Those We Lost
By Irish America Staff
August / September 2015
Joseph R. Biden III
1969 – 2015
Joseph R. “Beau” Biden III, former Attorney General of Delaware and eldest son of Vice President Joe Biden, died late May after fighting a long battle with brain cancer. He was 46.
Biden was first diagnosed with brain cancer in August 2013 and an abscess was removed at the time. But this past May, he was admitted to the Walter Reed National Military Center when the cancer returned.
In a statement released by the Vice President’s office, Joe Biden said, “The entire Biden family is saddened beyond words. We all know that Beau’s spirit will live on in all of us. In the words of the Biden family: Beau Biden was, quite simply, the finest man any of us have ever known.”
Growing up in an Irish American household in Delaware, Biden kept Irish tradition close to his heart. In 2013, his father was inducted into the Irish America Hall of Fame, and the family always maintained a strong connection to their Irish roots. “It is there at their home that the full impact of the Biden closeness hits you,” eulogized Niall O’Dowd for IrishCentral.com.
Biden was born in 1969 in Wilmington, Delaware and earned his law degree from Syracuse University. From 1995 to 2004, he worked at the U.S. Department of Justice in Philadelphia, first as counsel to the Office of Policy and Development, and later as a federal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office. Biden joined the military in 2003 as a member of the Delaware Army National Guard and was a major in the Judge Advocate General (JAG) Corps.
In 2006, Biden ran for Attorney General of Delaware, beating veteran state prosecutor and Assistant U.S. Attorney Ferris Wharton by 13,000 votes. Biden served as Attorney General for eight years, after being elected for a second term in 2010.
“His absolute honor made him a role model for the family,” Vice President Biden said. “Beau embodied my father’s saying that a parent knows success when his child turns out better than he did.”
– Cliodhna Joyce-Daly
Fr. Colm Campbell
1935 – 2015
Founder and President of New York’s Irish Center, Fr. Colm Campbell died early June at the age of 79 following a short illness. Born in 1935 and raised in Belfast, Fr. Campbell was the eldest of six children born to J.J. and Josephine Campbell. He studied at Queen’s University, Belfast from 1953–56. He trained for the priesthood and was ordained on the 19th of June 1960, following four years at St Patrick’s College, Maynooth.
His time served as a priest in Ireland was marked by his chaplaincy with the Good Shepherd Convent in Belfast and also his experiences in dealing with the fallout from the Troubles. His vision for increased services and opportunities for the youth population in his area led to his establishment of Youth Link. In an interview with The Irish Voice in 2010, the year of his Golden Jubilee, he described its foundation as “one of the big achievements of my priesthood.” He continued his work with the youth and in 1985 was made the director of Youth Services for the Diocese of Down and Conner.
In 1992 Fr. Campbell immigrated to New York City, undertaking a chaplaincy position in Woodside, Queens. In 1999, he became National Director of the Irish Apostolate USA based in Washington, D.C., working closely with the Coalition of Irish Immigration Centers, which in their tribute described him as “emigrant chaplain, spiritual leader, friend to all and organizational guide.”
Recognizing the need for a dedicated space for the Irish community in Queens, Fr. Campbell oversaw the purchase and opening of the New York Irish Center in 2005. In the same interview with The Irish Voice, he described this as the highlight of his time in New York, as having been “…my dream fulfilled.”
– Siobhan Peters
James A. Delaney
1930 – 2015
James A. Delaney, the Irish American Texas businessman who helped jump start the Irish peace process in the early 1980s, died mid-June at 84.
Delaney had a vision of a united Ireland during a time when few – politician or businessman – thought it possible. Delaney’s swaggering gait and no-nonsense business sense was influential in bringing on-board the Irish American Unity Conference (IAUC), which was committed to seeing the idea of a united Ireland come to fruition. The gathering started at a conference in Chicago in July, 1983. Among the more than 600 members in attendance were powerful clerical leaders and veteran statesmen including Paul O’Dwyer and Irish parliament leader Paddy Harte. Included in this crowd was Niall O’Dowd founder of IrishCentral.com and co-founder of this publication. Delaney was “a true pioneer, a man who set aside a hugely successful business career to lend a hand to bringing peace to his ancestral land,” he said. “All of us stand on his broad shoulders when we talk of how Irish America helped bring peace to Northern Ireland.”
