__MAIN_TEXT__

Page 1

flynn cover.Final.qxd

11/25/08

3:56 PM

Page 1

SPECIAL TRIBUTES BY GERRY ADAMS, DR. GEORGE SCHWAB AND OTHERS

IRISH AMERICA SPECIAL ISSUE

William J. Flynn

A true friend of Ireland


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:52 PM

Page 2

william j. flynn A true friend of Ireland

features

COVER PAINTING: EVERETT RAYMOND KINSTLER has painted more than 60 cabinet officers, more than any

3 Publisher’s Letter

artist in the country’s

Niall O’Dowd on the optimist who took risks.

history. Six Presidents –

4 Letter from the President

Richard Nixon, Gerald R. Ford, Jimmy Carter,

An appreciation from Ireland’s President Mary McAleese.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and William

5 Taoiseach’s Letter

Jefferson Clinton have

A salute to a man who offered encouragement and support.

posed for him. His portraits of Ford and

12 The Early Years

Reagan are the official

How the son of Irish immigrants found success in America.

18 The Corporate Chieftain From seminary student to the upper echelons of corporate America.

22 The Williamsburg Charter A golden rule for preserving religious freedom.

24 Making a Difference How Bill’s commitment to the community is rooted in his Irish Catholic childhood.

30 The Peacemaker Bill’s extraordinary role in the Irish peace process – how it began and how it continues.

40 Lessons to Live By Excerpts from speeches on the Holocaust, volunteerism in America, and N. Ireland.

42 Message from the Editor A man whose empathy for others was honed at the family table.

2 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

White House portraits.

tributes 6 8 16 28 29 35 36 37 38

Gerry Adams George Schwab Cardinal Egan Bill Barry Gov. Hugh Carey Martin McGuinness Rev. Joe O’Hare Cardinal Brady Dr. Robert Ivany


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:52 PM

Page 3

by niall o’dowd

publisher’s letter

The American Optimist

F

First we must move past the many pretenders who have rushed in to claim how much they did for the peace process in Northern Ireland. Then you will find that Bill Flynn and a precious few others stand alone as dedicated Irish-Americans in that effort. For Flynn it meant he put his reputation on the line in order to help the country of his parents achieve the impossible. It was not easy. At the time he was Chairman and CEO of Mutual of America, a major insurance company, and some looked askew at this peacemaker as he went about the exhaustive task of bringing the different sides together in Northern Ireland. Some even dismissed the mission as a fool’s errand and an impossible task. Indeed, in his book Uncivil Wars Padraig O Maille, the Boston academic, essentially reached that conclusion, that very little could be done for peace in Northern Ireland. Bill Flynn brushed past all that in his typical straightforward fashion. Flynn sensed the opportunity for peace from his family heritage but also from his accomplishments as a genuine American success story, up from the bootstraps, and as a man who never had anything handed to him. So whatever the academics were saying, Bill Flynn believed something else. His incurable American optimism saw in Gerry Adams of Sinn Féin and David Ervine of the Progressive Unionist Party, political wing of the UVF, two men who could help make peace not war. The rest of the world may have called them terrorists, but Flynn saw opportunity where others saw paralysis. He put himself on the line. I don’t know how many trips to Northern Ireland he took but I’d say 100 or so would be no exaggeration. Then consider the incredible number of meetings he held in America. He brought parties from all sides across

the Atlantic to speak to the National Committee on American Foreign Policy or just to gather in his Park Avenue office and air their grievances before they settled down to the business of peace. Flynn resembles Senator George Mitchell in his incredible patience and forbearance with all the protagonists in the North. Through it all, even the darkest days, he kept faith with his vision of a successful peace process. The mantle of history he wears lightly. There is the Flynn self-deprecating humor, that dry wit that cracks up even the most committed foe. There is that actuarial-like mind, as befits an insurance executive always calculating the angles, even as others walked away. In the end he was proven right. He can wear the mantle of peacemaker, which few in this world can ever don. Throughout it all, the support of his loving wife Peg and marvelous family made it possible for him to adopt another kid called Ireland. We are very lucky he did so. This special issue in a small way recounts his achievements. There is no other story more fitting or compelling than his to be told in Irish America. Heritage Series

IRISH AMERICA 875 SIXTH AVENUE, SUITE 2100, N.Y., NY 10001 TEL: 212-725-2993 FAX: 212-244-3344 http://www.irishamerica.com irishamag@aol.com

Produced by Niall O’Dowd and Patricia Harty. Designed by Marian Fairweather. Assistant Editor: Declan O’Kelly. Copy Editor: John Anderson. Editorial Assistants: Elizabeth Reilly and Kara Rota.

HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 3


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:53 PM

Page 4

message from the president of ireland

U ACHTARÁN PRESIDENT

NA H É IREANN OF

IRELAND

I

am delighted to accept the invitation of Irish America Magazine to extend our warmest congratulations to Bill Flynn on being honoured in this special edition. Bill Flynn truly is a legend of Irish America. He is a true embodiment of the reality that it is possible to love two countries. Yes, first and foremost he is a proud American, in the very best sense of that term. But we are honouring him in this edition of Niall O’Dowd’s magazine because he has at the same time shown such great devotion, affection and commitment to the land of his forebears, Ireland. And his devotion has been no empty word. When Bill Flynn gets involved, he gets involved. His contribution to the Peace Process in Northern Ireland has been simply immense and I truly hope that he takes great satisfaction in seeing the progress of the last ten years, given the role he and his friends in Irish America have played in bringing it about. One of my tasks in sending this message, therefore, is to reiterate our deep thanks to Bill for all that he has done. I do hope he will continue to stay with us on the journey. The path of peace building is a slow and painstaking one and while great progress has been made, we continue to need the solidarity of Bill and Irish America along the way. We also look to Bill’s support as we build the economic relationship between Ireland North and South and the US. If ever there was a case of win/win/win that is it and we know that we can count on Bill’s great business acumen and expertise in being a facilitator of this side of the relationship also. In these uncertain and volatile times that we live in, we need to redouble our efforts together, draw on all our resilience and resources together, and in doing so, like Bill’s forebears achieved in even more trying circumstances as they landed in the New World, we will prevail. Meanwhile, I hope that Bill and Peg continue to get time to savour all that they have achieved together and continue to live life to the full. Bill, we are hugely proud of you in Ireland and look forward to continuing to have your friendship and support as we press on with the exciting journey that remains ahead.

Mary McAleese President of Ireland 19 November 2008

4 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:53 PM

Page 5

taoiseach’s letter

Bill Flynn and An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen at Irish America’s Wall Street 50 dinner on July 17, 2008

Message from An Taoiseach, Brian Cowen, TD

I

am delighted to add my voice to those who sing the praises of one of Ireland’s greatest friends in the United States, Bill Flynn. Bill has long played many supporting roles for the cause of Ireland and played them so well. I salute him, I thank him and I admire him.

Bill Flynn is a valued member of my Ireland-US Economic Advisory Board. But he is best known for his commitment and tireless work in pursuit of peace on the island of Ireland. It is difficult to envisage how we would have made such progress in the peace process without the support of men such as Bill Flynn who offered encouragement and support when it was most needed. His wise and timely intervention at some of the most sensitive moments of the process will long be remembered and deeply appreciated. On a personal and professional level, Bill has always been a generous and fine host. Indeed, Mutual of America has become something of another Irish space on Park Avenue. Bill is both a true American patriot and a true Irish patriot. I am proud to call him a friend. Le gach dea-ghuí Brian Cowen T.D. Taoiseach 21 November 2008

HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 5


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

tribute

4:54 PM

Page 6

by gerry adams

A Champion of Peace in Ireland

B

Bill Flynn is widely known in the USA as one of its foremost business leaders, as well as a patron of great causes in support of humanitarian, civil liberties and health issues. In Ireland and among Irish-Americans, he is also known as one of those who played a pivotal role in shaping the Irish peace process and making the progress of recent years a possibility. I have known Bill Flynn for more than 16 years. We first met in Belfast after Bill had organised and funded a peace conference in Derry in 1992 called “Beyond Hate.” He met and was impressed by Martin McGuinness and later he travelled to Belfast where he and I had tea in the battle-scarred, dilapidated Sinn Féin offices on the Falls Road. Bill is a first-generation IrishAmerican who has family connections in County Down and County Mayo. Bill came to the Irish situation through the Peace People but quickly realized that there were huge issues of injustice underpinning the conflict. Around the same time, Sinn Féin was involved in discussions with Irish Americans interested in internationalising the Irish cause for peace and freedom, and in developing a new direction, a new way forward. In 1993 Bill was invited to take part in a delegation to Ireland as part of the “Americans for a New Irish Agenda.” This group had emerged out of “Irish Americans for Clinton” and its purpose was to secure the implementation of the commitments President Clinton had

