Uncategorized – Irish America https://irishamerica.com Irish America Magazine Mon, 15 Jul 2019 20:00:35 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.9.10 82361074 Fathers & Sons https://irishamerica.com/2019/06/fathers-sons/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/06/fathers-sons/#respond Sat, 15 Jun 2019 09:55:23 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=42910 Read more..]]> Amidst the hundreds of rescue workers searching at Ground Zero in the months after the 9/11 attacks, many were fathers looking for their sons. Some were firefighters still on the job, some retired, and some never officially with the Department, but all joined in the search for their boys. This is a story about five of them.

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As you approach the church, you see the fire trucks lined up on both sides of the street. Their ladders, extended and crossed in the air, form an arch from which the American flag hangs waving in the breeze. A tradition, usually saved for a smalltown Fourth of July picnic, has now become a symbol of respect, and an all too common sight as a funeral cortege passes underneath, and yet another fallen hero is laid to rest.

People gather on the church steps. They’ve seen each other too often of late. The ceremonial unit gives the signal and the formation takes place. The Honor Company lines up next to the fire chiefs who are to the right of the dignitaries led by the mayor and fire commissioner. Last-minute instructions are whispered to the color guard to hold the tips of the flags so they don’t flap in the breeze. An eerie quiet descends upon the crowd. In the distance, the steady beat of muffled drums is heard as the pipe band approaches. Someone calls out “Attention” and a crisp salute ensues. The caisson pulls into view and the pallbearers gently lower the casket as the family emerges from cars and follows the flag-draped coffin into the church.

There is another stirring element in the procession: the honor guard of fathers who lost sons. Most are dressed in Fire Department uniforms, some wear suits. They all have strained eyes from tears shed and strained backs from the recovery effort. They knowingly look at each other and affirm the pledge they silently made so many months ago. “We’ll be there for each other until the end…we’ll do this together.”

The fathers walk together in Thomas Butler’s funeral procession: front row, John Vigiano, Lee Ielpi, and Jack Lynch. Dennis O’Berg is in the second row far right. (Photo Peter Foley)

They had come together at the worst imaginable time – searching for their missing sons at Ground Zero – and they were here now to see another father lay his son to rest.

Dennis O’Berg, a lean, elegant and quiet Fire Lieutenant from L114, was working in Brooklyn on September 11. As he raced through the streets on his way to the Trade Center, he thought about how to keep his men safe. He also thought of his son, young Dennis – less than a year on the job and responding in from L105, a firehouse closer to Manhattan. When O’Berg arrived at the site, he quickly learned that all the men from L105 were missing.

As the tragedy began to sink in, the resourceful fire officer, who had been in countless tough situations, was so shattered he could barely put one foot in front of the other.

The lieutenant had been extraordinarily close to his son. When young Dennis and his sister were kids he’d tailored his schedule to play ball with and read to them. When he grew up, Dennis Jr. trained as a CPA. But when he married his longtime girlfriend, Christine, he realized that if he was going to start a family, he wanted to raise them the way he was raised, and that meant making some changes in his life.

Dennis O’Berg, Jr.

His friends got a simultaneous e-mail in February of 2001: “As of 1:00 today I have joined the New York City Fire Department.” Nobody was more proud than his father.

September 11 was Lieutenant O’Berg’s last tour of duty. He retired from the department two days later. For weeks he and his wife, Dorothy, couldn’t bear to even see friends, they just clung to each other, trying to find a way to go on. But as time wore on, the gnawing feeling of a need to be near his boy kept inching into his mind. He put on his gear and began to go to the site every day. He was not alone.

Bill Butler, a retired captain from E216, was there. He was looking for his son Tom, who had driven Squad One through the Battery Tunnel on that fateful morning.

Two days earlier, the Butler family had gathered to christen Patrick, the third child of Tom and his wife, Martha. Following the ceremony, Tom had turned to his father and said, “Thanks, Dad, for doing the baby’s room. Thanks for everything you’ve done.” That was the last time Bill Butler spoke to his son.

Tom had been a police officer before he joined the Fire Department in 1989. He was also a naval reservist, a gunner’s mate, who strongly believed in service to his country. He met Martha while serving as a patrol officer in Richmond Hill, Queens and quickly fell in love. They married, bought a house down the street from his parents, and he kept busy with a second job as a Bay Constable in Smithtown. They remained close to Tom’s siblings, two brothers and a sister, and settled into a life centered on raising their children.

Thomas Butler

Retired from the FDNY since 1993, Bill Butler was working at the Smithtown Public Safety Office when he heard about the planes hitting the towers. Knowing Tom was working, he headed home to man the phones and be with his wife Peg, and family. Word began to drift in about the scale of the calamity, and Bill knew in his heart that Squad One would be in the middle of it.

Bill’s other son, Stephen, a Port Authority Emergency Services Unit police officer at JFK, was off-duty that morning and arrived at the scene after the first tower collapsed. His partner PAPD officer George Howard was killed. (Howard’s mother, Arlene, presented her son’s badge to President Bush).

By the end of the first week, Bill paid his first visit to Ground Zero. Looking with an experienced eye at the scale of the destruction, he knew what the search-and-recovery people were up against. Weighing the pull to go to the site against the need to be with his family, he remained near home for the next few weeks. In early November, the need to be near Tom became too hard to resist. He started to go to the site every day.