Delaney was a native Texan, born on July 18, 1930 to Hubert and Grace Delaney. He was a shrewd businessman who was not content to hit it rich and retire, but to give back to Irish and Irish Americans alike. His determination and steadfastness carried into his running of the IAUC and can be felt in his opening message to the conference in 1983 where he said, “Forty million Irish Americans can send a message so strong to the Irish, U.S and British governments that they cannot ignore it.”
Delaney is survived by his wife of 51 years Catherine, daughters Jean, Kathleen, and Mary as well as numerous grandchildren, nieces, and nephews.
– Matthew Skwiat
1927 – 2015
An example to everybody” were the words Irish entertainer Roy Walker emphasized to BBC on the passing of Irish singer and performer Val Doonican, who died at age 88 at his home in Buckinghamshire. The performer had a string of hits and was a fixture of family television in the 1960s and ’70s. Revered for his modest charm and embrace of Gaelic values, his personality captured the hearts of England and Ireland.
Michael Valentine Doonican, Val for short, was born the youngest of eight children in 1927 in Waterford and began writing music at age 10. He started performing in Ireland and eventually in England with The Four Ramblers in 1951. In 1963, Doonican was offered his own television show on the BBC, The Val Doonican Music Show, which became a pillar of Saturday night television. Doonican became a very successful performer, but his humble and warm persona remained. “He was a very peaceful man and had a very calm persona,” Irish singer Daniel O’Donnell told the BBC, “just as he came across on television.”
Doonican retired in 2009, after nearly 60 years in the business, and spent his last years playing golf and painting. Up until his death, “he was fit as a flea,” his daughter Sarah told The Guardian. “His batteries just ran out.”
But his legacy still lives on and will remain an influence for many singers and entertainers. “He was number one in his field,” Bruce Forsyth said. Doonican is survived by his wife, Lynn, their daughters Sarah and Fiona, and two grandchildren.
– Cliodhna Joyce-Daly
1960 – 2015
The president of American Express, and a former 2014 Irish America Business 100 honoree, Edward Gilligan died after suffering an apparent heart attack on a plane trip back from Tokyo at the age of 55. Gilligan had been president of American Express since April 2013 and was thought by many to be the successor to current American Express CEO Kenneth Chenault. Chenault said in a statement to his employees that “this is deeply painful and frankly unimaginable for all of us who had the great fortune to work with Ed” and that “his contributions have left an indelible imprint on practically every area of our business.”
Gilligan was a first-generation Irish American whose family hailed from Castlerea, Co. Roscommon. He grew up in Brooklyn and was an avid soccer fan, attending University of Tampa where he played soccer until suffering a knee injury. He retained his love of soccer his whole life; one of his last tweets said he was “dreaming of Chelsea football and a good glass of wine.” Following University of Tampa he attended New York University and earned a bachelor’s in economics and management.
Gilligan began working at American Express as an intern and worked up the ladder to eventually become president. Throughout, his Irish charm never wavered, devoting his time between his family and work schedule. Gordon Smith who worked with Gilligan for over two decades at American Express said, “He knew everyone, took time to learn people’s names, he knew about their families.”
Gilligan is survived by his wife Lisa and their four children as well as a brother Michael.
– Matthew Skwiat
1929 – 2015
Irish American actress and comedian Anne Meara, who came to prominence in the 1960s as the wittier half of the comedy duo “Stiller & Meara,” died late May at the age of 85 in Manhattan.
Meara, along with her husband of 61 years Jerry Stiller, developed the act based on exaggerated versions of their Brooklyn-born selves – Stiller as an “uber-Jewish guy” Hershey Horowitz, and Meara as the “uber-Irish girl” Mary Elizabeth Doyle. And after honing the act in the clubs of Greenwich Village and in Chicago, they went on to perform on some of the biggest variety shows of the day, including The Ed Sullivan Show and the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson, eventually pairing in the 1970s as the voices of Blue Nun wine radio commercials.
