Those We Lost: Recent Passings in the Irish-American Community

Gil Clancy

By Irish America Staff
June / July 2011

Recent Irish and Irish American Obituaries

Eugene Byrne

Irish folk singer, festival organizer and tour guide Eugene Byrne passed away at his home in Dover, N.H. on March 24, after a long battle with cancer. He was 65.

As a folk singer, Byrne, who was born in Dublin, made the stages at Carnegie Hall, Madison Square Garden, the Merv Griffin Show and venues around the world. He worked with several groups including the Garrison Brothers, the New Folk Trio and the Blarney Folk.

Byrne’s dream of starting a local Irish Festival came true in 2003. The Seacoast Irish Festival ran until 2005, when it was discontinued due to local politics, but was brought back in 2010. Byrne was responsible for arranging the festival’s musical acts. He is also remembered as a guide to Ireland. He owned and operated Byrne Entertainment and Tours, and made his tours special by narrating the history of the country through stories, jokes and songs.

Byrne is survived by his wife of 41 years, Maura, two sons, Gene and Kevin, and three grandchildren. He was laid to rest in Finglas, Co. Dublin.
– K.M.


Gil Clancy
1922 – 2011

I met Gil Clancy in 1984, while researching a book about the sport and business of boxing. Gil had already earned acclaim as a hall-of-fame trainer, manager, and matchmaker. At the time, he was providing expert commentary for CBS’s boxing telecasts and also had considerable input into which fights the network bought.Gil viewed me with a healthy dose of skepticism. I was chronicling the exploits of WBC super-lightweight champion Billy Costello and manager Mike Jones. Gil was suspicious of outsiders who appeared on the scene to write about his beloved sport.

“Jesus, Mike,” he demanded at one negotiating session. “Do you have to keep bringing this guy with you all the time?”

“Yes,” Mike told him.

After a while, Gil got used to having me around and a friendship was forged. As the years passed, he became one of my “go to” guys whenever I needed to educate myself on a particular facet of boxing. Eight years ago, I had the pleasure of writing about him for this magazine when he was honored as one of the “Top 100.”

Boxing is a shady business. The warning “protect yourself at all times” applies to action outside the ring as well as in it. Trainer Jimmy Glenn once famously said, “Everybody in boxing wants to screw somebody. They don’t feel comfortable, they think they’re doing something wrong, if they’re not screwing somebody.”

Gil was the antithesis of that. His word was his bond. He was a straight shooter and voice of reason in an often irrational , duplicitous sport. Over the years, he won countless awards for his contributions to the sweet science. He was part of that wonderful group of people who love boxing, understand boxing and ennoble the sport with their presence.

Gil died on March 31 after a long illness at age 88. Boxing and the Irish-American community will miss him.
– Tom Hauser


John J. Concannon

John J. Concannon passed away on March 3 in Austin, TX. He was 86.

Born in the Bronx, NY on July 1, 1924 to Irish immigrant parents, Concannon graduated from the City College and began his journalism career in 1948 in the mailroom of Collier’s Magazine, leaving six years later as the writer of the “What’s New” column. In 1954, he joined Newsweek, where he become the Associate Editor, retiring in 1989.

An active member of the Galway Men’s Association of NY, Concannon worked as the PR director of New York City’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade from 1966-1985. In 1984, he co-wrote The Irish American Who’s Who. He also wrote numerous stories for a multitude of Irish publications, including the Irish Echo. He is survived by his daughters, Allanah Feeney and Mary Helen Foley; his son-in-law Michael Foley; his brother James, of the Irish Christian Brothers; five grandchildren and ten great-grandchildren. His wife Bridget passed away in 2006.

– K.R.


Seán Cronin

Seán Cronin died on March 9 in Maryland after a long illness. He was 91.

Cronin was born in Dublin and raised in  Co. Kerry. When he was four, his father, a veteran of the Irish War of Independence, died.
Cronin joined the Irish Army in December 1941 and, upon discharge, moved to the United States. After returning to Dublin in 1955, he joined the Evening Press as a subeditor and volunteered for the Irish Republican Army (IRA). He twice served as IRA Chief of Staff (1957-1958, 1959-1960).

Imprisoned twice for his republican activities, Cronin left the IRA in the early 1960s and returned to the U.S., serving as the first Washington correspondent for The Irish Times until 1991. He also wrote numerous books and pamphlets, including “Washington’s Irish Policy 1916-1986.”

Sinn Féin President Gerry Adams said of Cronin, “Seán supported the peace process and offered advice and help.”
Cronin’s first wife, Terry, passed away in 1977. He is survived by his second wife Reva Rubenstein Cronin, a step-son Philip and two step-grandsons. Cronin’s ashes were scattered in Iveragh, Co. Kerry.
– K.R.


