Those We Lost

By Irish America Staff
April / May 2006

We lost many influential Irish Americans in the last year. Though impossible to mention them all, here is our tribute to some of those who touched our lives.


Frank Conroy

Frank Conroy, the author of the classic coming-of-age Stop Time, died of colon cancer in April 2005. He was 69 years old.

Conroy had been a literary staple in the American cultural scene. Following an extensive career in academia, Conroy became the director of the most prestigious writing program in the country – the Iowa Writers’ Workshop – a post he held for 17 years.

Conroy published six books, including Time & Tide: A Walk Through Nantucket and Body & Soul, which has been published in French, German, Portuguese, Finnish and Japanese. His articles and short stories appeared in The New Yorker, New York Times Magazine, and GQ, to name a few, and he lectured nationally and internationally. In 2003, he received the National Humanities Medal from President Bush.

Conroy’s expertise extended beyond literature. He was also a jazz pianist, and a member of the jazz band Close Enough. He won a Grammy Award in 1986.

A second-generation Irish-American, Conroy felt strong ties with his heritage. “It is perhaps because I’m a writer,” he told Irish America on being named to the Top 100 in 2005 “but I’ve always felt a spiritual connection to Ireland and the Irish.”

Geraldine Fitzgerald

Geraldine Fitzgerald, the beautiful and talented screen and stage actress, died from complications of Alzheimer’s disease on July 17, 2005 at her Upper East Side home in New York.

Born in 1913 in Dublin, Fitzgerald joined Dublin’s famous Gate Theatre, where her aunt was one of the leading stars, before moving to New York in 1938.

Once in New York, Fitzgerald’s old friend Orson Welles gave her a part in the play, Heartbreak Hotel, which he was directing at the Mercury Theatre.

Soon afterwards, Fitzgerald was discovered by Hollywood and signed by Warner Brothers. She received an Academy Award nomination for her role as Isabella Linton opposite Laurence Olivier in Wuthering Heights in 1939. That same year she appeared with Bette Davis in Dark Victory.

During World War II, Fitzgerald’s husband, Edward Lindsay-Hogg, an Irish aristocrat, moved to England, while Fitzgerald stayed in Los Angeles with their son. The couple divorced in 1946. That same year she met and married Stuart Scheftel. They stayed together until his death in 1994.

During the 1940s, Warner Brothers suspended Fitzgerald for refusing certain roles.

“My mother was just way too feisty to be in bondage to the Warner Brothers,” recalled her daughter, Susan Scheftel. The suspension didn’t stop her from starring in films such as Ten North Frederick (1943) and Wilson (1944).

When she returned to New York with her new husband, Fitzgerald formed the Everyman Street Theatre, which recruited actors and street performers from some of New York’s poorest neighborhoods. Soon, Fitzgerald developed an interest in stage directing, and she won a 1982 Tony nomination for directing the play Mass Appeal.

Fitzgerald is survived by her son, Michael Lindsay-Hogg, a director; her daughter. Susan Scheftel, a clinical psychologist in New York, and two grandchildren and a step-grandchild.

George Kennan

George Kennan, 101, a longtime U.S. diplomat who was extremely influential in the formation of post-World War II U.S. policy towards the Soviet Union, died on March 17, 2005.

Kennan was born in Milwaukee, February 16, 1904. A graduate of Princeton, he began his career in the State Department in 1926, and served as a Foreign Service officer until 1953. Recognized as one of the great authorities on the Soviet Union. Kennan served as Ambassador in Moscow in 1952, until Stalin had him removed for saying that conditions in the Soviet Union were not unlike Nazi Germany.

His reputation was made, as he recalled in his Pulitzer Prize-winning memoirs, in 1946. when he sent a cable from Moscow to Washington, which became known as “The Long Telegram.” This dispatch served as a blueprint for what became Washington’s policy in dealing with the Soviet Union, and stayed in place until the break-up of the Soviet Union in 1991.

In the 1980s, Kennan became an advocate for nuclear disarmament. He stated that there “is no one wise enough and strong enough to hold in his hands destructive power sufficient enough to put an end to civilized life on a great portion of our planet.”

Kennan is survived by his wife. Annelise and four children, eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Rosemary Kennedy

Rosemary Kennedy. 86. the sister of John. Robert and Edward Kennedy, who was institutionalized more than 60 years ago after undergoing a lobotomy, died on January 7, 2005.