Jack Lynch, from the Bronx and the MTA (Metropolitan Transit Authority), was also at the site every day. He was searching for his boy Michael, a rookie firefighter assigned to E40 near Manhattan’s Lincoln Center.

Lynch, from Tralee, County Kerry, an outspoken Irishman with a brogue as thick as they come and a mind as quick as a rocket, retired from the MTA as a manager in 1998, after 33 years on the job. He raised 10 children in the Bronx, and has been married to his wife and best friend, Kathleen, for 42 years.

Young Michael had joined the Fire Department in November of 1999. He loved the firehouse and his fiancée Stephanie Luccioni. They were to be married on November 16, 2002. On the morning of September 11, he was working at Engine 40.

Michael Lynch

Early TV footage showed some of the first firefighters arriving on the scene. Michael’s mother saw him first. Then the calls started coming in from around the country. “We saw Michael going in. It’s him.” A cameraman for Fox News had shot the footage and Jack tracked him down. They freeze-framed the film and sure enough, there was Michael going into Building 4, heading for the South Tower.

Jack decided that the best chance of finding his boy was to create a timeline. He pinpointed the location where Michael and his company went in, found out the exact time of day, factored in the heavy equipment the firefighters were carrying and other possible delaying variables, and made a reasonable assumption about how far they could have gotten before the towers came down.

Jack figured Michael and the other members of E40 had gone in about five to seven minutes before the collapse. He paced it off with a close friend who works for a major construction finn in Chicago.

Given the time the film was shot and the direction they were moving, the two men reached the same horrifying conclusion: Michael and his company would have been in the lobby or on the lower floors of Tower 2 just as the building came down. Jack felt his heart break as his friend turned to him with tears streaming down his face and mouthed the words, “No hope.”

Having a Rescue Company firefighter for a father elevates the expectation on the son. When Jonathan Ielpi became a firefighter he wanted to go to a busy fire house like the one his father, Lee, a tough and resourceful retired firefighter from Brooklyn’s elite Rescue 2, had served in.

Jonathan started out in E214 in Brooklyn and then got assigned to Squad 288 in Queens. He loved his work, his wife, Yesinia, and the fact that they were raising two active sons in the same town where he grew up. He even volunteered at his local fire company, Vigilant Engine Hook and Ladder in Great Neck, where he became second in command. He was proving to be every bit the firefighter his father was.

On Fathers’ Day in 2001, an explosion occurred during a fire in a hardware store in Astoria, Queens. The blast blew out three brick walls, raining debris down on and trapping four firefighters. Jonathan and Lee Ielpi joined the men digging through the rubble to uncover their fallen brothers. As mortally injured firefighter Harry Ford was pulled out, Jonathan and his father helped Fire Department MD Kerry Kelly to do CPR and place him in the ambulance. Their efforts were captured on the front page of the newspapers.

On the morning of September 11, Jonathan phoned his father and told him to turn on the television. As they watched and spoke on the phone together, the tone alarm went off in the firehouse and Jonathan said, “That’s us. We’re going in.” Lee told him to be careful. He said, “OK, Dad.” That was their last conversation.

Jonathan Ielpi

As the situation escalated, Lee knew he had to go down to the site. He and his son Brendan drove in. He saw the conditions at Ground Zero and knew it would take experienced rescuer workers to begin searching for life. Having served in Rescue 2 for so many years, he also knew that the odds were stacked against the Department, because so many of the specially trained Rescue firefighters were among the missing – more then 90 from the Special Operations Command.

With only one word – Jonathan –  running through his mind, Lee found Chief Frank Cruthers and told him he wanted to start opening up a passage on the south side so they could get heavy equipment in to move the debris. The chief told him to go ahead. A group of construction workers overheard the conversation, and soon bulldozers, front-end loaders, trucks and backhoes were procured from nearby construction sites.

At one point Lee helped pull what was left of Rescue 2’s equipment out of the way. He looked up and for a moment and was elated when he saw men from Squad 288 coming towards him, but they all lowered their eyes and he knew they were the remaining members of the company coming to search for their lost brothers.

Retired Fire Captain John Vigiano, the legend who beat cancer to come back to the job, was looking for his sons, Joe, a NYPD Emergency Services Unit (ESU) police officer, and John, a firefighter from L132, when he met the other fathers.

On the morning of September 11,Vigiano had gotten a call from son Joe, the ESU officer. Joe was on his way down to the Trade Center. He told his dad to put on the TV. He said it was a plane crash and there was a lot of smoke. John told him to be careful and Joe said, “I will.” Vigiano then called L 132 to talk to his son John, but the company had already left for the site.

Joe Vigiano

Growing up, it had been Joe who wanted to be the firefighter. Instead he became a policeman. He was shot three times, was promoted regularly, and spent all 14 years of his career in love with the job.

John Vigiano

John Jr. had wanted to become the next Donald Trump. He had a keen mind and a huge interest in business. It wasn’t until he witnessed the care and concern the men from Rescue 2 gave his family during his father’s bout with cancer that he decided he was joining the Fire Department. “I want to be like those men,” he told his father. He too loved every minute on the job. Most recently he was poring over books studying for the lieutenant’s exam.

