 employees, Northwell Health is the largest private employer in the state.

This year, Dowling was also named the grand marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade. He, as well as a delegation from Northwell, have marched in the parade for the past several years, but this recognition came as a surprise to him, he said, speaking over the phone with Irish America’s editor Patricia Harty in early March. “But I’ve got a lot of recognitions over the years and I would say that this is probably the pinnacle, especially by the Irish community, so I couldn’t be more grateful.”

The road that led to Dowling’s current position was by no means a short or straight one. Over the course of his illustrious professional life, he has held numerous diverse jobs that give him a unique understanding of the hurdles faced by people in all walks of life. It is this mindful, empathetic approach that makes him one of the most thoughtful and considered business executives in the healthcare industry.

Michael Dowling, held by his mother Meg in front of their thatched cottage home in Knockaderry, County Limerick, 1950.

Michael Dowling, held by his mother Meg in front of their thatched cottage home in Knockaderry, County Limerick, 1950.

Born just outside the town of Knockaderry, County Limerick, Dowling was the brother of four younger siblings and son of two disabled parents – his father suffered from severe arthritis and his mother had a hearing impairment. Their conditions set the tone for his personal relationship with the healthcare world. The family home had neither electricity, heat, nor running water. Yet never for an instant did his mother allow him to believe that he could do anything less than what he set his mind to.

“My mother always had books around, so I read books at a young age,” he says. “I read Shakespeare as a kid – my mother had the works of Shakespeare around. I never knew where she got the books. There was an American author I loved named Zane Grey who wrote about the American Midwest. I was always fascinated by how he could write in such a way that, when you read the pages, you could picture what he was writing about. So I could visualize the west part of the United States – Montana, the Dakotas, et cetera – from his writing. I was always fascinated by that.”

America, it turned out, was indeed on the cards for Dowling’s future. While many took a narrow-minded view of his prospects (one local milk farmer went as far as to tell him to his face that he would never go to college), he defied their predictions by being the first member of his family to progress to third-level education, which he began at University College Cork in the fall of 1967. Beginning at age 17, he went to New York on a J-1 visa each summer, working every job he could juggle at once to fund the entirety of his four-year undergraduate degree. He compiled experience loading cargo on the docks, working in the engine rooms of tour boats, plumbing, cleaning, and on construction sites, often working 120-hour weeks not only in order to pay his tuition, but to continue to support the family he missed across the sea, even paying for his siblings to attend college.

“I arrived in 1968 and, to be honest, almost everything that has happened to me I couldn’t have imagined,” he says. “When I came here, I basically wanted to figure out how to make some money so I could hopefully go to college and help out at home.”

When he got here, he was awestruck. “I was almost 18. And you know, every kid dreams about doing stuff, but it was also about what a wonderful country the United States is and the opportunities that exist. So when I came here I was fascinated, first of all, with the diversity that existed. I remember walking on the streets, thinking of all the people from all different parts of the world who were just passing me by – it was just an unbelievable education. And of course, the buildings! I remember looking up the tall buildings, wondering why they didn’t fall down – the highest thing I have ever been on was the roof of our thatched cottage, you know?”

That first summer, he worked on New York City’s docks cleaning boat engines on the Circle Line. “To me, it was absolutely phenomenal. I was happy. I couldn’t have been happier! People ask me if it was hard work, but none of that stuff was hard because everything is relative,” he says.

“There were no jobs back in Ireland, so I was over here, and it did not matter what kind of the job it was. I worked in construction and I worked as a plumber; I worked cleaning out schools at nighttime and I cleaned out bars in the morning; it was all great.

“I never expected to stay in New York – to me it was [just to be] able to pay for college, but of course when you are here and you see the opportunities; I eventually decided to stay.”

Dowling and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Dowling and former New York Governor Mario Cuomo.

Dowling firmly believes that these arduous summer months were a necessary learning period, showing him that privilege wasn’t needed if one was willing to work hard in order to achieve their goals. “There’s an old saying,” he once told Adam Bryant of the New York Times: “‘The same boiling water that softens the potato hardens the egg.’ It’s what you’re made of; it’s not your circumstance. People like to play victim too much. And obviously circumstances influence you, but they should never hold you back from succeeding.”

His dauntless energy saw him through to the completion of his undergraduate degree, moving onward to permanent residence in New York and enrollment in a master’s program in social policy at Fordham University. It was here where he met his wife, Kathy Butler, with whom he eventually had two children – Elizabeth, a registered nurse specializing in oncology, and Brian, the imaging supervisor at Northwell Health’s Long Island facilities.

In 1979, Dowling became a faculty member at Fordham as director of the campus in Tarrytown, New York. He later served as a professor of social policy and the assistant dean of the Graduate School of Social Services. His commitment to the pursuit of social justice and improvement was recognized when Mario Cuomo, upon his election as Governor of New York in 1983, invited Dowling to venture into government service.

“When Mario Cuomo got elected, I did not know him. His appointments’ office reached out to me to tell me that my name had come up on a list of people and that they would be interested in talking to me about joining the administration,” Dowling explains. “I was, to put it mildly, a little surprised, but I met with the people from the governor’s office and I initially wasn’t inclined because I had my job at Fordham, I did not know Albany at all.” He took the offer to the head of the department at the time, Rev. John McCarthy, S.J., who convinced Dowling to try it out. “I went to Father McCarthy and he said, ‘Why don’t you do it for a year? If for whatever reason it doesn’t work and you don’t like it, or they don’t like you, you can come back to Fordham.’”

The Limerick Championship Hurling Team, 1971. Dowling is pictured front row, third from left.

The Limerick Championship Hurling Team, 1971. Dowling is pictured front row, third from left.

It was a good fit. Cuomo, himself the son of immigrants, matched in opinion with his new hire on many major issues. Dowling was eventually made the deputy secretary and director of Health, Education, and Human Services, and for 12 years in Albany advised the governor on a host of social topics including homelessness, Medicare, and the cocaine epidemic washing over New York at the time.

Integral to Dowling’s success is his ability to challenge pre-existing structures within the world of medical care and beyond – the balance of multiple modes and objectives, after all, is his area of expertise. In 2013, he established Northwell as a licensed commercial health insurance provider in order to better accommodate the needs of patients. “We want to be in the business of providing health as well as treating illness,” he explained to Irish America at the time, when he served as the Business 100 Awards keynote speaker. “It allows us to properly align incentives so we can better coordinate care, enhance quality and get better results.”