Lawrence F. Hickey
1910 – 2010

Lawrence Hickey died at his home in Manhattan on March 28. He was 90.

As benefactor and board member of Astor Services for Children and Families from 1981 to 2004, Hickey helped acquire the Little Red School House in the Bronx. The building, which houses an early development program for children with emotional and mental disorders, was later named in his honor. 
Born in Brooklyn, Hickey earned a B.A. from Notre Dame. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II before joining his family’s construction business. For his charitable work, Hickey, who was also a board member of the Kennedy Child Study Center, received several awards and honors. He is survived by a son, Frank, daughters, Elizabeth, Magee and Jane, and 11 grandchildren.

Hickey’s life will be celebrated at a fundraiser to benefit the Lawrence F. Hickey Center in Manhattan on May 14. His daughter, CBS newswoman Magee Hickey, will perform with several other newscasters from different stations. Call 845-871-1171 for details.
– K.M.


Ellen McCormack

Ellen McCormack died on March 27 in Avon, Connecticut. She was 84.

In both 1976 and 1980 she ran for President as a pro-life candidate.  In 1976, McCormack won 238,000 votes in 18 Democratic primaries, and 22 delegate votes at the Democratic National Convention. She ran again in 1980 under the Right to Life party and qualified for the ballot in three states and won more than 32,000 votes.

McCormack was born Eleanor Rose Cullen on September 15, 1926. He mother was born in Co. Leitrim, one of 16 children, and  immigrated to the U.S. at age 16. McCormack’s father emigrated from Co. Wicklow as a child.

McCormack  began to focus on the issue of abortion when it became legal in New York in 1970. She soon became a member of the Pro-Life Action Committee. Her husband, Francis, passed away in 1993. She is survived by her daughters Kathleen, Anne and Ellen, a son, John; grandchildren; and great-grandchildren.
– K.M.


Brian O’Connell

Charity advocate Brian O’Connell died at this home in Chatham, Mass on March 21 after a battle with cancer. He was 81.
O’Connell is best known for co-founding the Independent Sector, an organization that represents the interests of charities, foundations and nonprofit giving programs in the US, often before Congress. Since 1980, O’Connell served as the organization’s first president and CEO until he retired in 1995.
O’Connell spent his life helping others. He started his career as director of the California affiliate of the American Heart Association and then became the director of the National Mental Health Association for 12 years, starting in 1966. During this time, he organized the National Committee on Patients’ Rights. In 1978, he became the president of the National Council of Philanthropy and executive director of the Coalition of National Voluntary Organizations. O’Connell received many honorary degrees and awards for his work.

Born on Jan. 23, 1930, in Worcester, M.A., he graduated from Tufts University in 1953, where he later helped found the Jonathan M. Tisch College of Citizenship and Public Service. The school awarded him the Tufts Distinguished Alumni Award and established a library in his name, which holds 14 books he wrote, his most recent being a memoir, Fifty Years in Public Causes: Stories from a Road Less Traveled.

O’Connell is survived by his wife, Ann, three children, Todd, Tracey Sperry, and Matthew, brothers Jeffrey and Thomas, sister, Jesslyn McNamara, and six grandchildren.

– K.M


Vincent O’Leary

Vincent O’Leary, former president of SUNY Albany, passed away at the age of 86 on April 22, 2011 in Gaithersburg, MD from complications from a fall.

O’Leary was born on July 31, 1924 in San Francisco, CA. In 1948, he graduated from San Francisco State College with a bachelor’s degree in sociology and earned a master’s degree from the University of Washington in 1956.

In 1977, O’Leary assumed the presidency of SUNY Albany at a time when programs and academic units were being closed due to budget limitations. With the campus in major turmoil, he decided to take the university in a different direction and develop new programs. During his tenure as president, he helped with the development of 27 graduate programs, increased the financing for external research and introduced an international research and scholarship exchange. Some of the new graduate programs evolved into the Rockefeller College of Public Affairs and Policy and the School of Public Health. The result was a complete turnaround for SUNY Albany.

Prior to becoming president of SUNY Albany, O’Leary was the assistant director of President Johnson’s National Crime Commission, director of parole supervision in Texas and a professor at the University of Albany from 1968-1977. After his presidency, he taught criminal justice and was awarded an honorary doctorate in 2006.

O’Leary is survived by his wife, Lihua Yu O’Leary; his daughters from his first marriage, Beth O’Leary and Cathy Goldwyn; three stepchildren, Lena, Eugene and Anna Sun; and 10 grandchildren.
– K.R.


James Regan

James Regan, former president of the New York City Board of Education, passed away on April 25, 2011 in Staten Island, NY of complications from Parkinson’s disease. He was 81 years old.
Regan and his twin sister Gertrude were born on January 24, 1930 in the Bronx, NY to Peter and Mary Regan. He graduated from Fordham University in 1952 and earned a master’s degree in personnel and guidance from Richmond College (now the College of Staten Island) in 1971. During the Korean War, Regan served in the Navy and afterward became a teacher at New Dorp High School.