6 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Gerry Adams, President of Sinn Féin, writes about the crucial role that Bill Flynn played in ending the violence in Northern Ireland. made in the election campaign for the White House. The delegation was to meet a wide range of opinion and on its return to the USA, from this fact-finding mission, to report to the White House. In order to enhance the visit but in particular to persuade the delegation members of the importance of this project, and of the seriousness of the Sinn Féin peace strategy, Niall O’Dowd, the publisher of The Irish Voice, advocated that the IRA should do nothing during the period of time the delegation was in Ireland. The IRA agreed. Bill and his friends, including Bruce Morrison, Chuck Feeney, Bill Lenihan, Niall O’Dowd and Joe Jameson, met a range of groups and individuals, including the Irish and British governments. In west Belfast we met in the Sinn Féin office – Connolly House. As a result the group were forever labelled the “Connolly House group.” The “Connolly House group” gave us some sense of what they could do. We agreed that the issue of a visa for me would be the short-term focus of their efforts. They thought that this issue had the potential to unite many of the IrishAmerican organisations and groups. From our point of view this campaign would provide tangible evidence of the ability of Irish America to positively influence the administration. On their return to the U.S. Niall O’Dowd met with Bill and another colleague, Ciaran Staunton, to plan their next move. They went to Famous

Original Ray’s Pizza at 688 Third Avenue. They agreed that Bill would ask the National Committee on Foreign Policy, a non-profit-making organization of which Bill was Chair, to hold a peace conference on the north of Ireland. They would invite all of the party leaders from the six counties, including me. The three then left the pizza parlour to get on with the business of making peace in Ireland. Several weeks after the meeting it emerged that the pizza parlour was being used by the Mafia as a centre for a major drugs operation. The organization running the drugs was run by Aniello Ambrosio who owned the pizza parlour. He arranged drug shipments and stored drugs in his basement. And for some time his parlour had been under surveillance by the federal authorities. In fact the pizza parlour where Bill and his two fellow conspirators had gone to have their quiet meeting was at that time probably the most heavily bugged place in the United States! The invitation to me from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy duly arrived. It created a major political storm. The unionist leaders refused to attend. The British Embassy in Washington worked around the clock arguing against granting me a visa and claimed that it would be a diplomatic catastrophe. They were supported by some within President Clinton’s administration. But the issue excited IrishAmerican opinion which mobilized in an unprecedented way and lobbied extensively for a visa.


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:54 PM

Page 7

views and to set out their way forward. Bill’s importance can be measured in the frequency with which all of the governments – Irish, British and U.S. – talk to him and seek to involve him in whatever the current initiative might be. His presence at the Investment Conference in Belfast in May was very important. He has also been a very important and valued point of contact for Rita September, 1993: Bruce Morrison, Niall O’Dowd and Bill Flynn at one of the early meetings with Gerry Adams in the Sinn Féin office – Connolly House – Belfast. O’Hare, Sinn Féin’s representative in the USA. Two days before the conference, of Ireland to no avail, I went, and the trip I make a point of trying to meet Bill President Clinton authorised a 48 hour turned out to be a very important week in every time I visit New York. I find his visa that restricted me to the New York my life . . . what we found was worse analysis of the political situation there area. The backlash from the British govthan what some of us, particularly me, and in Ireland, and the machinations of ernment and system was hysterical. The had expected. From the Falls Road to the the various players, insightful and enorDaily Telegraph summed it up by describShankill Road and from one end of mously valuable. ing it as “the worst rift since Suez.” Ireland to the other, we found deprivaI also greatly enjoy his observations Notwithstanding the propaganda spin tion, discouragement, fear and mistrust. about life, politics, Bill Barry’s efforts to there can be no doubt that the granting of We came away distressed but with the lead him astray, religion, vegetable soup, the visa was a major shift in U.S. foreign determination to act in a positive way if and international affairs. policy and it marked a defining moment we found some way to do so.” He is a good American patriot and a in the development of the Irish peace And in the many years since then, that decent human being. process. It was also evidence that an has been the guiding ethos of Bill’s I wish him and his wife Peggy and their organized and focused Irish-America engagement with the Irish peace process – family the very best of good wishes. lobby could deliver. a determination to act in a positive way. Bill Flynn is a friend – a friend of The visit was a frenetic 48 hours of Bill has travelled to Ireland many Ireland but more importantly my friend. interviews, meetings and the National times, accompanied by his friend Bill I know that there have been many times Committee conference. I especially Barry. He has consciously sought to over the years when he has been put remember the comments Bill made as he reach out to unionists and loyalists and to under enormous personal pressure to opened the conference. He said: “Several engage them in the process of peace adopt positions the governments were months ago I was invited to join a delemaking and partnership government. advocating but with which he disagreed. gation to go to the north of Ireland. Under his guidance the National I have always found him to be an honDespite my belief that altogether too Committee has brought all of the major ourable man who keeps his word and is many delegations have visited the north players to New York to outline their prepared to take risks for peace.