To lose both sons in one day is still incomprehensible to John Vigiano, but he has a glimpse of how they spent their last few moments through the stories he’s heard from others. They were cool, professional, confident, and sure of themselves and their colleagues. He already knew they were loving husbands and caring and involved fathers. “It’s hard to ask for more,” he said.

After the tragedy of 9/11, the Police Department adopted the elder Vigianos and never left their side. John and his wife, Jan, stayed in Manhattan for months. Every day began with a Mass at police headquarters and then John went down to the site. After the first week, John made a promise to Jan that he wouldn’t put himself at risk looking for the boys. He stood like a statue at the edge of the destruction, changing his position four times a day as he followed the sun around the site. People would be working with their heads lowered and look up to see this solitary figure and be reminded of why they were there.

John Vigiano, who lost two sons. (Photo Peter Foley)

It wasn’t until after the Christmas holidays that Vigiano’s solitary vigil became more interactive. He began to see more of the “Dads” and started to talk to them about their shared situation. They grew as close as they’ve ever been with lifelong friends. All five say there is nothing they wouldn’t do for each other.

“I feel about them [the other fathers] the way I do about lifelong friends. I would trust them with anything,” said Jack Lynch.

Lee Ielpi got the call on December 11. He had just gotten home from the site but he called Brendan, who had graduated from the Fire Academy on November 1, seven weeks after the death of his brother, and they went back in.

“Lee, we’ve got him and he’s in one piece,” he was told when he arrived back down. It was as if a hole in his heart had been filled. Later he said that as a firefighter he was proud of his son. As a father he had hoped all along to get a call saying, “Dad, I was scared, I ran and I’m in the Islands.” He would have loved that call, but he knew that that wasn’t his son. As on so many other occasions, he hoisted the stretcher with the other men and started the long walk up the ramp with Brendan at his side. He had both his sons together for the first time since September 11.

It was Lee who made the call to Jack Lynch at home. “Jack, you better start in. Take your time.” Jack got the family together and headed down with them to Ground Zero. As the excavation work progressed, more and more family showed and when it was time to bring out Michael, Jack said, “I’ll go and get him.” Kathleen said, “We’ll all go.” Jack said, “No you can’t,” and she said, “We’re going.” And they did – mother, father, brothers, sisters, fiancée, and other family members. Lee Ielpi and some of the other fathers also helped carry Michael out. He had been found just 15 feet from where his father predicted he’d be.

A nun holds Michael Lynch’s photo on the day of his funeral.

John Vigiano got his son Joe’s body back and still waits for word on identification of John. He collected stories and pictures and will make a book of each son’s life for their kids. He takes his grandchildren to A&W Root Beer for ice cream floats and watches his daughters-in-law display strength he never knew they had.

Bill Butler and his family had a memorial service for Tom on August 17. They had hoped they’d find him but there is no word yet. Bill and his wife, Peg, sold their retirement home in Florida and now plan to help their daughter-in-law Martha raise the kids.

Lee Ielpi has a broken rib from going tubing with his grandson. They hit a wave and both went flying. Ten-year-old Andrew landed on his chest. Lee is serving on family advisory boards and working with the Fire Department to thank people all over the country for their help. Sometime soon he’ll take a day off to spend with his wife, Ann.

Jack Lynch is the vice president of one of the family organizations and an advocate for a memorial that reflects the desires of the relatives. He is tireless in his pursuit of fair treatment for all of the families, and Stephanie, his almost daughter-in-law, is never far from his thoughts.

Jack Lynch, his wife Kathleen, and family are at last able to carry Michael out from Ground Zero. Lee Ielpi, at front right, is there to help. (Photo courtesy Daily News)

The O’Berg family had a moving memorial service for Dennis Jr. on June 28. His wife, Christine, had waited until the site was cleaned right to the concrete before planning anything in hopes of finding her husband. After a stirring and heartfelt speech in a church crowded with family and friends, Lieutenant O’Berg saluted his son and thanked him for the joy he had given during his short but full life. He spoke for all the fathers.  ♦

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Rolling Thunder’s Last Ride https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/rolling-thunders-last-ride/ https://irishamerica.com/2019/05/rolling-thunders-last-ride/#comments Fri, 24 May 2019 19:04:29 +0000 https://irishamerica.com/?p=41912 Read more..]]>  

“America will never be destroyed from the outside.
If we falter and lose our freedoms,
it will be because we destroyed ourselves.”

– Abraham Lincoln (quote on the home page of Rolling Thunder’s website)

 

The Rolling Thunder “Ride for Freedom” will ride through D.C. one last time on Sunday, May 26.

After 31 straight years Artie Muller, founder and executive director of the “Ride For Freedom,” said that this week’s Sunday ride will be the last.

Rolling Thunder Chapter 3, New York members (from left): Eugene Tebordo; Doug Finney, the president of Rolling Thunder Chapter 3, New York; an unidentified male; Andy Komonchak, executive director of the Purple Heart Hall of Honor in New Windsor; Felicia Moon; John Lovell; and Ken Gross.

Rolling Thunder, which annually draws hundreds of thousands of riders to the nation’s capitol over Memorial Day weekend, was founded in 1987 to pay homage to the nation’s veterans, and to lobby for full accountability for Prisoners of War and Missing in Action of all U.S. wars.

The first ride to the Vietnam War Memorial in 1987 was a small affair. The second year brought out 2,000 riders. In 2018, an estimated 500,000 motorcyclists took part.