Regan served on the board from 1972-1990. Prior to this, he was a social studies teacher for 17 years. He was president of the board four times, May 1974-1975 and three consecutive one year terms beginning in July 1983. He served as President during difficult times. After schools chancellor Anthony J. Alvarado resigned in May 1984, Regan endorsed the acting chancellor Nathan Quinones for the position. They worked together for the next three years, resulting in improved test scores, decreased classroom sizes and a decrease in the dropout rate. In 1989, as the result of a young girl’s death after getting off the school bus, Regan pushed for a trial program that required the installation of red stop arms on all school buses on Staten Island. It is now a citywide feature of school buses.
Regan’s wife Mary (Schlusser) Regan passed away in January. He is survived by his daughters Claire Regan and Cara Regan-Warford.
– K.R.


Jim Seymour

James Patrick Seymour, a Notre Dame receiving star passed away at 64 on March 29 in Highland Park, Illinois after a battle with cancer. Born on November 24, 1946 in Detroit, Seymour established many records and earned All-America honors during his three seasons with the Fighting Irish.
He made a strong offensive combination with teammate Terry Hanratty. Both were featured on the cover of Time in 1966. Upon graduation in 1969, Seymour was the all-time receiving leader at Notre Dame, with 138 catches for 2,113 yards and 16 touchdowns. He ranks sixth on Notre Dame’s career chart for receptions.

Seymour was a first-round draft pick for the Los Angeles Rams, but he turned it down and joined the Chicago Bears from 1970-1972. He appeared in 31 career games with the Bears, recording 21 receptions for 385 yards with 5 touchdowns. A hamstring injury in his senior year at Notre Dame limited him in his professional career with the NFL.

After leaving the football life behind, Seymour became the owner of BGS Insurance Agency in Arlington Heights, IL. He also worked with several charities in the state. He is survived by his wife, Nancy Garvey, their sons Jim Jr., Jeff and Todd, four brothers, a sister and six  grandchildren.
– K.M.


John Sullivan
1963 – 2011

For a time, it seems, John Sullivan’s life followed a certain, not terribly surprising trajectory. Raised in Sleepy Hollow, NY, he was a quarterback for the high school football team and a pitcher for the baseball team. After college, Sullivan entered sales and worked for Strick Leasing Company and the Carrier Corporation, where he found professional and financial success. Then, unable to ignore the homeless he saw all over New York, he enrolled at Fordham to pursue a degree in social work and devoted the rest of his life to helping others.

Sullivan died on April 5, at New York Presbyterian Hospital, with family and friends nearby. His death followed a recent diagnosis of esophageal cancer.

He began working with the homeless in 1995, when he joined Pathways to Housing. There, he worked to find homeless people suffering from addiction and mental illness and to coax them off the street and into housing. As the Executive Director of Friends House, he oversaw support services for once homeless AIDS sufferers, and he most recently worked as director of case management and an interventionist at Gallant and Associates.

In 2001 he married Mary Brosnahan, executive director of Coalition for the Homeless, a match the New York Times described as “a royal wedding in the homeless domain.” They had a son, Quinn, in 2002, but separated sometime later in light of Sullivan’s struggle with alcoholism. The two remained very close, though, and raised their son equally, as Sullivan found great support at AA.  In addition to Brosnahan and Quinn, Sullivan is survived by his parents, two sisters, and many nieces and nephews. Though too brief, his life was lived admirably in the aid of others.
– S.L.


Chrysandra Walters

Chrysandra “Sandy” Walters, a retired senior U.S. National Park Service official, passed away on March 21 in Scarborough, ME after a long battle with cancer. She was 63.

Walters was born on November 29, 1947 and raised in Palo Alto, CA. She graduated from San Jose State University with a B.A. in Park Administration and Recreation. Walters spent her career with the National Parks Service, eventually becoming the Northeast Deputy Regional Director, overseeing the national parks and services programs in the 13-state region. Prior to this, she was the Superintendent of the Lowell National Historic Park.

During her tenure as Superintendent, Walters co-hosted the Lowell National Folk Festival, discovering a love of music in the process. Through the festival she met her husband, Seamus Connelly, a world-renowned fiddler from Killaloe, Co. Clare. Married for eight years at the time of her death, Walters and Connolly developed a priceless partnership. Her organizational skills have been credited as being an asset as her husband ran the Gaelic Roots Summer School at Boston College’s Chestnut Hill campus from 1996-2003, and has run the Gaelic Roots concert series since 2003.

Walters is survived by her husband; her mother and stepfather, Winnie and Larry Moore; two sisters and three stepchildren.

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