“There would be no peace process without Bill Flynn.

He sponsored a series of ads in the NY Times saying, “Irish eyes are crying, come and tell us why?” back in

1993, and he invited the Northern Ireland leaders, James Molyneaux, Ian Paisley, John Hume, John Alderdice and Gerry Adams, to speak in the U.S. and that was truly the beginning, especially when Bill followed through and helped get the visa for Gerry Adams. But those ads – which Bill paid for at his own expense – he

did it in the most altruistic way – there was nothing in it for Bill Flynn, except the love of his Irish heritage – were truly the beginning.” – Bill Barry HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 7


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

tribute

4:55 PM

Page 8

by george d. schwab

The Quest for Peace y

T

The setting was the Elysée Palace in Paris. The event, a gathering of Nobel laureates in January 1988. The hosts, President François Mitterand, Nobel Peace Laureate Elie Wiesel, and the newly established Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity. The individual who helped to make the gathering possible was William J. Flynn, chairman of Mutual of America. At that gathering, Dr. Carol Rittner of the Sisters of Mercy and the first director of the Elie Wiesel Foundation introduced me to Bill Flynn and his wife, Peg. In the course of the week that I spent there in my capacity as disarmament adviser to Professor Wiesel, I began to interact with Bill Flynn, who expressed an interest in the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP) that I had cofounded in 1974 with, among others, Professor Hans Morgenthau, a leading political realist in foreign policy and father of international relations studies. Back in New York, Bill Flynn joined the NCAFP and from time to time attended foreign policy briefings. As often happens in nongovernmental organizations, the NCAFP began to experience financial problems. Sister Carol, with whom my wife, Eleonora, and I had become close friends, was determined that the NCAFP would survive and kept urging me to speak to Bill Flynn about our financial straits. The setting was a restaurant in the theater district on West 46th Street. When I arrived with Eleonora, Bill Flynn was already at the table in the company of Sister Carol and two senior executives of

8 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Bill Flynn, the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, and the Beginnings of the Northern Ireland Peace Process.

Mutual of America, Stephanie Kopp and Linda DeHooge. We dined and we talked about practically everything except our financial troubles. Sister Carol kept kicking me under the table, whispering, “Get on with it,” “What is the matter with you?” “Ask already.” All I managed to say was “I can’t.” This went on for some time until I summoned my nerve and told Bill Flynn of the financial crisis we faced at the NCAFP. He listened and came straight to the point, asking me gently how much it would take to keep the organization going. My reply: to keep it afloat we will need an infusion of $10,000, but to put the NCAFP on a solid foundation, $20,000 would work. Bill looked at me with a smile and said, “You will get a check,” and one arrived in the latter amount. In return for Bill’s generosity, I invited him to become an officer of the organization. After a few days’ reflection he accepted the chairmanship, a responsibility he continues to discharge. To keep expenses down he invited me to move the NCAFP office to the Mutual of America complex at 666 Fifth Avenue and subsequently to the Mutual of America building at 320 Park Avenue, space we continue to occupy thanks to him and to Thomas J. Moran, who is now chairman, president, and CEO of Mutual of America and a member of the NCAFP’s Executive Committee. Gradually Bill began to talk to me about the troubles in Northern Ireland, a topic I knew about through Edwina McMahon, copy editor of the NCAFP’s bimonthly publication, American Foreign

Policy Interests, formerly American Foreign Policy Newsletter, and a keen observer of developments in Northern Ireland. Starting in the mid-1980s she discussed her belief in the need for the NCAFP, a nonpartisan organization dedicated to articulating U.S. national security interests within the framework of Hans Morgenthau’s political realism, to become involved. I invited her to write for our bimonthly publication about the Troubles and how the issue affected U.S. interests, which she did in 1988. After the Downing Street Declaration proclaimed the right of the people of Northern Ireland to self-determination in December 1993, Bill Flynn sprang into action. He began to push hard for the NCAFP to become engaged in helping to resolve the conflict and suggested that the organization host a conference in New York with the major players in the conflict, including Gerry Adams, head of Sinn Féin and reputedly a former chief of the IRA, and two Unionist leaders, James Molyneaux, head of the Ulster Unionist Party, and the Reverend Dr. Ian Paisley, head of the Democratic Unionist Party. Bill always thinks big, and so he concluded that the best way to publicize the conference would be a full-page ad in The New York Times. To a former Sternist like me, the idea of admitting the outlaw Adams to the United States for a hearing was thrilling. To the NCAFP’s Executive Committee, the idea of such a conference featuring Adams came as a bombshell even though its members knew that Morgenthau advocated diplomacy not only with friends but