Ken Gross, a Rolling Thunder biker who died two years ago on May 25, 2017, due to a head injury from a bad fall.

Artie Muller blamed rising costs – the Pentagon charges $50,000 for the morning’s use of its parking lots, and porta potties cost up to $200,000, and “He’s tired.” He told Steve Hendrix of the Washington Post that all the years of hassle that the group has received from Pentagon officials and Park Police has added up.

In a post on the Rolling Thunder website after last year’s ride, Muller, who served in the 4th U.S. Infantry Division in Vietnam, complained about the continued mismanagement of the annual demonstration by Pentagon officials and the D.C. Police.

Terry Elia, a magistrate in Highland, N.Y., passes Ken Gross’s flag to his partner, Robin Evanilista, after Ken’s death.

“Thirty-one years and these departments still continue to hassle our organization and supporters. Despite planning meetings, agreements and exorbitant permit fees, these D.C. agencies do everything they can to divert and complicate our event. They are taking away our constitutional right to demonstrate for the POW/MIA issue and veterans’ rights. The Pentagon officials now dictate our event corporate sponsors, not being allowed in the North Pentagon Parking Lot because they are too commercial. Our demonstration has always been peaceful, consisting of veterans, active military, and supporters. It is an asset to the Washington, D.C., economy, and I’ve been told by D.C. police that the crime rate goes down when our supporters are in town! [After] 31 years of hard work by the organization coordinating this demonstration each year, [we] wish that the Pentagon officials and park police could try to work with us, not against us!”

Muller has said that the intention now is to replace the D.C. gathering with smaller Memorial Day rides around the country.

Biker Charlie Alongi.

Many of Rolling Thunder’s members are veterans, but it’s not a requirement. What is required is the member’s involvement in raising funds for Rolling Thunder Charities, which helps U.S. Military troops and their families in needs of financial help.

There are 90 chapters across the country.

Biker John Lovell.

ABOUT THE PHOTOGRAPHS: Irish America’s longtime photographer Kit DeFever, who took these photographs, got involved with Rolling Thunder through his work with Honor Flights Network, a non-profit organization created to honor America’s veterans for their sacrifices. The group flies veterans to Washington, D.C., to visit the war memorials, and to attend the funerals of other veterans in Arlington National Cemetery, the United States military cemetery.

DeFever’s current project is photographing surviving veterans of World War II. It’s a project of some urgency. “We are losing hundreds of our World War II veterans every day,” he said in a phone conversation with Patricia Harty. “I’m glad to do what I can to make sure our heroes are remembered, and that their sacrifices are recorded.”  ♦

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A Man of the People: Thomas J. Moran https://irishamerica.com/2018/08/a-man-of-the-peoplethomas-j-moran/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/08/a-man-of-the-peoplethomas-j-moran/#comments Tue, 14 Aug 2018 17:55:28 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=37314 Read more..]]> The news of Tom Moran’s death just after midnight on Sunday, August 12, hit hard.  He is a great loss to the Irish, and larger community, where he was a giant supporter of everything – from arts and education, and peace in Northern Ireland – to bringing relief to troubled spots in around the globe.

Tom, who was 65, had a long, successful career at Mutual of America, which he joined in 1975. He became CEO in 1995, taking over from Bill Flynn (another powerhouse of the Irish American community, who died earlier this year) and served in that role until retiring in 2016. He retired as Chairman of the board in March this year.

While he enjoyed much corporate success – under his watch, Mutual grew into a retirement savings company with over $20 billion in assets – it’s for his humanitarian work that Tom Moran will likely be remembered.

In 1994, when the Irish relief organization Concern Worldwide was setting us a base in the U.S., Tom met Fr. Aengus Finucane, one of the founders, and Siobhan Walsh, who was heading up the U.S. effort, and as he himself would often tell you, he couldn’t say “no.”

He became a relentless supporter, and together with his fellow Mutual of America colleague, Ed Kenney, he helped build Concern Worldwide U.S. into the powerhouse it is today. He served as chairman of the board from 2001 to 2017, raising awareness and millions of dollars to support Concern’s mission to help the poorest of the poor around the world, from remote villages in Ethiopia to refugee camps in Lebanon to urban slums in Haiti.

Moran at a Concern nutrition center in Niger.

And he didn’t just give money, and raise money, Tom took Concern’s mission personally and made hundreds of visits to troubled spots around the world, bringing relief and a smile to everyone he met.

It’s fitting then that as we mourn Tom, we put some of the focus on Concern – it is what he would want. In this special newsletter, we bring you a Q&A that we did with Tom when he was the magazine’s Irish American of the Year in 2008. We also bring you our special coverage of Concern’s 50th year, and a piece that Tom wrote for the magazine following a visit to Haiti after the devastating earthquake in 2011. We also bring you a piece on the honorary doctorate he was awarded by Manhattan College in 2017.

Tom was a great supporter of Irish America magazine and we extend condolences to his wife, Joan, his extended family, and his many colleagues and friends at Mutual of America and Concern Worldwide.

There is a saying that as long as one person speaks your name you will not be forgotten. Tom touched so many lives in his short time here on earth that he will live on in our hearts and minds for many years to come.

And now, here’s Tom in his own words from that 2008 interview.