Dowling carries this personal approach with him in his weekly schedule, meeting with Northwell’s 150 new employees each Monday morning to explain his philosophy and vision for the company. “There are usually a lot of young people in the room,” he said in that same interview, “and one of the messages is to encourage them that no matter where they are at the moment, no matter what their current situation is, they can end up doing what I’m doing. I am always happy when a portion of our new hires are immigrants – they work hard, they strive, they see opportunity where others see barriers. There is no substitute for hard work, commitment, and personal achievement – and no greater satisfaction.”

When Dowling started at the company, there were three hospitals; today there are 21, and Northwell’s annual revenue is $11 billion. The company brings in 20 students from Ireland for work experience annually, with speech and hearing, nursing, and business students among their numbers. Northwell also offers compensation to help people return to school, whether for bachelor’s, master’s, or sometimes doctorate degrees. They also maintain the salary of military personnel while they are deployed so that they don’t loose any income; when they come back, their job is waiting. Northwell is continuing to expand rapidly under Dowling – they’ve moved into Connecticut, Westchester County, and upstate New York, and they are in discussions with potential partners to open locations in New Jersey and the Philadelphia area.

Michael Dowling is the 2017 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal.

Michael Dowling is the 2017 New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade Grand Marshal.

“Everything is about teamwork,” says Dowling. It’s something that he learned early in life, as a champion hurler with the Limerick county team. “The criteria that I look for in employees is their ability to work together, because nobody succeeds by himself at anything,” he says. He’s confident that his team will adjust to any upcoming reforms to the U.S. healthcare system that the Trump administration may make.

“You can have a strategy but you have to be able to adjust, as you would on the playing field. In a game of hurling, I might have a plan about how I am going to score when my opposition player hits me and knocks me on my butt, right? That doesn’t mean I am not getting up and scoring. I adjust!” he says. “You have to have a level of confidence about the ability of your team – in this case the whole management team and everybody else, to be able to succeed despite some outside influences.”

Despite the current political climate, Dowling believes that the American Dream is alive and well. “The United States is not this dark and forlorn place that some people would like us to believe. To me, it is still a positive, upbeat place with lots and lots of opportunities for those people who want to be proactive and take the advantage. Like everything else in life, no organization or society is perfect, but I don’t think you are going to find much better than the United States.”

Dowling is also adamant that the Irish American experience is a tool to be used for the good of others beyond the healthcare spheres. In 2015, Dowling served as the keynote speaker for the Irish America Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Awards, where he made a careful point of reminding the audience of the tragic image of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old Syrian boy who made international headlines when discovered, drowned, on a Turkish beach after his family’s bid for safety from political conflict.

“History repeats itself,” Dowling said. “And we as Irish people have a special perspective with regard to that issue, and, I believe, as people who are currently quite fortunate, to have an obligation to bring some element of sanity, humanism, civility, and understanding into the debates that are currently going on politically in this country and abroad regarding people who want to move in search of opportunity.”

From dock-hand to teacher, from government worker to businessman, Dowling’s experience allows him to think from a multitude of positions and see the world through the eyes of those from all walks of life. He understands that the drive to succeed exists in everyone, and that adversity and 120-hour working weeks are obstacles that, with the right attitude, need never be feared in the pursuit of a better future. ♦

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Hall of Fame: Sister Tesa Fitzgerald https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-sister-tesa-fitzgerald/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-sister-tesa-fitzgerald/#comments Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:57:58 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29034 Read more..]]> Sister Teresa “Tesa” Fitzgerald, a nun of the order of the Sisters of St. Joseph and the founder of non-profit organization Hour Children, is a long-time believer in the power of routine. “If you can embrace it,” she says, “you can run with it.” Stepping through the doors of Hour Children’s central facility, it’s easy to see why she holds this view so firmly – the place, abuzz with activity, runs like clockwork. The staff, gregarious and efficient, are busy preparing cans for an upcoming food drive and quick to greet visitors with a smile. Even Sr. Tesa’s much-loved cats fit seamlessly into the center’s rhythm, affectionate and constantly in motion. The walls are hidden beneath countless framed photographs and decorative pieces; hanging near the entrance, one brightly-colored sign draws the eye. It reads, “A mother holds her child’s hand for a while and their heart forever.”

Based out of Long Island City, Queens, Hour Children takes its name from the critical hours that govern the relationship between an incarcerated mother and her child – the hour of incarceration, visitation hours during the prison term, and the hopeful, often intimidating, hour of the woman’s release and reunification with her family. Sr. Tesa founded the organization in 1986, when it initially brought care to the children of women in Bedford Hills and Taconic Correctional Facilities on Long Island. Now, the organization’s services are composed of both prison and community-based support programs like case management and therapeutic services, adult mentoring, vocational training, and child day care and teen group facilities, as well internship opportunities at the organization’s community food pantry, three thrift shops, and employment office. Apartment housing is currently available up to 75 families at a time, with expansion not far off the horizon. In 2014, Sr. Tesa received the prestigious Opus Prize, a $1 million award for those who inspire and promote humanitarian and social work, which she pledged to invest in additional housing for Hour Children.

With a U.S. prison population composed overwhelmingly of male offenders, incarcerated women are frequently reduced to a shadowed demographic. Of the 58 prisons in New York State alone, a mere three are used for the detainment of females. Working first with non-profit group Providence House in the 1980s, Sr. Tesa paid visits to New York’s women’s prisons, listening to the stories as the inmates were prepared to tell them. During this time, she became aware of the outcast status of formerly-incarcerated women, their pain, and the very real possibility of homelessness that awaited them upon being freed.

“There is a need to specialize,” she says. “When you specialize in something, you become a little more savvy about it. You can advocate for people. You learn. You can become the spokesperson for a population that doesn’t have a voice.” Translating the cries of the silent, Sr. Tesa soon realized the need to help keep the mother-child bond strong during this time of divide. In order to do so, she wasted no time in becoming a licensed foster mother.

Sister Tesa,  second from left, with  (l-r) her brother John, mother Catherine,  father John, Sr., and brother Frank, on her day of entrance into the Sisters of St Joseph, in Brentwood, New York. Maureen, Sister Tesa’s sister, is not pictured.

Sister Tesa, second from left, with (l-r) her brother John, mother Catherine, father John, Sr., and brother Frank, on her day of entrance into the Sisters of St Joseph, in Brentwood, New York. Maureen, Sister Tesa’s sister, is not pictured.