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:56 PM

Page 9

Left: George D. Schwab, president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. Above: William J. Flynn, Gerry Adams, George D. Schwab, Arthur M. Schlesinger Jr. and Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke.

also with enemies. My immediate task was to find a hook that would accord with the NCAFP’s mandate to help friends and enemies resolve conflicts that impinge on U.S. national security. On the surface the Troubles appeared idiosyncratic, but not when one actually analyzed the situation: Britain at the time was beset by a deep economic downturn and could ill afford to spend between six and seven billion dollars annually in Northern Ireland on a population of about one and a half million people. It was only a matter of time until an expenditure of that magnitude would affect Britain’s commitments to NATO, the Middle East, and elsewhere where British interests parallel those of the United States. Bill handled the Executive Committee meeting brilliantly, and following very spirited discussions the Committee finally went along and the ad appeared. Invitations went out to Adams, Molyneaux, and Paisley, as well as to John Hume, leader of the Social Democratic and Labor Party, and Dr. John Alderdice, leader of the Alliance Party. Nothing, not even the fact that the State Department refused to issue a visa to Gerry Adams, could make Bill lose faith that the conference attended by the Sinn Féin leader would take place at the

Waldorf-Astoria on the date scheduled. Without the presence of Adams, I felt that the conference would be a fiasco and counseled Bill to call it off. He would sanction nothing of the kind and worked hard behind the scenes with Senator Edward Kennedy; Ambassador to Ireland Jean Kennedy Smith; Tony Lake, President Clinton’s national security adviser; Lake’s deputy, Nancy Soderberg, and others to persuade President Clinton not to miss this brilliant opportunity to bring the opposing parties to the table. Eventually the president saw the merits of the conference and approved a visa for Gerry Adams. Three dates constitute defining moments for the justification offered by Bill Flynn and the NCAFP for our involvement in the Northern Ireland troubles: February 1, 1994; April 12, 1994; and October 24, 1994. From the moment I officially welcomed Gerry Adams at Kennedy after he received a 48-hour visa, the NCAFP’s conference became a media spectacular. After the huge press conference at the airport, Sister Carol, the conference director, and I checked Adams into the Waldorf-Astoria under the nom de plume Shlomo Breznitz, a “noted Israeli scholar.” At the daylong Waldorf-Astoria con-

“No Irish-American has contributed so much for so long to the present peace in Northern Ireland as Bill Flynn. Using both his own considerable charm and diplomacy as well as the strength and facility of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, he

maintained an open door to all the warring parties, promoting the dialogue that eventually led to the Good Friday Agreement and the present Northern Ireland Assembly. As President of Flax Trust America, Bill Flynn has a day-to-day involvement with the Flax Trust programme of reconciliation through economic development.” – Sr Mary Turley, founder of the Flax Trust. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 9


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:56 PM

Page 10

the quest for peace

ference that Bill Flynn presided over on the following day, February 1, 1994, some 80 representatives of the print and electronic media covered the proceedings. The pro and con demonstrations across the street on Park Avenue received their share of press exposure, as did Adams’s departure on the following day. Despite the fact that the Unionist leaders failed to attend, at the end of the day, Bill Smith; Ambassador Angier Biddle Duke, mod- February 1, 1994: The Waldorf-Astoria, NYC. The National Committee on American Foreign Policy erator of the conference and conference, left to right, George D. Schwab, William J. Flynn, John Hume and Gerry Adams. former president of the NCAFP; Tom Moran, and I concluded ence engendered took the Unionist leadnation by the people of Ireland as a that the conference was a success. The ers by surprise, and Bill received an whole, a principle that the British govthree main speakers, Adams, Alderdice, inquiry from Dr. Paisley asking whether ernment has signed onto and that denies and Hume, agreed that peace could be he would consider inviting him, Peter to Northern Ireland self-determination obtained provided that parties to the conRobinson, MP, and the Reverend unless it is in some way compatible with flict came to the table and approached William McCrea, MP, in order to present the political desires of the Dublin govissues without hatred. In the words of the Unionist position to the NCAFP. ernment.” This extreme position left the Gerry Adams: “Conflict resolution The fact that Reverend Paisley finally door open for further talks. requires dialogue and negotiation. . . . On accepted the invitation, as did Mr. Before the NCAFP could enter into behalf of Sinn Féin, let me reiterate once Molyneaux separately, was at least an track 1 1/2 discussions and public diploagain that our party has always indication that the Unionists did not want macy — that is, engage fully with the expressed our willingness to engage in to be left out from the track 1 1/2 process principals, including government offidiscussions without preconditions. Our that was beginning to take shape. That cials, on the one hand, and at open political priority is to advance the peace perception helped to diminish the signifforums at which they could brief the process based on inclusive negotiations. icance of the lambasting remarks made public on the progress of the peace The development of open debate and by Reverend Paisley at the conference in process, on the other hand — a missing dialogue can only assist such a process. New York on April 12, 1994, about the link had to be filled. Bill Flynn soon No situation is improved by ignorance or Downing Street Declaration. According forged that link by inviting the Loyalists misinformation.” His parting words to to Paisley, the Declaration was designed to come to New York. me at the airport reinforced my positive to initiate a “phony peace process Moved by the historic IRA cease-fire assessment of the NCAFP’s road ahead: inspired by Prime Minister John Major announcement on August 31, 1994, the “I will never forget what you have done of Britain and Prime Minister Albert Loyalists accepted Bill’s invitation on to bring me over, and I promise not to Reynolds of Ireland.” Mr. Paisley assertOctober 13, 1994. Ten days later I weldisappoint you in your expectations.” ed that the “Downing Street Declaration comed the political representatives of the The enormous publicity the confer. . . imposes the principle of self-determiUlster Volunteer Force and the Redhand