Tell me about your early mentors.
Actually, it goes back to grammar school and not being able to speak until the first or second grade. The good nuns of the Daughters of Divine Charity on Staten Island worked with me and got me to speak, and put up with me the years that I couldn’t.  I owe them a great deal, they were terrific, and I still support them when I can.

Then at 14, I began my working career with a job as a janitor at my high school. Many of the lessons I learned from the full-time janitors, Arty, Frank and Dominic, are still with me. All of them were ancient, I thought. I realize now that they probably hadn’t reach 50 years of age. But what I learned from each of them is that every job is deserving of respect. Dominic and I used to take turns mowing the football field, and at 14, I had a great deal of energy, yet I could never get the field mowed in the time that Dominic did, and he always looked like he was going so slow. But it was the fact that he understood the rhythm of the job and had respect for the job, that I still had to learn. I believe, to this day, that every job has a certain rhythm to it, and that every job is deserving of respect.

Following my janitorial experience, I worked as the French fries man at Nathan’s, a short-order cook at a dental factory and as a cemetery worker. All of these experiences reinforced what I had already learned at the age of 14.

At Nathan’s, I worked alongside Benny the hot dog man. In addition to being the very best at his trade, Benny knew how to make his job fun, singing out “A pound of bread, a pound of meat, and all the mustard you can eat.” The sense of pride and joy he had in his job made all of us enjoy our own jobs that much more.

Didn’t you also drive a cab?
It might have been while driving a taxi at two o’clock in the morning during my college years that I developed my passionate belief in the greatness of our country, and the power of the American Dream. I came to understand how hard people are willing to work under what, at times, can be extreme conditions, just because of the promise of a better life for their kids.

Everyone I met at the garage, while waiting for my cab to come in from the day shift, was hoping for something more from life, either for themselves or their children. And, it is only in the United States of America that those dreams can be realized.

When did you join Mutual?
I started at Mutual of America in 1975. I had a very important position at the time [smiles].Whenever a pension was sold, I’d paperclip anything that needed to be signed. My boss at the time was Juana Luna, and she’s still a dear friend of mine, still working at Mutual today. She always made me feel as if I was important to the company. And when there was a pile of contracts that had been paperclipped, I was sent to have them signed, by then president Bill Flynn. What was remarkable, and again another great lesson for me, was that Bill always took the time to ask me how I thought the company was doing. It made me feel as if I was important to the company and that he genuinely cared about what I had to say. In fact, he was probably using the time to sign the contracts, but he always had a way about him that each of us understood how important we were to the company. We also understood that if there was ever a time that we were in need, Bill would be there for us.

At the Concern dinner, Elie Wiesel said that while he has come across “humanity” in individuals, the first time he came across it in an entire organization was when he encountered Mutual of America.

Mutual of America is the only corporate board that Elie serves on. He sees us as a unique organization that genuinely cares about making a difference, and that there is, very much, a soul to Mutual of America. In my opinion, that soul was first created by the organizers of the company, and nurtured and developed by Bill Flynn in his years there. Hopefully now with my time, I also care deeply about the same issues, which are all involved with making the world a better place. And each and every one of our employees share in that commitment. One hundred percent of our employees participate in some kind of philanthropy, either through volunteering their time or making donations. We are a company that is as proud of what we do outside of the industry as we are with what we accomplish in the industry.

Tom Moran crossing the Kundu Bridge in the Congo.

I once heard you say something like “Real strength does not come from how tall you stand or if you can stand at all.”
I’ve been a long supporter – since 1992 – of the National Center for Disability Services, now known as ABILITIES, and the Henry Viscardi School, which is a combined pre-school, grammar school, and high school for young people who have physical disabilities. Much like the disabled people I have met in other parts of the world, these are people who show great strength and dignity. I think our society has still not fully accepted the contribution that can be made by disabled persons, and the Viscardi school does a wonderful job of developing teaching techniques that will ultimately be put into the mainstream schools, and will benefit all of our society, not simply disabled children. These children are going to make great contributions, and have made great contributions, and will continue to do so if given the chance.

I also know that Mutual of America is a sponsor of public television.
We’re very influenced by our traditional client base, which is the not-for- profit sector, and that client base also cares about making a difference in the world. Public Broadcasting is the one opportunity where a voice is given to the really significant issues facing our country and our society, and it’s for that reason that Mutual of America has aligned itself with Public Broadcasting. Bill Moyers, we are his sole corporate underwriter and have been for more than a decade, and the relationship is one that we take a great deal of pride in. Not because we agree with everything Bill may say on a particular show at a particular time, but because we know that when he expresses an opinion it is thought-provoking and encourages people to engage in deeper discussion of that important issue. Similarly, we are the corporate underwriter for Religion and Ethics News Weekly, The Open Mind and Wide Angle; each of them in their own way promotes the idea that important issues deserve good and thorough discussion. We don’t all have to agree on every issue, but if we can engage in discussion of the issues we will be a better society for it.

Tom Moran, Peter Jennings, Bono, and Tom Arnold at the World Economic Forum in New York. Picture: Ben Asen.