“You have one woman’s jail, Rose M. Singer [on Riker’s Island],” she says. “There are 600 to 700 women there. When I go into a woman’s prison, it’s like an oasis. They’re so filled with grief and regret and remorse, but there’s also a sense of hope there. They’re so open and honest and willing to talk, much more than I would have been, to talk about their life stories and where they went wrong. They own their mistakes. How many of us own our mistakes?”

To say that Hour Children offers these women a second chance would be inaccurate, says Sr. Tesa, who is lightning-quick to explain that many ex-offenders never had a first chance to begin with. “The women I’ve met over the last 30 years in doing this, they didn’t have a family network of support. As a result, their early lives were in chaos. They lived in poverty, whether it was physical, emotional, or spiritual, and as a result, they sought life in negative ways. Drugs looked good, drinking looked good, men looked good. The streets drew them. When they come to us, whether they come with a child or as a single woman, we provide a community.” The recidivism rate for women who become involved with Hour Children is just 3.5 percent.

The model Hour Children supplies is as diverse as it is welcoming, encompassing both mothers and childless women, the young and the old, first-time offenders and those who have served multiple sentences, people of all races and religions willing to work towards future fulfilment for themselves and their loved ones.

Sr. Tesa’s appreciation for life’s stable dependabilities are shared by many of the women Hour Children strives to help establish a life – if not at first, then often after some exposure to her philosophies. “People can grow into a sense of sharing – it’s expected that you’re going to contribute your time, your talent, and your resources to our community in the house. You’re going to help cook, you’re going to help clean, and, at night, you’re going to come together in the kitchen – the hearth, which is so Irish, when you get down to it. You sit around with a cup of tea after the kids go to bed, and you talk. You share your experiences of the day, and you look for advice; and if you don’t look for it, you’re going to get it!”

The internalization of such routine, she believes, is essential for personal growth. “I know that if I have to get up early in the morning, I have to go to bed at a certain time. I have to have things ready. That’s learning. Structure becomes an ally rather than an enemy.”

Sister Tesa with children at the Hour Summer Camp and After School Program in Long Island City.

Sister Tesa with children at the Hour Summer Camp and After-School Program in Long Island City.

In a 1950s Irish Catholic cul-de-sac of the Hewlett hamlet in Nassau County, New York, the Fitzgerald family were certainly no strangers to the importance of structure. It gave pattern to their otherwise simple lives. Tesa’s father John was a gardener from Lative, County Kerry, and her mother Catherine was a maid from County Donegal. Young Tesa and her three siblings slept in a fold-out bed on the porch of their tiny bungalow. Her parents made clear what was really important.

“My father, he would get up and go to 6:30 mass every Sunday morning,” Sr. Tesa recalls. “He had just one suit, and it was always the same shirt. He’d go by himself to the 6:30, come home, and get us all up. He had a truck, an old black truck, and he would clean it out on Saturday night, get all the machinery out of the back of it, and then put these two boards in the back. That’s where we’d sit while he’d drive us to church. He’d drop us off, and we’d walk home, but that was his way of getting us there.”

Like so many other Irish migrants, John and Catherine, who met in the U.S., put every cent they earned into broadening their children’s future horizons, giving them a Catholic education, and supporting those still living across the ocean. To receive a transatlantic letter, she explains, was the closest thing they had to real interaction with those back in Ireland. “A letter would come, my mother would read the letter, and then call my aunt and read her the letter. By the time it was all over, the thing was just worn. It was something from home.”

However, there was no letter long enough that could substitute a real presence, as Tesa learned the night they received word of her grandmother’s death in Donegal. “A phone call came in from my aunt,” she says. “My mother cried. Later on in life, I kept thinking, to get that call and not be present for that… It was awful.”

Despite contending with the difficulties laid upon all diaspora Irish, Catherine worked tirelessly to provide her children with the resources they would need for an auspicious future. Sr. Tesa remembers she often saw her in a black dress and white apron, knowing nothing of it being a housemaid’s uniform, thinking only that her mother looked beautiful.

Sister Tesa with New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sr. Tesa’s Long Island City district, at New York City Hall. (Photo: Jimmy Van Bramer / Twitter)

Sister Tesa with New York City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents Sr. Tesa’s Long Island City district, at New York City Hall. (Photo: Jimmy Van Bramer / Twitter)

With the unshakeable love of a mother-child connection inspiring the constant forward momentum of Hour Children’s work, success stories are bountiful. An experience particularly close to Sr. Tesa’s heart is that which she shared with Julia, the daughter of a teenage girl wrongly incarcerated during the New York drug raids in the 1980s. After the death of her maternal grandparents, Julia became one of Sr. Tesa’s first foster children. She would leap at any chance to attend visitation hours, “sitting in the back seat and talking to her imaginary friends about what the visit was going to be like, what her mother would be wearing, what color lipstick she would have on,” she says.

“Then, to watch them in the visiting room, it was like… oh my God, everything just faded away but the two of them. Julia was the center of this woman’s life. We helped advocate for clemency for her mother, and when Julia was nine, her mother was freed. We were outside. They went off to live together, and Julia went to college. Her mother did well, working in real estate.”

Little Julia, Sr. Tesa says, was her earliest teacher in this 30-year study of the importance of maintaining the closeness of mother and child through all stages of incarceration. Through her, she learned that it really is the small things that count the most. “All the little ways they did it… she would get something ready in her room, and say, ‘My mother needs to see this, can you take a picture?’ So I took pictures of everything. It’s important, because it’s the little things in life that are meaningful. When things get tough, you need something of substance to hold on to.”

The effects of Hour Children upon the lives of the families it reaches are manifold – loving relationships are not only saved, strengthened, mended, and recreated, but every day, new ones are forged in ways even Sr. Tesa cannot predict.

“When Christmas came this year, it was amazing in my house,” she says. “Typically, we provide gifts, Santa comes, all of that. But this particular group of people bought for each other. They bought for me. They bought for the other sister who lives with us. It was just such a wonderful, real experience. And it wasn’t about the stuff, it was about the experience.”

The fact that Sr. Tesa has made her own home in the Astoria Hour Children housing facility should come as no surprise. For her, Hour Children is no mere project, but a way of life and a calling to represent a population so often left out in the cold.

Embedding herself in the daily rituals of it all has allowed Sr. Tesa to transform Hour Children into that which it strives to inspire – a close-knit family.