“It would be rather trite to say that Bill Flynn has made a major contribution to the peace process in Ireland and this is very much appreciated by both sides in Ireland.” – Cathal Cardinal Daly 10 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:57 PM

Page 11

William J. Flynn, Sir John Stevens, Sir Hugh Orde and Dr. George Schwab at an NCAFP luncheon, Mutual of America building, January 8, 2002.

Commandos as well as the Ulster Defense Association at Kennedy Airport. In contrast to the Reverend Ian Paisley, the Loyalist leadership consisting of David Ervine, Gusty Spence, Billy Hutchinson, Gary McMichael, Joe English, and David Adams embraced the Downing Street Declaration. In the words of David Ervine: “I am not suggesting that the Downing Street Declaration is perfect. But it is a chance, a real chance, the first real chance I have ever perceived, to take weapons out of Northern Irish politics.” Having won the trust especially of Sinn Féin and the Loyalists, the NCAFP began a 14-year involvement in the peace process. In early 2008 the National Committee ended its successful project on Northern Ireland. The journey was extremely difficult, especially for Bill who was often called on at a moment’s notice by one party or another to travel immediately to Belfast or Dublin or to both cities to help defuse issues such as policing, for example, that threatened to undermine the peace process. To make absolutely certain that Belfast, Dublin, and London understood that it was a National Committee on American Foreign Policy project and not purely Irish-induced, I accompanied Bill Flynn to Belfast and 10 Downing Street on one occasion, and on another occasion, three other members of the NCAFP’s Executive Committee, Ambassador Fereydoun Hoveyda, William M.

Rudolf, and Tom Moran, as well as NCAFP member Edward Kenney, senior vice president of Mutual of America, accompanied Bill and me. Back in New York, Bill and the NCAFP continued to receive streams of visitors directly involved in the peace process from Belfast and Dublin. Also visiting us were British officials and Washingtonians from the Clinton and Bush administrations, all of whom were directly involved in the peace process and some of whom addressed the National Committee at Mutual of America’s celebrated dining room on the 35th floor. The NCAFP’s senior fellow Edwina McMahon kept providing our membership and the foreign policy public with incisive articles published in our bimonthly, American Foreign Policy Interests. Bill, in his inimitable style, introduced a new dimension to the National Committee’s track 1 1/2 diplomacy on Northern Ireland: hosting Sinn Féin and Loyalist guests at sumptuous working luncheon and dinner meetings at the 21 Club. I remember well, for example, the party that sprang up after I escorted the Loyalists from the airport to the Fitzpatrick Hotel on Lexington Avenue the afternoon before the conference convened on October 24, 1994. The guests, after the arduous trip from Belfast to London and on to New York, descended from their rooms about 20 minutes after check-in time, and Bill invited us all to a late afternoon and early evening bash at