This kind of “open discussion” philosophy is what you and Bill Flynn put into place when you became involved in the North of Ireland peace effort, and invited the leaders of different parties to speak in New York at the Mutual of America building.
For me, one of the great privileges of working at Mutual of America was to get to know and become friends and work with Bill Flynn.  And what is incredible about Bill is that anything that excites him, he shares. And I was lucky enough that he shared Northern Ireland with me. As a result of that, I developed great friendships across all divides in the North of Ireland, and those friendships hopefully led to my playing a supportive role with Bill in the good will that was needed to bring peace to the people in the North. But the peace process is, in my opinion, still in a very early stage, and it is now very much going to depend on the development of a viable economy. The children today grow up without the same reality of violence their parents had, but they still don’t have the reality of opportunity that’s needed for them to have a great future. And they deserve to have that, they’re great people on all sides.

So when did you first visit Ireland?
I first visited in 1970. I met a couple of guys at Doherty’s Bar and Grill on Staten Island and they invited me over. I had a great time. It was an exciting time with good friends, but the truth of it is my real passion for Ireland came after being able to go there with Bill Flynn and Bill Barry and seeing the great relationships they had already developed.

Your wife Joan also has Irish roots. Where did you two meet?
After working at Mutual for a year, I managed to get a two month leave of absence and traveled around Europe.  When I got back, I was told about a pretty Irish-American girl who worked on the other side of the office. It was 1976 and that girl was Joan. After dating for several years, I finally convinced her to marry me in 1983. She still works at the company and, today, is in charge of all of our technology. She’s my best friend and partner. We just celebrated our 25th wedding anniversary. When we first got married there was a question about our both working at Mutual. Bill Flynn finally agreed to it because, as he says, he wasn’t sure I’d be able to find another job.

Tom and his wife Joan.

How did you become involved with Concern Worldwide?
It’s a long story involving a late night with Father Aengus Finucane [co-founder] and Siobhan Walsh [U.S. Executive Director]. They invited me to get involved and from that point, I first became a donor and then I became more informed and more passionate about the work Concern was doing in the poorest countries in the world. I was then asked to go on the board. Initially I said I didn’t have the time, but I was convinced by John Scanlon [then chairman of the U.S. board], and as soon as I said I would, he had a massive heart attack and died. I then became Concern’s chairman of the board. It was pretty much by default, but it was the best thing that has happened to me. I’ve had the opportunity to travel to Ethiopia, Sri Lanka, Haiti, Rwanda, and the Congo. And each trip I’ve learned something new about the work of Concern and each trip I’ve been more impressed. With each trip my belief  is confirmed that every parent wants a better life for their child as their primary reason for existence.

From these trips and seeing such extreme poverty, do you come away with any sense of hope or are you just completely devastated by it?
I visited Niger, which is the poorest country in the world, and I saw people who are full of life and excitement, and dignity and deserving of respect, and optimism. And when you meet people like that, how can you be anything less than optimistic for them? And I’ve learned that in some of the poorest countries of the world there is incredible generosity, they will share whatever they have, and they share their spirit with you, and it’s such a powerful spirit they have. And I often think of the Irish surviving the Hunger and the powerful spirit they had. You see the same thing in Africa today. An incredible group of people, and instead of coming away depressed and despondent you come away filled with hope for the world, because this is the future of the world, and I have every confidence in their ability to overcome the adversities that they face.

The New York dinner (Dec. 5) was a record fundraiser for Concern.
This was the first year that we hit the threshold of one million dollars raised and it is because of all the people who genuinely care about Concern, and because of all of the staff under the leadership of Siobhan Walsh, and it’s because of the passion that Ed Kenney [Executive Vice President of External Affairs for Mutual of America] has for Concern and the work that he did to make sure that that room was filled beyond capacity. It was an exciting dinner. It was right that it should be the threshold dinner because we had as our honoree Elie Wiesel, who spoke about what it means to have “concern.” He spoke with the experience of a Holocaust survivor, but I think, most importantly, he spoke with the faith of a man who knows that hope is possible even in the worst of cases.

Ted Koppel, Concern Chief Executive Tom Arnold, honoree Elie Wiesel, and Tom Moran at the 2007 Seeds of Hope dinner in New York City.
Picture; Liam Burke/Press 22

You and Elie Wiesel share something, in that neither of you like to be the center of attention, and he actually mentioned on that night that the only reason he was there was out of respect for you.
So now I should be punished for this! [Laughs].

I know that you very much prefer to stay behind the scenes.
It’s less that I would prefer to be behind the scenes and more that there are other people who are deserving of the attention. Whether it’s Concern – when you get exposed to the people of Concern you realize how insignificant your role actually is – or the peace process in Northern Ireland where my role was as a cheerleader for those that were interested in doing the right thing. The reality is that it’s the people whose lives are on the line that deserve the credit for things that have gotten done. It’s the courage and vision of a Gerry Adams. It’s the wisdom of a Rev. Ian Paisley, who after so many years realized that this was the place for him to be. It is all the people, David Ervine [Progressive Unionist Party leader] who always spoke so eloquently about the need for a better solution, and challenged not just Nationalists but Unionists and his own Loyalists to stretch themselves to see his vision of what the future could and should be.