Rosemary became an inspiration to her younger sister, Eunice Kennedy Shriver, who founded the Special Olympics. The third child of Rose and Joseph Kennedy, Rosemary was developmentally challenged and was lobotomized when she was 23.

“Rosemary was a lifelong jewel to every member of our family.” the Kennedy family said in a statement. “From her earliest years, her mental retardation was a continuing inspiration to each of us and a powerful source of our family’s commitment to do all we can to help persons with disabilities live full and productive lives.”

Rosemary lived most of her life in the St. Coletta School for Exceptional Children in Jefferson, Wisconsin.

Wellington “Duke” Mara

Wellington Mara of the New York Giants, one of the NFL’s most influential owners for more than a half century and the last of the league’s founding generation, died on October 25. 2005 He was 89.

“Duke” was the affectionate nickname given to Mara. who had been the face of the Giants organisation for its entire history.

Mara was much more than an owner, he was the very essence of the organization. On October 18. 1925. at the age of nine, he began working for the Giants as a ballboy after his father. Timothy J. Mara. purchased the team. For the next 80 years, he was involved in the organization in one way or another, aside from three years while he served in the Navy during World War II.

During his tenure, Mara provided football for America’s largest market, while adjusting to the changing pace of professional athletics. The Giants earned 26 post-season appearances during his lifetime, coming a close second to the Dallas Cowboys and Rams (who played in Los Angeles and now St. Louis). Both teams have made 27 appearances.

Wellington was born in Manhattan on August 14. 1916 and never lost his connection to the city, maintaining his vintage New York accent throughout his life. During his early years he was susceptible to sickness and often came home from football games with some minor ailment. To remedy this, his father had the team stand on the sunny side of the sidelines, to keep his son out of the cold. The Giants maintain this practice to this day.

During the Great Depression, his father ceded part of the team’s ownership to Wellington and his brother Jack. He was advised to sell the team after years of financial hardship, but Wellington and his brother pleaded to their father to maintain ownership and keep football alive in New York. Tim agreed and stuck it out. to see his team win a championship in 1938.

Wellington graduated from Fordham University in 1937 and helped with the team’s scouting by reading out of town newspapers. During the following years his relationship with the team grew and by 1979 he was the final voice in all football decisions within the organization.

In 1997 Mara was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in Canton, Ohio. His induction placed him alongside his father, which was the first time a father and son shared the same prestigious honor.

Mara is survived by his wife Ann. his four sons, seven daughters, and 40 grandchildren.

Eugene McCarthy

Senator Eugene McCarthy died at the age of 89 on December 11. 2005. He was born a farmer’s son in tiny Watkins. Minnesota, not the typical urban Irish Catholic of his generation who went into politics. But McCarthy’s Irishness was central to his identity, as is evident in his writings as well as the issues about which he was passionate.

McCarthy struck those who knew him as a scholar, and he was indeed remembered not just as a congressman and senator, but also as a poet and essayist, who proudly claimed that he wrote in the “Irish mystic” tradition of Yeats. He also wrote at length about Ireland’s place in the 21st-century world, musing about the downside of the Celtic Tiger, and the strained relationship between the U.S. and Ireland.

But, of course, McCarthy was best remembered for challenging Lyndon Johnson in 1968, when the Vietnam War was spinning out of control. McCarthy’s strong showing in the New Hampshire primary (he actually lost) convinced Johnson that he could not win reelection to the White House. McCarthy opposed the war and believed that politics could make a difference in the lives of ordinary citizens.

President Bill Clinton, who eulogized McCarthy, said he had been instrumental in building pressure to stop the war.

“It all began with Gene McCarthy’s willingness to stand alone and turn the tide of history,” Clinton said.

McCarthy’s view fit neatly into the mold of other Irish Catholic liberal radicals such as the Berrigan brothers.

McCarthy’s scholarly ways, however, rubbed even fellow Irish Catholic Democrats the wrong way.

“Gene McCarthy felt he should have been the first Catholic president just because he knew more about St. Thomas Aquinas than my brother,” Bobby Kennedy once said.

But Vietnam was not the only nation McCarthy was concerned about.

In 1985, 15 years after he retired, McCarthy appeared before a Senate committee to speak out against a treaty between the U.S. and England which would have made it easy for the U.S. to extradite supposed IRA terrorists.

Sure McCarthy was unabashedly liberal. He was an icon of Irish America.