“I never thought I’d say this 30 years ago, but there’s a sense of pride for [the families] in being part of this. When you say that you’re with Hour Children, you immediately make it so that people know where you’ve come from, but it doesn’t matter any more. They’ve crossed that bridge. They’re owning their history; no one denies it. But it’s in the past. And here they are, building their futures.” ♦

_______________

Olivia O’Mahony is Irish America’s editorial assistant and copyeditor. Born in New York and raised in Lucan, County Dublin, she holds an international degree in English literature and anthropology from Maynooth University. She currently lives in Manhattan.

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Hall of Fame: Terry O’Sullivan https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-terry-osullivan/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-terry-osullivan/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:56:35 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29040 Read more..]]> For more than 150 years, the American labor movement has been a conduit for Irish American economic growth and, just as importantly, between the Irish in America and their families still in Ireland as well as republican organizations on both sides of the Atlantic. Irish laborers in America sent an estimated $260 million across the Atlantic between 1850 and 1900, and Irish and Irish American labor leaders were seminal in the power-building of unions in the early 20th century – people like Jim Larkin, James Connolly, Constance Markievicz, Terence Powderly, Mother Jones, and John Devoy.

The long and deep connection between the Irish and the American labor movements is alive and well in Terry O’Sullivan, general president of the Laborers International Union of North America.

O’Sullivan’s top priority for LIUNA is for it to enable every one of its members to live a middle-class way of life. His dream for Ireland is for it to be united and independent. He is a powerful orator, unafraid to speak his mind, and passionately committed to achieving these two goals.

“We’re proud that through collective bargaining, LIUNA has provided generations of our members a pathway to the middle class,” O’Sullivan says. “That work is part of a broader struggle for justice, and we will never back up, never back down, never retreat, and never surrender in the never-ending battle for workers’ rights, for immigrant rights, for civil rights, and for human rights.”

LUNA general president Terry O’Sullivan  speaks at a 1916  commemoration in Dublin, March 24, 2016.

LUNA general president Terry O’Sullivan  speaks at a 1916 commemoration in Dublin, March 24, 2016. (Photo: Ed Rehfeld / LIUNA)

At the union’s 2006 convention, under O’Sullivan’s leadership, delegates passed a historic resolution to devote 25 cents per hour worked by a Laborer to the union’s organizing efforts. That move has raised $80 million per year, enabling the union to weather the Great Recession, and swelling the union’s ranks to half a million members throughout North America.

O’Sullivan is hopeful about the future of LIUNA and the building trades. “Work is booming for us, quite honestly,” he says. “Canadian construction industry is booming. In the United States, our construction work is booming in a whole host of cities across the country, and overall it is really strong…. Our membership is up, our work hours for our members are up, so we see a strong and vibrant construction economy for at least the next five years in the U.S. and Canada.”

Moreover, he’s not afraid to hold controversial meetings or ideas in service of creating jobs. Unions, long a bastion of the left in the U.S., came out overwhelmingly for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 election, O’Sullivan and LIUNA not excluded. So while some found it surprising that O’Sullivan has long been a fierce supporter of the Keystone XL pipeline and the Dakota Access Pipeline, challenging the environmental wing of the progressive movement, anyone with a cursory knowledge of O’Sullivan’s commitments to jobs shouldn’t have been. More than 1,100 of the workers on the DAPL were LIUNA members, and O’Sullivan takes the fact that they were forced to halt work personally. Three days after President Donald Trump was inaugurated, O’Sullivan and other labor leaders met with him and other senior officials in the Roosevelt Room at the White House.

Commemorating 1916 and the participation of labor in the Irish struggle. Belfast, March 27, 2016.

Commemorating 1916 and the participation of labor in the Irish struggle. Belfast, March 27, 2016. (Photo: Ed Rehfeld / LIUNA)

“It was a very thorough and excellent conversation about how do we keep and create more middle-class jobs. I would say that that was the central theme of the meeting. And the President told us what he was going to do, and less than 24 hours after that meeting, you saw the five executive orders all of which we were supportive of, that he had told us he was going to do.”

Those executive actions – advancing DAPL and Keystone XL, expediting environmental reviews on infrastructure projects, promoting U.S.-made pipelines, and reviewing domestic manufacturing regulation – serve American workers, will create jobs, and allow the building trades to continue to thrive, according to O’Sullivan.

He isn’t much concerned with which side of the aisle an infrastructure bill comes from. His primary goal is, for whichever plan is adopted, that “there will be more than enough work for most every contractor in this country, if they are successful and find the funding for it. That is where the rubber meets the road.”

As for how immigration ties in with this mission, he says, “We are for a comprehensive immigration reform – there is no doubt about that – done the right way, not just a punitive approach, but a comprehensive approach that treats everybody fairly, and has a process.”

Pictured with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in Dublin last March.

Pictured with Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams in Dublin last March. (Photo: Ed Rehfeld / LIUNA)

“In our business, in the construction industry, not unlike other sectors, anytime that the employer can use your immigration status to not pay you, to keep holding you down, that is not only horrific for the individual, but it depresses wages.”

There are an estimated 50,000 undocumented Irish in the U.S., many of whom work in the building trades, and, legal status aside, they continue a long history of the Irish in the American labor force that O’Sullivan knows well and he is as passionate about Ireland as he is about the Labor Movement.

O’Sullivan is a proud supporter of Sinn Féin and a united Ireland. He serves as president of New York Friends of Ireland and chairman of the Washington, D.C. Friends of Ireland, has spoken three times at Sinn Féin’s Ard Fheis, the party’s national conference in Ireland (most recently last year), and is good friends with many of the party’s leadership, including Gerry Adams, Martin McGuinness, Mary Lou McDonald, Sinn Féin’s deputy president, and Rita O’Hare, Sinn Féin’s representative to the United States.

“My father was a Sinn Féin supporter, as was his father,” he says. “So it was natural for me to keep up the work, and keep up the fight for a free and united Ireland.” At the 2012 Ard Fheis in Kerry, O’Sullivan even got to meet his great aunt, who was 92 at the time. “It is emotional every time you go over there because you think about your family history and what people went through.”

Speaking at a Mansion House  reception with the mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, March 26, 2016.

Speaking at a Mansion House reception with the mayor of Dublin, Críona Ní Dhálaigh, March 26, 2016. (Photo: Ed Rehfeld / LIUNA)

With respect to the current political climate in Northern Ireland and America’s involvement, he says to give the new administration time, noting that President Clinton “obviously had a personal interest in the Good Friday Agreement.”