I know that you had a great deal of respect for David Ervine.
One of the great losses, in my opinion, was the untimely death of David Ervine [Jan. 2007]. He died way too young, in his early fifties. He played such a great role. At his funeral there were 600 people in the church, 300 gathered downstairs where the pastor had set up speakers and another 3,000 lining the streets outside. And when you looked out at the church filled with friend and foe alike, you couldn’t help but be moved by the great influence that David had exercised as the leader of one of the smallest political parties on the island, but his voice was one of the loudest heard. His brother commented at the funeral that in death David had achieved what he strived for in life. And that was a reference to the fact that Gerry Adams was seated alongside representatives of the Ulster Unionist Party and the Progressive  Unionist Party, and it was the first time that Gerry had been in this part of Belfast and certainly the first time he had been at the church. It was an incredible experience. I consider one of the great riches of my life was having David for a friend. Today a foundation has been set up – the David Ervine Foundation – to promote education in East Belfast in the Loyalist areas so that young people will have opportunities other than violence to advance themselves.

You have also been involved on the education front in Ireland.
I had the privilege of chairing the Smurfit School of Business at University College, Dublin (UCD). It gave me a chance to meet an incredible group of people who, in my opinion, were responsible for the roar of the Celtic Tiger.

And just as education played such an indelible role in the development of the Irish economy, it will play the same role for the North of Ireland. And Queens University was just made a part of the Russell Group, which is the equivalent of an Ivy League school, a ranking largely attributed to the great reputation and the great quality provided and the research that is done  there. I’m convinced that Queens University will play a major part in the economic development of the North.

Tom Moran with Taoiseach Bertie Ahern.

Can you tell me a little bit about your Irish ancestors?
I am of both Irish and Italian descent. On my father’s side my great-great-grandparents were married in Carrick-on-Suir, County Tipperary, there’s not much record beyond the marriage. And according to my grandfather’s notes his grandfather left Ireland because he was on the run from the constabulary and ended up in Hume, England where my great-grandfather was born, and a year after that he came to the States. On my mother’s side my Italian grandfather came from just outside Salerno, Italy. His name was Arturo Quaranta, and he married Peggy O’Neill, whose family came from Kesh, County Fermanagh.

Did you learn a love of politics from your father?
My father is an absolute Democrat and is right now suffering with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, but he will argue politics with the best of them. I fully expect before this presidential election is over I will see him on Meet the Press. He’s quite an amazing man.

How do you see America’s role in the world?
As you travel around the world you realize what an incredible influence the United States has and the potential that we have to do great good in the most difficult of situations. The peace process in Northern Ireland was greatly supported by the government of the United States, which believed that peace was possible and made it clear that it would be supportive of any efforts for peace. In Sri Lanka we heard stories about the U.S. military that came immediately following the tsunami to rebuild schools. In Africa, in the poorest countries, what a great sense of pride it is to see the Concern workers taking the bags marked U.S. AID, and to know that the U.S. has supported efforts to keep children alive and to provide for a better existence and a better life. It’s awfully easy sometimes to see the negative sides of our world, but I think that those who have traveled and understood and heard from the people who suffer the most, recognize how powerful our country is for the good.

Thank you, Tom. ♦

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Dave Lewis https://irishamerica.com/2018/06/dave-lewis/ https://irishamerica.com/2018/06/dave-lewis/#respond Tue, 12 Jun 2018 18:39:52 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=36754 Read more..]]> Dave Lewis is an Assistant Editor and the Social Media Coordinator at Irish America Magazine. In 2017, Dave started out as an editorial assistant writing briefing papers for a potential Irish Ambassadorial candidate and soon started writing about Irish history, the GAA in the United States, and profiles on Irish innovators and leaders. In addition to writing Dave is the creator and producer of the magazine’s podcast called “The Story” a biweekly podcast that explores the stories of what’s happening and what’s happened in the Irish community.

Dave has a B.A. from Kean University’s Honors History Program.

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Weekly Comment: Remembering J.P. Donleavy (1926 – 2017) https://irishamerica.com/2017/09/weekly-comment-remembering-j-p-donleavy-1926-2017/ https://irishamerica.com/2017/09/weekly-comment-remembering-j-p-donleavy-1926-2017/#comments Fri, 15 Sep 2017 20:51:22 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=32327 Read more..]]> J.P. Donleavy, the Irish American novelist and playwright who penned The Ginger Man, which was initially turned away by over 45 publishers for its sexual obscenity but eventually sold more than 45 million copies and became considered a modern cult classic, died on September 11 in a hospital near his Mullingar, Co. Westmeath home. He was 91 years old. Donleavy wrote more than a dozen Dublin-based novels and story collections, and was often dubbed one of the most comedic writers in the English language.

Born in Brooklyn to Irish immigrant parents in 1926, James Patrick Donleavy grew up in the heavily Irish neighborhood of Woodlawn, in the Bronx. He served in the U.S. army during World War II and relocated to Dublin at the age of 20 to study zoology at  Trinity College following the war. His time there was marked less by academic study and more by his proclivity for finding himself in uncomfortable situations, his tweed jacket and smart mouth making him a well-known presence in bar fights around the city. He never finished his degree, but was soon published in the Dublin literary periodical, Envoy, immersing himself in the hard-living literary scene and befriending Brendan Behan.

Soon, he completed The Ginger Man, which chronicled the many sexual exploits of Sebastian Dangerfield, an Irish American student of law at Trinity College, commonly believed to be a composite of Donleavy and his university friends. Behan, Donleavy told Irish America in 2015, was actually the first person to read the book, finding the manuscript by drunk accident when he was staying at Donleavy and his wife’s house while the two were away. When they returned home, Donleavy said, they found that Behan had blackened all their pots, stolen Donleavy’s shoes, and left the manuscript behind with heavy edits in the margins. Sometime later, after accepting that Behan’s suggestions were worthwhile, Donleavy had Behan review the manuscript again. “He read the book and put it down and said, ‘This book is going to shake the world!’” he said.