the hotel where our guests enjoyed the food and drinks and began to sing movingly nostalgic Irish songs. Another of many such memorable events that were set in the 21 Club took place in 2005 when we were certain that peace would break out soon. Following a working luncheon with Martin McGuinness, presided over by Bill but this time attended by the former honorary chairman of the National Committee, Dr. Henry Kissinger, and the present honorary chairman, the Honorable Paul Volcker, Kissinger observed, as correctly reported in The New York Times, “If it could happen in Ireland, with the history of Ireland and the distrust, I’d like to think it could happen anywhere.” To honor Bill for his extraordinary work and commitment to the peace process, the NCAFP’s Executive Committee unanimously voted to establish the William J. Flynn Initiative for Peace Award and name him the first to receive it at a stellar Waldorf-Astoria dinner in 1997, citing Bill’s “unswerving belief in the educability of men to live in peace with one another and . . . his courage in translating his faith into political action and in working tirelessly for peace in Northern Ireland.” Others so honored in subsequent years are Senator George J. Mitchell, the Honorable Hugh Carey, and Gerry Adams, MP. Another recipient, Britain’s secretary of state for Northern Ireland, the Right Honorable Dr. Marjorie Mowlam, struck an especially personal and warm note in her acceptance speech when she observed that “There are a lot of people in this room . . . who helped tremendously. I can’t name everybody because we’d be here too long. But I’ll just say George [Schwab], Bill [Flynn], and Tom [Moran] because they did make a difference, and they didn’t just make a difference in terms of what they did. They made a difference in terms of who they are.” George D. Schwab is president of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 11


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:57 PM

Page 12

»»»»» The Early Years

E

Each year when he returns to Ireland, Bill Flynn takes time to stand at the graveside of his grandparents in Loughinisland in County Down, just over the border from the Irish Republic. It is a beautiful part of Ireland, with the Mourne mountains sweeping majestically down to the Irish Sea and the wild Irish landscape providing a picturesque backdrop. Bill Flynn finds peace there. It puts in perspective the incredible journey from this remote corner of Ireland to the top echelons of American business that he and his family have taken. As the son of Irish emigrants, Bill Flynn can appreciate the incredible pull of the land his parents had to leave behind. Every time he returns, he understands more about what that struggle to survive and the decision to leave home must have involved. As with millions before, the mystic chords of memory resonate even more with the passage of time. A few years back, local dignitary Lord Edward Ballyedmond invited Flynn and his wife to come for dinner at his castle. They flew there by helicopter and Bill sat at a banquet in his honor attended by the great and the good, including many British dignitaries, even some royalty. He couldn’t help but think back to his grandfather and father, who had worked the estates not far from where he sat, and what they would make of their boy now sitting amid the gentry. “I reckon they’d be smiling. Perhaps they’d think it was a wonderful thing to see the family do so well. But I can’t be sure of that. For what they endured, at the hands of their masters in the North of Ireland, we will never know,” says Flynn.

12 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

How the son of immigrants from Counties Mayo and Down found success in America but never forgot his Irish roots. By Niall O’Dowd.

His father, Bill Sr., would live the kind of life that adventure books are written about. He became tired of working the fields, the bone-weary and repetitive work with no hope of advancement. Like millions of Irish before him, he set his sights on North America. Thus it was that Bill Flynn Sr. struck out for the New World, barely in his twenties, his son reckons, with one hand as long as the other. It was the time of World War I, and the Old World was convulsed in a senseless worldwide conflict. Bill Flynn Sr. wanted no part of that. He wanted better. In Northern Ireland at the time, the impending partition would split north

William J. Flynn with his beautiful wife Peg.

and south, lead to civil war and decades of conflict. A generation later, Bill Flynn Sr. could never have imagined that his son would be back and play a huge role in resolving that conflict. Bill Flynn Jr. remembers his father as a mild-mannered man. “He was a man who had no dislike of the British, no hatred of anyone really. He was ambitious but only for his family. He was aware of second-class citizenship in the North but not in a fierce way.” Flynn Sr. took to the high seas. He told his son years later that one of his key memories of that emigrant voyage was of a man called Ned the Fiddler, who at the departure gathering made his fiddle


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:58 PM

Page 13

ABOVE: All in the family: Daughters Anne (left) and Caroline (right) and sons Hugh (left) and Bill (right) are pictured outside the family home with their parents Anne and William. LEFT: Anne and William Flynn. Anne hailed from County Mayo, while William came from County Down. BELOW: The Irish-Americans: Bill and Peg with their children, Jim (left), Robert, Maureen and Bill, Jr. (right).

