Loretta Brennan Glucksman: Irish America Hall of Fame

Loretta Brennan Glucksman. Photo by Kit DeFever.

By Kristin Romano, Contributor
April / May 2012

Loretta Brennan Glucksman, co-chair of New York University’s Glucksman Ireland House, chairman of the American Ireland Fund and a strong advocate for Ireland, is inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame.

A third-generation Irish American and chairman of the American Ireland Fund, Loretta Brennan Glucksman has worked tirelessly to promote Irish culture and to establish strong ties between America and the island of Ireland.

She was raised in an Irish neighborhood in Allentown, PA, the granddaughter of four Irish immigrants. Her maternal grandfather was a miner from Leitrim, who emigrated and settled in Coaldale, PA and was involved with the first unionizing efforts there. Her father worked on the railroad during World War II before joining the Civil Service, first as a mail carrier and then as an office worker.

At Allentown Central Catholic High School, she met and fell in love with a young man named Jack Cooney. During their senior year, they each won scholarships to colleges in Philadelphia – she to Chestnut Hill College, where her aunt Sue was the mother superior, and he to the Jesuit St. Joseph’s College. Both worked hard and excelled, and they married in their junior year. They had three children – two sons and a daughter – within four years. After eight years they divorced, but  they remained on good terms. In a previous interview with Irish America she referred to Cooney as “one of my dearest friends.”

In the midst of this transition, Brennan  received a unique opportunity to teach at Trenton State College (now The College of New Jersey). The position  offered her a chance to teach while enrolling her children in the school’s early childhood program.

Loretta’s career changed in the early 1970s, when New Jersey introduced a new Trenton-based public television station and she was asked to do a book program. She enjoyed the work, and eventually was asked to do a  public affairs program, The Thursday Report, which she worked on for over a decade. After television she moved into public relations, first for New Jersey’s Environmental Protection Agency and then for the School Boards Administration.

It was in 1984, while working at the latter, that she met Lewis Glucksman, then head of the investment bank Lehman Brothers, through a friend. They had dinner at the Four Seasons, met again the following night, and were together from then on.  It was through Lew that she renewed her interest in her Irish heritage. Though she always celebrated St. Patrick’s Day and had known her share of Irish phrases as a child, she had never been to the home of her ancestors. Lew had first visited Ireland when he was in the Navy during World War II and returned as often as possible, out of a love for Irish writers. In 1987, he took Loretta to Ireland for her first visit, which left her “overwhelmed and mesmerized.” Eventually the Glucksmans bought a home in Ireland near Cobh. Sadly, Lew passed away there in 2006.

Between 1987 and 2006, the Glucksmans made many unforgettable contributions to Ireland and to the Irish-American community. In 1993, Glucksman Ireland House opened at New York University. The idea for Ireland House came from Lew, who was an active trustee at NYU. Noticing that there were German, French and Latin houses, he made an offer to then-university president Jay Oliva to fund a center for Irish studies. Nearly 19 years later, Ireland House offers both undergraduate and graduate classes, and is a leading center of Irish learning, arts and culture. Today, Brennan Glucksman is the co-chair on Ireland House’s advisory board.

Following the opening of Ireland House, Brennan Glucksman was honored by the American Ireland Fund. The Glucksmans got involved with the organization as a result, and Brennan Glucksman became president. Her appointment took place right before the peace process, a time when the  American Ireland Fund would play a key role in philanthropic efforts to spread peace throughout the island of Ireland. It funded two integrated schools for Catholic and Protestant children in the North, because, as Brennan Glucksman has stated, “it’s so crucial to break down barriers by educating children together.” In total, the Funds have raised over $250 million for Ireland and Irish causes.

In addition to her work with the Fund, where she now holds the position of chairman, Brennan Glucksman serves on the boards of The National Gallery of Ireland, Trinity College Dublin, University College Cork and the Royal Irish Academy. Former Taoiseach Bertie Ahern also appointed her to the board of Ireland’s Industrial Development Agency.

In these pivotal and difficult times for Ireland, Loretta Brennan Glucksman perseveres as a strong advocate for the country – increasing awareness and interest in Irish history and culture throughout the U.S., and rallying much-needed support. She is a steadfast champion of all things Irish and Irish American.

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