But he also suggests that the importance of a united Ireland has waned as an American priority. “I would say that this is the generalization – certainly not my view, because I am going to be involved in as long as I am alive and until we get a free, united Ireland – but I think that with everything that is going on in our country, I don’t think that it is as front and center as I would like it to be. Maybe that is the best way to phrase it.”

O’Sullivan, who turns 62 this June, was born in San Francisco, and moved to Virginia in his early teens when his father, Terrence J. O’Sullivan, was elected LIUNA general secretary-treasurer. He still has family in the Bay Area and goes back all the time, too. “I always make it known that I am a proud San Franciscan, I am a proud Irishman, I am a proud Laborer and I am a proud Californian.”

O’Sullivan’s mother’s family emigrated from Galway and his father’s family from Kerry, a place that is like a second home for him, he says.

“While I deeply love the country of my birth, and am proud to be an American, I have always also considered myself a Kerryman, because my grandfather came from there,” he wrote in Irish America’s 1916 centenary issue, in an article on the role the trade union movement in America played in Ireland’s struggle for freedom. (He even recently acquired his Irish passport.) And it’s his father’s parents to whom he owes his affiliation with unions. After moving between New York and Boston, his grandparents eventually settled in San Francisco in the early 20th century. But when his father was seven, and his uncle was still in the womb, his grandfather died at the age of 37. Less than a decade later, it was the San Francisco local of the Laborers that helped the family get by. It was during his father’s teenage years, O’Sullivan says, that “the Laborers’ Local in San Francisco let him go to work and didn’t even charge him dues because they knew that he was bringing the money home to his mom and his younger brother.”

“So I knew about the trade union movement from obviously the first day I was born, so to speak, because of what – not the movement in particular – our union had done and provided for my father and our family.”

O’Sullivan  (center) tours the  Second Avenue  subway tunnel work  site in New York City with Laborers’  Local 147, “The  Sandhogs,”  November 2013.

O’Sullivan (center) tours the Second Avenue subway tunnel work site in New York City with Laborers’ Local 147, “The Sandhogs,” November 2013.

He joined Laborers’ Local 456 in 1974, while working on construction of the Washington Metro, and eventually moved to West Virginia and joined Laborer’s Local 1353 to become an instructor at the West Virginia Laborers Training Fund. In 1989, O’Sullivan became the Training Fund’s administrator, then assistant director of the LIUNA construction department in 1993; he later served as chief of staff, then as vice president, mid-Atlantic regional manager, and eventually as assistant to the general president. On January 1, 2000, he was elected general president.

When he spoke to Irish America, O’Sullivan was about to commence on several weeks of travel, which he acknowledges can get tiring at times, but also revitalizes him and his faith in his work. “There is no better calling, as far as I am concerned, and having the opportunity, the honor, the privilege to represent people and trying to make a difference in peoples’ lives is what motivates me because this union made that difference that I felt in the lives of my father and my family,” he says.

O’Sullivan enjoys spending time with his family: his wife, Yvette; his two children, Brendan and Caitlin; and his stepdaughter, Giovanna. ♦

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Hall of Fame: Dr. Kevin White https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-dr-kevin-white/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/hall-of-fame-dr-kevin-white/#comments Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:55:46 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29049 Read more..]]> Kevin White believes that his success and impact on collegiate sports is because of his Irish ancestry. “I am who I am, the diminutive pluses combined with the avalanche of minuses, because of my ancestral roots. To that end, I take great pride in being a teacher, a mentor, and a leader, which are all profoundly found within my Celtic DNA,” he told Irish America in February.

White, the vice president, director of athletics, and an adjunct professor of business administration at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina, was raised in Amityville, New York to parents who had roots in Dungloe, County Donegal. Both his paternal and maternal grandparents belonged to the Boyle and O’Donnell clans. If you already made the connection with the famous singer Daniel O’Donnell, yes, there is a claim that they might be cousins. Growing up, White remembers his house being filled with the distinct Donegal brogue. His maternal grandparents would stay with the family from time to time and tell him and his three siblings stories of home, where his grandmother, Mariah, was a dancer and his grandfather, Patrick, was a horse trainer who, at the time of his arrival in Ellis Island in 1902, only spoke Irish.

“Of course, there weren’t an abundance of horse training jobs in Brooklyn for an Irish-speaking man, so, off to Pittsburgh they went, where Patrick joined a myriad of other ethnic Irish and worked on the railroad there until a strike put him out of work,” White says. From there, Patrick and Mariah moved to Wilkes-Barre and “joined the ranks of many family members and friends via Donegal in the utter despair of the Celtic coal mining fraternity.”

White’s father, Emerson, wrote a syndicated sports column that was published in most of the local Long Island newspapers, as well as in and around New York City, but he credits his mother, Rita, as being the premier athlete of the family, due to her training and career as a dancer.

“I would suggest, to this day, that my mother was unequivocally the very best athlete in our family,” he says.

Kevin and Jane White (center) with their family.

Kevin and Jane White (center) with their family.

His mother, who had been sent from Wilkes-Barre to the Bronx to receive a Catholic education, took her Irish step dancing background and auditioned for the Rockettes at 15, joining their ranks in 1940. She danced with them through the war before moving on to work as an accompanying singer and dancer for well-known voices such as Danny Kaye, Bob Hope, Frank Sinatra, and the Tommy Tucker Orchestra. She was a widely known starlet of that time, performing in big time New York venues and USO shows all over the country.

As a result of his parents’ moderate notoriety, White says, “Our upbringing was prideful, and a bit structured, but I wouldn’t portray it as strict. We were a classic American family that was moderately aspirational within our respective means.” They lived a firmly middle-class life.

“As for future ambition, I really never thought about a career in college athletics. As the first family member to attend college, I was incapable of even entertaining that prospect.”

During his high school days, White was a track and field runner, and later, as he pursued a degree in business administration at Saint Joseph’s College in Rensselaer, Indiana, he would again participate in track and field. It was at St. Joseph’s that he would meet his future wife, Jane Gartland, who also ran track and field, and also had Irish heritage – from Dublin and Mayo.

Shortly after Kevin and Jane married in the early 1970s, they relocated to Florida because White’s father had become terminally ill. In New Port Richey, the couple was hired as teachers and track and field coaches at Gulf High School, which eventually led to his introduction into the world of collegiate athletics.

“I always loved coaching, and still do,” White explains. “However, once our family began to mature, and as I began to take a deeper dive into academic credentialing, the next logistical step appeared to be athletics administration.”