William McKeon

William McKeon, 85, a former chair of the New York Democratic Party who was an early backer for John F. Kennedy for president in 1960 and Robert F. Kennedy for the Senate in 1964, died on October 5, 2005. He was a lifelong resident of Auburn, New York.

A lawyer by training, McKeon worked at an automobile plant while earning a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from the University of Detroit. He interrupted his education for service in World War II, returning as an Army staff sergeant with a Bronze Star.

While working for a life insurance company and as a school librarian, McKeon earned his law degree at the Fordham University School of Law in 1949.

McKeon is survived by his wife of 54 years, Ann Donovan McKeon; three sons, David, Michael and Brian; three daughters, Kathleen, Maureen and Teresa; a sister, Jane Dodge; three brothers, Robert, John, and Paul and 10 grandchildren.

John J. McMullen

John J. McMullen, former owner of the New Jersey Devils and the Houston Astros, died on September 16, 2005, at his home in Montclair, New Jersey. He was 87.

McMullen came onto the professional sports scene in 1979 when he led a group that bought the Houston Astros baseball franchise. In 1982 he acquired the Colorado Rockies NHL franchise, moved it to the Meadowlands Sports Complex and renamed the team the New Jersey Devils. Under his ownership, the Devils won two Stanley Cups. He sold the franchise in 2000 to an affiliate of the YankeeNets sports holding company for $175 million.

McMullen owned the Astros from 197992. He then sold the team to Drayton McLane Jr. for $115 million.

McMullen purchased a share of the Yankees in 1974 and said “There is nothing quite so limited as being a limited partner of George Steinbrenner’s.”

Born in Jersey City, McMullen graduated from the Naval Academy in 1940 and rose to the rank of commander during a 15-year naval career. He earned a master’s degree in naval architecture and engineering from MIT and a doctorate in mechanical engineering from the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology in Zurich.

In 1959, he founded John J. McMullen Associates, an international firm of naval architects and marine engineers, with offices on the 30th floor of the World Trade Center.

In 1996 McMullen made a gift to Boston College to dedicate the university’s museum in honor of his parents, Charles and Isabella McMullen.

He is survived by his wife of 50 years, Jacqueline McMullen and two sons and a daughter.

Yogi Berra, McMullen’s neighbor and friend, was a pallbearer at McMullen’s funeral.

Lt. Michael P. Murphy

Lt. Michael P. Murphy, 29, who was killed in July while on a secret antiterrorism mission in Afghanistan, is sadly, one of over 2,500 servicemen and women killed in Iraq and Afghanistan since 2001.

A Navy SEAL, Lt. Murphy was known as a modest and respectful man, who spent his summers tutoring students during college. Always capable of dragging up a good anecdote, he would write to his family about only the funny things that happened while he was away on secret missions, such as the time a pack of hyenas attacked him while he was jogging.

Lt. Murphy was thrilled to be a SEAL. He started training for the elite unit in 2001, and even got corrective eye surgery so that he could qualify. During the famously difficult training period, Michael called up his father Daniel and asked for an old Vietnam War photograph of Daniel Murphy recovering from shrapnel wounds.

“Dad,” he said, “If you can get through that, I can get through Hell Week.”

When he died, his family did not know he was in Afghanistan and did not know what type of mission he was on, and in fact they still don’t know how he died. It does not matter to them they told the New York Times.

Lt. Murphy was engaged to Heather Duggan, whom he met while studying at Pennsylvania State University. He proposed to Duggan under the Christmas tree in Rockefeller Center in December of 2003. -JG.

Dan O’Herlihy

The Irish-born Hollywood film actor and director Dan O’Herlihy died on February 18. 2005 at his home in Malibu, California. He was 85.

O’Herlihy starred in several Hollywood movies and worked with, among others, Orson Welles, Gregory Peck and John Huston.

In 1954, he received an Academy Award Best Actor nomination for his title role in Luis Bunuel”s The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe.

Daniel Peter O’Herlihy was born in Wexford, Ireland, on May 1, 1919. He qualified as an architect at the National University, but his real love was acting, and while still in college he started to take small parts with the Abbey and Gate theatres.

He went on to have a successful career with the Gate Theatre and the Abbey Players, appearing in over 70 plays, including the lead in the original production of Sean O’Casey’s Red Roses for Me.

O’Herlihy turned to films in 1946, impressing critics and filmgoers alike with his breakthrough role in Carol Reed’s Odd Man Out, the classic thriller set in Belfast, in which he played a gang member, and Hungry Hill. Daphne du Maurier’s tale of an Irish family feud over several generations.