But it was not to be without a fight. After copious rejection by Irish and American companies, The Ginger Man was published in 1955 under the pornography imprint of Parisian house Olympia Press, which issued the first print of Vladimir Nabokov’s Lolita and also distributed many of the works of Samuel Beckett. This move enraged Donleavy, who felt that this label attacked the legitimacy of his novel, and resulted in over two decades of legal battles that culminated with Donleavy firmly on top: after Olympia fell into bankruptcy, he purchased it at an auction in 1970.

The Ginger Man’s lewdness caused it to initially be banned in Ireland and the United States. However, it was named among the 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century by the Modern Library in 1998, and has never been out of print. In the 2010 reissue of the novel, American writer Jay McInerney’s introduction noted that it “has undoubtedly launched thousands of benders, but it has also inspired scores of writers with its vivid and visceral narrative voice and the sheer poetry of its prose.” A later novel of Donleavy’s, the 1973 A Fairytale of New York, served as inspiration for the Pogues’ famous Christmas song “Fairytale of New York.” In 2015, Donleavy won the Bob Hughes Lifetime Achievement Award at the Bord Gáis Energy Irish Book Awards.

Donleavy was married and divorced twice, and is survived by two children from each union – Philip and Karen, children of Valerie Heron, and Rebecca and Rory, of actress Mary Wilson Price. Of old age, he once wrote, “It’s not nice, but take comfort that you won’t stay that way forever.” ♦

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David O’Malley https://irishamerica.com/2016/12/david-omalley/ https://irishamerica.com/2016/12/david-omalley/#respond Fri, 02 Dec 2016 09:21:10 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=27939 Read more..]]> David O’Malley is the president and chief operating officer for the Penn Mutual Life Insurance Company and has overall responsibility for all of the company’s operating areas, which ensures a seamless experience for both producers and clients.

Dave joined Penn Mutual’s Investment Department in 1994 and his extensive knowledge in the investment field enabled him to build a highly successful career that has led to positions of increasing complexity. His expertise in derivatives and asset-liability management has been instrumental in designing the company’s hedging and risk management programs.

Additionally, Dave serves on the board of managers of the full service broker firm Janney Montgomery Scott LLC, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Penn Mutual. He also serves on the Saint Joseph University’s Academy of Risk Management and insurance board of governors, on Drexel University’s President’s leadership council and serves as trustee with Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

Dave graduated summa cum laude from Drexel University in Philadelphia, with a bachelor’s degree in finance and economics.

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Photos from Irish America’s 2015 Business 100 https://irishamerica.com/2015/12/photos-from-the-2015-business-100/ https://irishamerica.com/2015/12/photos-from-the-2015-business-100/#respond Fri, 04 Dec 2015 18:53:54 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=24410 Read more..]]> On December 3, 2015, Irish America magazine celebrated the 30th Anniversary Business 100 in New York City with Keynote Speaker Jim Clerkin, President and CEO of Moët Hennessy North America. Michael Flatley, Irish-American stepdancer, choreographer and musician, who is currently on Broadway in Lord of the Dance: Dangerous Game, was presented a Lifetime Achievement Award for his artistic contributions. The Annual Business 100 honors the best and the brightest Irish-American and Irish-born leaders representing some of the most innovative and influential companies and corporations in the world.

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Special Offer for IBO Members https://irishamerica.com/2015/10/special-offer-for-ibo-members/ https://irishamerica.com/2015/10/special-offer-for-ibo-members/#comments Wed, 14 Oct 2015 18:16:13 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=23789 For a limited time, Irish America magazine is offering a free one year subscription to IBO members.

To receive your subscription, submit your name & address via email to subscriptions@irishamerica.com with the subject “IBO Offer.”

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2015 Healthcare and Life Sciences 50 Keynote address by Michael Dowling https://irishamerica.com/2015/10/2015-healthcare-and-life-sciences-50-keynote-address-by-michael-dowling/ https://irishamerica.com/2015/10/2015-healthcare-and-life-sciences-50-keynote-address-by-michael-dowling/#respond Thu, 08 Oct 2015 19:26:41 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=23747 Read more..]]> On October 7th, Irish America celebrated the Healthcare / Life Sciences 50 honorees at a reception in New York City with Keynote Speaker Michael Dowling President and CEO of North Shore-LIJ Health System. The Healthcare / Life Sciences 50 are featured in the August/September edition of Irish America.

To view photos from the 2015 event click here.

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2015 Wall Street 50 Event Photos https://irishamerica.com/2015/10/2015-wall-street-50-event-photos/ https://irishamerica.com/2015/10/2015-wall-street-50-event-photos/#respond Thu, 08 Oct 2015 19:15:39 +0000 http://irishamerica.com/?p=23740 On October 1, 2015, Irish America celebrated the 18th Annual Wall Street 50. Shaun Kelly, KPMG, delivered the keynote address. The Wall Street 50 are featured in the October/November issue of Irish America.

To watch Shaun’s speech click here.

 

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