A painting of Kevin White’s ancestral Irish homestead in Dungloe, Co. Donegal.

A painting of Kevin White’s ancestral Irish homestead in Dungloe, Co. Donegal.

Since taking that step, White’s athletic programs and educational initiatives have enabled him to become one of the best, if not the best, athletic directors at the collegiate level. It’s unsurprising then that his first success came in his very first job, in 1982, at the collegiate level, at Loras College in Dubuque, Iowa, where he established the National Catholic Basketball Tournament.

While at Loras, White saw there was a gap between the college and the community and figured a basketball tournament would bring the two together. “It was a need to reconnect the local community with the college and specifically with athletics,” he says. His vision led to a men’s and women’s basketball tournament between 32 Catholic colleges that would rival the NCAA tournament throughout the 1980s.

White went on to lead athletic departments at University of Maine, Tulane University, Arizona State University, and, most recently, the University of Notre Dame, where he also served as president of the National Association of Collegiate Directors of Athletics, and president of the Division I-A Athletic Directors Association. His tenure there qualifies as the most successful across-the-board years in the history of athletics at the home of the Fighting Irish.

Teams thrived under White’s tenure – men’s and women’s soccer, men’s and women’s fencing, and women’s basketball in particular, as they went on to win a total of four NCAA championships. In 2006, White was named as the General Sports Turf System Division I-A Central Region Athletic Director of the Year as his student athletes performed well in the classroom and on the field – the school boasted 44 All-Americans, 14 Academic All-Americans, and five of the combination of the two. These academic records set the bar for how White’s student-athletes would perform at Duke University.

He joined the Blue Devils in 2008 and, as he had with Notre Dame, he developed an environment in which student athletes lead both on and off the field. The Blue Devils have gone on to win a total of seven NCAA championships in men’s basketball, men’s lacrosse, and women’s golf; 480 of these student-athletes made the latest All-Atlantic Coast Conference Honor Roll during White’s nine-year tenure so far. Last year, 25 out of 26 Duke teams earned grade point averages of 3.0 or better, and a combined total of 187 student athletes made the dean’s list, 97 in the fall and 90 in the spring season. Duke had a 98 percent graduation success rate. White also makes sure that these student athletes serve the immediate city of Durham as well as the surrounding community.

Kevin’s maternal grandparents from Dungloe. Seated are Mariah and Patrick.

Kevin’s maternal grandparents from Dungloe. Seated are Mariah and Patrick.

Under White, over 500 student athletes have participated in community outreach, learning, and service projects and have a combined effort of 2,000 community service hours during the 2015-2016 academic year alone.

One such project is a civic engagement program called the Rubenstein-Bing Student Athlete Civic Engagement Program, otherwise known as ACE. This program enables student-athletes from both Duke and Stanford universities to travel to countries like South Africa, China, India, and Vietnam in order to work together in communities that do not have enough resources for things like health services, education, social enterprise, environmental sustainability, conservation, or coaching.

White’s student athletes weren’t the only ones who have succeeded under his administration; those who have worked under White’s tutelage have also gone on to succeed and some even to run their own athletic programs. White has taught over 20 athletic directors the tools of the trade in his 35-year career, some of the most notable at schools like Tulane University, Ohio University, Florida State University, Stanford University, and Duke’s own nemesis, the University of North Carolina.

As well as assisting student athletes and future administrators, White has been a major proponent of diversity and inclusion in his thirty-five-year long career. This makes sense for a man who wrote his doctoral dissertation (he holds a Ph.D. from Southern Illinois University) on Title IX after comparing the inequality of his wife’s salary to his own, “wherein she was appreciably more successful as a high school and college coach,” he says.

White’s grandfather Patrick’s family at their home in Dungloe.

White’s grandfather Patrick’s family at their home in Dungloe.

White is also a major advocate for diversity at the schools he serves. At all five of the Division I schools’ athletic programs where White has been at the helm, he hired the first ethnic minority head coach. At Duke specifically, the athletic department went from having one female member and no ethnic minorities on the senior and executive staff in 2007 to having eight women and four ethnic minorities in those roles under White.

White was recently honored by the NCAA Minority Opportunities and Interests Committee last September as a “Champion of Diversity and Inclusion” for this change in Duke’s administration and his Open Door Initiative, a plan that allows for ethnic minorities to have an opportunity to intern in White’s athletic administration every summer, giving them a chance to cross the threshold into a world of athletic administration in the future.

“Kevin is the very first person who comes to mind when considering those who are advocates of underrepresented populations,” China Jude, chair of the subcommittee that selects Champions of Diversity and Inclusion and the assistant vice president and athletics director at Queens College, New York, said at the time. “His long history of positioning ethnic minorities and women for the athletics director chair speaks volumes of his commitment long before others were willing to address it.”

Sandy Barbour, the Pennsylvania State University athletics director, called White “an incredible visionary, passionate advocate for students and unparalleled mentor.”

Kevin’s mother Rita as a dancer.

Kevin’s mother Rita as a dancer.

White downplays the praise. “Each and every institution that I or my family have served has been, in its own particular way, just a magical experience,” he says. “At the end of the day, having had the opportunity to combine education and entertainment within the context of sport has been terribly gratifying.” If he’s a good teacher, he says, it’s an outgrowth of his ancestral background. Historically, his family were cited as highly accomplished Irish teachers.

And if his nine years at Duke have been some the some of the best in his career, it’s partly because he was made to feel at home. “The greater Blue Devil family truly embraced our family,” he says. White’s children, following along in the footsteps of their parents, have embarked almost exclusively on careers in education and college athletics.

His first son, Mike, is the head basketball coach at the University of Florida; his second son, Danny, is the athletic director at University of Central Florida; and his third son, Brian, is an associate athletic director for Development at Army. Meanwhile, White’s first daughter, Maureen, is an English teacher in Arizona and Mariah, the youngest, recently graduated from Tulane Law School.

Irish heritage is important to Kevin and his family. He and Jane hosted alumni trips to Ireland while at Notre Dame, and have continued to host trips from Duke. As a family, they have been back to Ireland and Dungloe over a dozen times since 1993.

White, who is a dual citizen, is thankful, not only for the opportunities that America has given him, but for the opportunities his parents and grandparents were given in this country.