After marrying Elsie Bennett, with whom he was to have five children, including the actor Gavin O’Herlihy. he went to America, where he appeared in The Life of Charles Dickens on Broadway, He played Macduff in Orson Welles’ Macbeth at the Mercury Theatre (he also designed the set and costumes), and appeared in John Houseman’s Measure for Measure in Los Angeles, King Lear at the Houston Shakespeare Festival and Mass Appeal at the Drury Lane Theatre.

O’Herlihy made his American movie debut in Orson Welles’ Macbeth in 1948. playing the role of Macduff; shortly afterwards, he appeared with his Macbeth co-star Roddy McDowall in a low-budget adaptation of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped. His title role in The Adventures of Robinson Crusoe, followed, and proved to be a career high point. O’Herlihy eventually lost the Academy Award to Marion Brando for his role in On the Waterfront.

Despite his Oscar nomination, O’Herlihy had few other lead roles and became a familiar supporting actor in film. He appeared opposite Bette Davis in the historical drama, The Virgin Queen (1955) and he also gave an exceptional supporting performance in director Douglas Sirk’s melodrama Imitation of Life (1959). In 1964, in the serious Cold War thriller Fail-Safe, he portrayed Brig. Gen. Warren A. Black.

In 1987 director John Huston gave O’Herlihy a lead role in in The Dead (1987), Huston’s film version of the James Joyce story.

As a versatile character player. O’Herlihy was seen Halloween 3: Season of the Witch, The Last StarfighterRoboCop and its sequel.

O’Herlihy also added some memorable TV credits to his resume including President Franklin Roosevelt in MacArthur, starring Gregory Peck, intelligence agent Carson Marsh in the cult show Whiz Kids and sawmill owner Alexander Packard in several episodes of David Lynch’s intellectual TV series masterpiece, Twin Peaks. His final screen credit was the 1998 television movie The Rat Pack, where he played Joseph Kennedy.

Bob Richardson

Bob Richardson, one of the most influential fashion photographers of the 1960s and the 70s died on December 5 in Manhattan. He was 77.

Richardson changed the look of fashion photography. He incorporated drugs and violence into his photos making them more about the issues that were consuming young people, than about fashion.

Born to Irish-Catholic parents on Long Island. Richardson studied at Parsons School of Design and Pratt Institute. He began taking pictures in the 1950s and landed his first job with Harper’s Bazaar in 1963.

Diagnosed with schizophrenia at 21. Richardson battled mental illness for the rest of his life. His illness, combined with his use of drugs and alcohol, led him to all but disappear in the 1980s. His son. Terry Richardson, also a photographer, helped get his father off the streets in 1984. He had been homeless for two years.

Richardson returned to photography in the 1990s, landing assignments for Marie Claire, GQ, and Harpers Bazaar. But he had harsh words for editors. “American magazines are cowards.” he told PDN in a 1997 interview. “…Most of the stuff they put out is shit. New York has definitely succeeded in raising mediocrity to an art form. It’s ridiculous. In Europe I’m considered a genius” in New York I’m nobody.”

Richardson, who had a four year relationship with Anjelica Huston that began in 1969, was married several times and had two children. Margaret and Terry, who told the New York Times that he hopes to finish a book his father started before he died.

Peggy Ryan

Peggy Ryan, who was Donald O’Connor’s dance partner in movie musicals like This Is the Life and When Johnny Comes Marching Home, died in Las Vegas on November 6. She was 80.

In recent years, Ryan, a vastly talented performer who acted and danced in more than two dozen movies, taught tap dancing and produced revues in Las Vegas and was teaching and performing until several days before she entered the hospital after suffering a stroke.

Ryan’s most memorable roles were with fellow Irish-American Donald O’Connor; the duo became known for high-energy, complex routines in films, like Chip Off the Old Block, and Bowery to Broadway. Her final movie was All Ashore with Mickey Rooney in 1953.

Ryan also starred in the television police drama Hawaii Five-O as Jenny Sherman. secretary to Jack Lord’s Steve McGarrett.

She was born Margaret O’Rene Ryan on August 28, 1924, in Long Beach. California. By three, she was dancing professionally in her parents’ vaudeville act. She is survived by a a daughter. Kerry English: a son, Scen Sherman, and five grandchildren. ♦

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