First Word:
The Gift of Heritage

By Patricia Harty, Editor-in-Chief
January / February 2019

Happy Christmas to all our readers. I love this time of year. New York is abuzz with lights and window displays, and good cheer. ’Tis the season… To make time for a little reflection to go along with a lot of celebration. To look back on the year, remember the highs and let go of the lows, and look forward to what’s to come.

The holidays are a time when stories get handed down, and children learn of the past deeds of long ago ancestors; how they crossed the seas in leaky boats to get here. Not all of them, of course, but enough. The gift of heritage is a gift that keeps on giving. And one senses, from the honorees profiled in this issue, it’s a gift that’s been treasured. It is emphasized over career achievements, in the limited space given to our honoree profiles. We see titles and accolades foregone for a mention of a great-grandfather who helped to build the great bridges of New York; and learn of the “Irish spirit” of mother determined to succeed and accomplish whatever she set her mind to. A woman who sounds a lot like Eileen McDonnell, the subject of our cover story. Eileen worked hard to achieve her goals. She didn’t let obstacles stand in her way, and she inspired others to do the same. And as far as she went, she carried her Irish story in her heart. Hell, she even changed the company’s colors to green. She could do that because she was the boss now. She’d climbed the corporate ladder all the way to the top of Penn Mutual. We are thrilled to have Eileen as the Keynote Speaker for our 33rd Annual Business 100 luncheon on December 12.

There are many inspiring stories in these pages, and in stories of years past. I find myself looking over our back issues, a lot lately. Depending on the mood, I might pick up a bound copy of our first year, or our 15th. There are 33 bound volumes in all – one for each year we have been publishing. If there is a common thread running through all the stories that rest between the covers, it’s of a people who have consistently succeeded against the odds; a people who found opportunity where there was none; who worked hard, but still found time for a song and a tune.

Sometimes in my trawling, I go looking for Pete Hamill, for surely he’s one of the best chroniclers of Irish America. He gave us a wonderful story for our January 1986 issue, which I’ve reprinted in this edition. Back when he gave it to us, he wrote the following note by way of introduction to the piece. It says it all.

“This story took years for me to write. I tried it a few times when I was young, but I didn’t know enough about life or writing to make its themes clear to anyone else. When I finally put it down on paper, writing it across a long weekend, I knew it still wasn’t right, and a year later I did it once more as a short novel called ‘The Gift.’

“My father is dead now, but I hope I accomplished what I set out to do; to tell him that I loved him. I wanted him to know that while he was alive on this earth, and not save the feeling for the oratory of eulogies. The story of my mother is another matter, full of courage and poetry and laughter, but it was not central to “The Gift” and will have to wait its turn. This is about fathers and sons, and reading it again, I feel what I have felt since he left: that he’ll come up the stairs in an hour or so, singing the old songs, and we’ll sit up late and talk about Leeson Street and Brooklyn and all the ballplayers who have come and gone. I just wish he’d lived long enough to see Dwight Gooden.” ­

– Pete Hamill

To read on go to page 86.


Mórtas Cine. ♦

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