After the comedy team had run its course, Meara and Stiller’s careers diverged with Meara earning five Emmy nominations and finding character work in TV comedies like Archie Bunker’s Place, ALF, and All in the Family. Stiller became known for playing George Costanza’s father in Seinfeld. In recent years, she appeared in recurring parts in the HBO series Oz, Sex and the City, and King of Queens, in which Stiller also starred as the kvetching father of Kevin James’s every-man UPS driver.
Born in 1929 in Brooklyn, Meara was the only child of Edward J. Meara and Mae Dempsey, both of whose grandparents had emigrated from Ireland in the 19th century, according to genealogist Megan Smolenyak. Though raised Irish Catholic, she converted to reform Judaism six years after marrying Stiller, devoting herself to studying the faith – so much so that Stiller once joked to The Jewish Exponent that “Being married to Anne has made me more Jewish.” In addition to her husband, Meara is survived by her two children, the actors Amy and Ben Stiller.
– Adam Farley
1938 – 2015
Legendary RTÉ broadcaster Bill O’Herlihy has passed away at the age of 76. He is best remembered for his sports coverage, but was also an award-winning public relations professional. He was the anchor for the coverage of 10 Olympic games and 10 World Cups.
O’Herlihy began his career at 16 in the reading room of The Cork Examiner and began working for RTÉ in the 1960s. He left RTÉ in 1973 to start his own P.R. company, O’Herlihy Communications Group, but soon returned to the network to anchor their major sporting events. He had a knack for encouraging debate, often by tossing what his colleagues termed a “hand grenade” (such as: “I read today that Ronaldo is the greatest player in the history of football. Discuss.”) to the panel and sitting back, watching the argument unfold.
He was the consummate interviewer – his viewers loved him for asking the questions they would have wanted to ask, and his subjects loved him, for asking the questions they wanted to be asked. He was never afraid to ask the obvious questions, and he never used his air time to flaunt his own expertise, which was extensive. Despite masterfully leading all of his interviews, the focus was never on him, but on his subject. Retired Olympic swimmer Gary O’Toole recalled an interview in which O’Herlihy forwent the complicated jargon he used offscreen to ask on camera, “What makes this swimmer different from the others?”
Irish news sites have flooded with tributes to the man, often recalling his famous tag lines, “okey-doke” and “we’ll leave it there, so.” (The latter is also the title of his 2012 autobiography.) Perhaps the most touching – and telling – of these tributes is a short piece by author Roddy Doyle, in which two lads chat about O’Herlihy, calling him “the best thing on the telly,” and saying simply, “he made us happy.”
He is survived by his wife, Hilary, and their daughters, Jill and Sally.
– Julia Brodsky
1902 – 2015
Kathleen Hayes Rollins Snavely, the longest living person ever born on the island of Ireland, died at the Centers at St. Camillus in Geddes, New York, on July 6, 2015 after 113 years and 140 days of life. By the time of her passing, she had become the 16th oldest person in the world and the 6th oldest person in the United States.
Born in Feakle, Co. Clare, on February 16, 1902, Kathleen left Ireland in 1921 and traveled alone to America. She moved to Syracuse, New York, where she met her first husband, Roxie E. Rollins, with whom she opened the successful Seneca Dairy in the midst of the Great Depression. Neither Kathleen nor her husband had any formal business training, but she later recalled that their perseverance and love for one another were the keys to helping the business to thrive.
In 1968 Roxie died at age 66, but was not forgotten by Kathleen, who, in December of 2000, donated $1 million to the Syracuse University School of Management in Roxie’s memory.
In 1970, Kathleen married her second husband, Jesse Clark Snavely, but she was predeceased by him as well, and lived on her own for many years thereafter.
On her 113th birthday, Sean Kirst of The Syracuse Post-Standard asked about her secret to a long life. “I get so tired of people asking me about my secret,” she told him, “I’ve got no secret. You live and you do it the best you can.”
Though she had no children of her own, Snavely died while surrounded by friends who noted that she was fully herself up until the final days of her long and remarkable life.
– R. Bryan Willits
Remembering Those Who Died in the Berkeley Tragedy
Eimear Walsh (21) studied medicine at UCD and was on the verge of promotion at the Hana Zen sushi bar, where she worked in San Francisco.