“I deeply love our country,” he says. “America is an amazing place that has been greatly enhanced by its eclectic migration, and evolution. With that said, one of my all-time favorite days was when I was granted dual citizenship. Being formally connected to my Irish legacy, in particular my family heritage in Dungloe, was a powerful moment for me.”

He is grateful to those ancestors who came over from Ireland and paved the way for his family to enjoy the success they have today.

“Our ancestral story isn’t unique; however, our journey is indeed very personal, and will be forever celebrated,” he says. “With that said, thank God in those respective days, there was no ‘Wall,’ for America was immeasurably impacted by immigrants from all quarters of the world, including the Irish, whose legacy I endeavor to uphold, as a very proud Irish American.” ♦

_______________

Dave Lewis is from Rahway, New Jersey and is a graduate of Kean University’s honors history program, where he also established the Kean Hurling Club. He currently is the operations coordinator at Turlough McConnell Communications.  Dave Lewis 

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The First Word: “It’s Not What You Look at. It’s What You See.” https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/first-word-its-not-what-you-look-at-its-what-you-see/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/first-word-its-not-what-you-look-at-its-what-you-see/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:54:39 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29057 Read more..]]> “We’re the nation that just had six of our scientists and researchers win Nobel Prizes – and every one of them was an immigrant.”

– @POTUS 3:40 PM • Oct. 13, 2016.

President Obama on Twitter when the 2016 Nobel Prizes were announced.

Welcome to our eighth annual Hall of Fame issue. Our inductees represent the many arenas in which the Irish have impacted the United States. They’ve received numerous awards and accolades for their work in other places, but, being Irish, their much deserved recognition wouldn’t be complete without an award from Irish America.

William Campbell’s work, for which he received the Nobel Prize in 2015, has transformed the lives of millions of people around the globe. He immigrated from Donegal to the U.S. in the 1950s and was recruited out of the University of Madison Wisconsin to work at the American pharmaceutical giant, Merck. He spent his career there, producing life-saving treatments for diseases in humans and animals. Campbell is responsible for the medicine that can kill the parasites that cause River Blindness, saving the sight of millions of people around the globe.

(In these days of anti-immigrant sentiment, it’s worth noting that of the 360 Nobels awarded to Americans in the history of the Nobel Prize, over 100 went to immigrants.)

Another immigrant and honoree, Michael Dowling, is also in the field of healthcare. As CEO of Northwell Health, he oversees 21 hospitals, and served in New York State government for 12 years, including seven years as state director of Health, Education and Human Services. A Limerick native, he will serve as this year’s Grand Marshal of the New York City St. Patrick’s Day Parade – at 256, the oldest and most famous in the country. (See our feature on parades around the U.S. in this issue.) At 17, he arrived in New York and worked 120-hour weeks on the docks cleaning boat engines to put himself through college and help out his family back in Limerick.

Like Dowling, the Irish of earlier generations often entered the workforce as laborers, and these immigrants helped form the first unions. As General President of the Laborers International Union, honoree Terry O’Sullivan has a deep commitment to providing his members with a pathway to a middle-class life. It was the local Laborer’s union in San Francisco that helped his grandmother get by when her husband, an Irish immigrant from Kerry, died at age 37, leaving her with a young son, Terry’s father, and another baby on the way. Today, many of Terry’s workers are immigrants from around the globe, and he looks after them as if they too, were family.

Honoree Kevin White, the athletic director of Duke University, whose ancestors are from Donegal, represents sports and education, two areas that have provided a path to upward social mobility for many Irish. An award-winning coach, Kevin makes sure that his student/athletes perform as well in the classroom as they do on the playing field.

Sister Tesa Fitzgerald, the daughter of immigrants from Kerry and Donegal, embodies all that is good about the Irish. She has the empathy of Mother Jones (born in Cork in 1837, Jones immigrated just after the Famine, and went on to be a fearless fighter for workers rights. Read Mother’s story in this issue). Sister Tesa, with her big and generous heart, cares for countless children whose own mothers are interned. And then helps those mothers get back up on their feet when they leave prison, overcoming the poverty and abuse and lack of education that put them there in the first place. We are proud to have Sister Tesa as an honoree.

In the story of John Wolfe Ambrose, we see again the impact of immigrants on American life. Like Mother Jones, Ambrose, also survived the Famine. He immigrated in 1851 as a 13-year old boy to join his father who was already in New York. From very poor beginnings, he grew up to be a brilliant engineer and developer and turned New York Harbor into the world port it is today.

No photographs exist from the Famine, more properly known as the Great Starvation, the event that forced a million and a half Irish to cross the ocean, and head out into the unknown, but look closely at the photographs of Irish evictions in the 1880s in this issue. Perhaps you will see despair of those Irish homeless etched into the faces of those uprooted refugees of today.

Michael Dowling, speaking at the magazine’s annual Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Awards, said it best.

“We also have to remind ourselves – and we should remind ourselves of this continuously – that we are all immigrants, or descendants of immigrants. So as you watch TV, and you listen to the stories, and we sit and we take vows about some of the things that we try to accomplish, let us not forget the history, and those that did extraordinary things that probably we, as good as we think we are, would probably never have the courage to do back in those days 100 years ago.

“And that same courage is being personified today by people from all over the world by people searching for what so many others also searched for – opportunity. And who knows, maybe in some future time some of the kids of those people will stand at podiums like this to talk about the major contributions they have just made to the societies they just entered.

“So let’s be proud, proud of our noble profession, proud of our achievements, but always keep in perspective.

“As David Thoreau said, ‘It’s not what you look at that matters; it’s what you see.’”

Mórtas Cine. ♦

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Brian Burns Named New Irish Ambassador https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/brian-burns-named-new-irish-ambassador/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/brian-burns-named-new-irish-ambassador/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:53:24 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29156 Read more..]]> Philanthropist, businessman, and Irish America Hall of Fame member Brian Burns was officially announced as President Donald Trump’s appointment for ambassador to Ireland in January. He was tapped for the position in November, well before Trump’s inauguration on January 17 and must still undergo a lengthy approval process.

Eighty-year-old Massachusetts-native Burns is the chairman of BF Enterprises, Inc., a publicly-owned real estate holding and development company, and is currently based in Florida. He is the grandson of Irish immigrants originally from Co. Kerry, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 2013, alongside former vice-president Joe Biden, for extensive work in aiding Irish causes over the course of his career. In 1963, he became the first, and to-date youngest ever, president of the American Ireland Fund, a position for which he was appointed by John F. Kennedy.

He is the owner of the largest Irish art collection in the United States, works from which have circulated throughout Ireland and the U.S. He is also the principal benefactor of the John J. Burns Library of Rare Books and Special Collections at Boston College, opened in 1986 and named for his father, and established the Burns Visiting Scholar in Irish Studies program at the college.

In a Boston Globe interview, Burns recalled the moment the then-president-elect made his Irish ambassadorial choice clear, approaching Burns and his wife, Eileen, at a weekday dinner at his exclusive Palm Beach club. “[The president] gave Eileen a hug and then said, ‘Brian, are you ready to go to Ireland?’” he said. “It’s the fulfilment of a dream that I never thought would happen.”

Burns is excited about the possibility of moving into the American ambassadorial residence in Phoenix Park, Dublin, and hopes to invite the president to visit Ireland, perhaps to meet at his luxury golf course in Doonbeg, County Clare. ♦

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Northern Ireland Undergoes Historic Election Shift https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/northern-ireland-undergoes-historic-election-shift/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/northern-ireland-undergoes-historic-election-shift/#comments Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:52:35 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29159 Read more..]]> For the first time in history of Northern Ireland there will be a nationalist majority in the national assembly at Stormont.

A short 10 months after the previous Northern Ireland Assembly election, the citizens went to the polls again in March. Sinn Féin, the second-largest party in the North had triggered the election in protest over a scandal involving Arlene Foster, the leader of the Democratic Unionist Party.

Dissatisfaction with the DUP’s position in favor of Brexit is also blamed for the decrease in unionist turnout. Meanwhile nationalists voted in greater numbers than in previous years.

Sinn Féin and the Social Democratic Labor Party, the smaller nationalist party, together now outnumber the DUP and Ulster Unionist Party, the smaller unionist party, in parliament.

Gerry Adams, Sinn Féin’s president, speaking to the Guardian about the election results said, “the notion of a perpetual unionist majority has been demolished” in Northern Ireland.

Foster will continue to serve as first minister despite her party losing 10 seats and the scandal, related to budgetary aspects of a renewable heat incentive she established as enterprise minister. With just 28 seats, the DUP is now two votes short of the number required to veto any legislative action, meaning that a gay marriage bill, which the DUP were against, is more likely to be passed.

“We need to learn the lesson and understand what people were saying in this election,” Jeffrey Donaldson, one of the leading members of the DUP, also told the Guardian. “We have been given the responsibility as the main party to take the lead at Stormont and that is what we intend to do.”

Co. Tyrone native Michelle O’Neill, who replaced the ailing Martin McGuinness as Sinn Fein’s leader in the North, will soon commence talks for the restoration of power-sharing. “The task is not easy, but it is achievable if people come at it with the right attitude,” she told the BBC.

The election saw 228 candidates competing for 90 seats in the Northern Ireland Assembly, cut from 108 after a 2016 cost-benefit reduction. Of the 18 fewer seats, unionists lost a combined 16, while Sinn Féin lost one, and the SDLP retained their 12. Many have posited that the unionist losses constituted a referendum on those parties’ support of Brexit, which Northern Ireland voted overwhelmingly against.

“With the political ground in flux, it is more important than ever that we seek stability and security in strong North/South institutions which can harmonize our efforts to minimize the impact of Brexit,” SDLP leader Colum Eastwood, who represents Foyle, County Derry, told Derry Now. “Northern Ireland must have a strong voice and a strong government to guide us through the turbulence that is about to come.” ♦

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Gen. Martin Dempsey Receives Joyce Award https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/gen-martin-dempsey-receives-joyce-award/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/gen-martin-dempsey-receives-joyce-award/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:51:44 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29163 Read more..]]> General Martin Dempsey, the former chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, was presented with the James Joyce Award in Dublin recently. Also known as the Honorary Fellowship of the Society, the award is given by the Literary and Historical Society of University College Dublin for those who have achieved outstanding success in their given field.

Recipients have ranged from respected academics, lauded political figures, skilled actors, and, like Joyce himself, writers. Notable former recipients include scholar Noam Chomsky, novelist J.K. Rowling, U.N. weapons inspector Hans Blix, and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. The award is the highest honor that the society can bestow.

Before he ever became know as a writer, Joyce was known for his fine tenor voice. General Dempsey is an English major who is as comfortable singing Irish ballads as he is commanding an army. In fact, it was a video of General Dempsey singing at Irish America’s Hall of Fame Awards last March that prompted the society to reach out to him, Donal Naylor, the society’s auditor, confirmed.

Speaking to Irish America about the award, General Dempsey quoted the man for whom the award is named: “Joyce said, ‘in the particular is contained the universal.’ Across generations and nationalities, the fact that we have so much in common was reinforced in discussion with students at University College Dublin during the James Joyce Award ceremony.” ♦

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Over 100,000 U.K. Companies Registered in Ireland After Brexit https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/over-100000-u-k-companies-registered-in-ireland-after-brexit/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/03/over-100000-u-k-companies-registered-in-ireland-after-brexit/#respond Sun, 12 Mar 2017 06:50:17 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=29166 Read more..]]> Despite the fact that the deadline for the completion of the U.K. withdrawal from the European Union is two years away, U.K. companies are already registering in Ireland to shore up contingency plans to remain part of the E.U. market.

According to statements made by Northern Irish member of parliament Stephen Kelly to the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the House of Commons in February, more than 100,000 companies have already registered, with more expected to follow.

“Manufacturers need time to plan, they need time to ensure they put in place whatever measures they need to ensure their sustainability in the long term,” Kelly told the committee, according to the International Business Times.

“We know companies will be making decision within the next 12 months, not within the next 24 months, in order to give themselves time to put in place whatever new arrangements they have to satisfy their own internal business needs.”

The news comes after a January announcement by U.K. prime minister Theresa May that British companies would not be guaranteed to keep access to the European markets.

Ireland, which will share the only E.U. land border with the U.K., has become the primary focus of relocation initiatives, primarily taken on by Northern Irish manufacturing companies. One of Northern Ireland’s largest employers, pharmaceutical firm Almac, which employs about 2,600 people in the north, has already set a groundwork for moving across the border to Dundalk, County Louth.

“We have no desire that [Almac products] would not be manufactured in Northern Ireland,” Almac executive director Colin Hayburn told the committee, reported the Irish Times. “It would not be ideal in any way, but if there isn’t clarity and there is nervousness there in relation to what the future is, we might be forced into having a greater manufacturing presence in the South because of our need for E.U. operations.” ♦

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