sing, moving Flynn’s father to tears. Many years later, Bill Jr. took his mother back to Loughinisland to meet his father’s only surviving sister. Together they met up with the now very senior Ned the Fiddler, who one more time, took out his fiddle and with ancient fingers played “Little Town in the Old County Down.” Bill Sr. ended up in British Columbia,

where he went to seek his fortune in mining. From there he migrated down to Seattle and worked in shipbuilding. Then, in the early 1920’s, he set out for New York, but somehow stopped off in Butte, Montana, where he became employed by the Anaconda Copper Company. While there he also trained and qualified as a stationary engineer, essentially the man in charge of the

power for the mine. It was a valuable career that would stand him in good stead later, especially during the Depression. Once in New York he met Anna Connors, from outside Castlebar in Mayo. She was a daughter of farmers who had taken the emigrant boat herself. She had a sister in Brooklyn who likely had sent the fare back to her. In 1925 Anna Connors and Bill Flynn were married. She was a working girl then, in Forest Hills, Queens, while he lived in Manhattan’s east sixties. He would ride out on the old Queensborough Bridge trolley car to see her. The family believes that they probably first met at an Irish dance. Back then Irish emigrants didn’t talk much about what they left behind. There was a “great silence” about how hard life had been and how difficult it was to just get by. They also knew they were unlikely to go back. Bill Flynn’s parents were no exception. “They wanted to look forward, to raise their kids in America, to put the bad times behind.” Bill Flynn Jr. was born in 1926 and the family lived in East Elmhurst near what is now LaGuardia Airport. They had a house of their own that they bought for $6,000, a fortune in the 1920’s. The small three-bedroom was the culmination of the emigrant’s dream: to own their own home. The bad old days in Ireland seemed long left behind. Bill Flynn’s childhood was a warm and loving one, despite the hard times. It was a mixed neighborhood, “mixed in the sense of Irish and German and Italians. We were all one. The one thing I remember is that there wasn’t a single kid that was left out in any of our ballgames. We were all one big family.” Some of his earliest memories are of HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 13


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:59 PM

Page 15

In 1996, William J. Flynn was named Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade in New York City, the largest St. Patrick’s Day Parade in the world. Flynn was so honored because of his contribution to achieving peace in Northern Ireland. He proved to be one of the most popular grand marshals in the history of the parade. Left: With his wife Peg, his sons Bill Jr. and Robert, daughter Maureen and four of his eleven grandchildren. Below: Robert Flynn with his children, William, 8, Carris, 14, and Michael, 10.

Brooklyn, a full hour and a half away by bus and subway. A good student, he began contemplating the priesthood. “It just seemed very natural at the time,” he recalls. “I thought I had a calling.” Flynn’s parents, he remembers, had mixed feelings. They knew the loneliness of the life of the priesthood, but were proud of their eldest son. In late 1945, he went on to the Seminary of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, Long Island. Five years later, during which time he had delved deeply into theology, philosophy and several languages, the time came to make a deeper commitment. However, he had increasingly come to the view that the priesthood might not be for him. Still, he credits the grounding he received in the linguistic, philosophical, and theological worlds with making him a far more rounded person than he would have ever become otherwise. “You gain the ability to think beyond the here and now, to put yourself and your times in an historical context,” he says. It was a training that would serve him well in the years ahead. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 15


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

4:58 PM

Page 14

the early years

ABOVE: A visit to the Vatican: William J. Flynn pictured with his wife Peg, his son Robert, and Pope John Paul II. LEFT: Robert Flynn, who passed away in 2005.

seeing planes flying out of what was then a tiny neighborhood airfield called North Beach Airport – today’s LaGuardia Airport. That part of Queens, then situated as it was on the banks of Flushing Bay, was as close to country living as could be found in the five boroughs. Flynn remembers the bay shore and the extensive grounds where LaGuardia is now. There was rafting and canoeing and swimming at Flushing Bay long before the airport and the highways and the Triborough Bridge forever altered the landscape. The Flynn family grew. Soon there were Anne and Caroline (both now deceased), and Bill’s brother and close neighbor and still best friend Hugh Patrick Flynn. Times were tough but the Flynns were better off than most. “People say you come of age and remember things of a certain era,” Bill

says. “I remember very vividly the Depression years and I remember the increasing realization that my father had employment, all because of that stationary engineer license. He was employed by the now defunct World Telegram & Sun newspaper right through the Depression. Others were unemployed for long periods of time. Flynn stayed with the paper up to the day it closed its doors in the early 1950’s. “It was a time of real struggle. Often neighbors would come by for lunch or dinner. There was always food on our table. No one had to ask.” Flynn reveres the memory of FDR and Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia, who guided America and New York out of the Depression. “President Roosevelt gave people great hope and instigated various schemes such as home loans and mortgage assistance, which allowed many

“Bill Flynn is the best!

He is a man of faith and integrity as a family man, a man of the Church, in his personal, business and professional activities, in his community involvements. Bill is devoted

to the cause of justice and peace in the Ireland he treasures, in his beloved United States, among all people, his brothers and sisters. He is a friend to treasure.” – Sr. Dorothy Ann Kelly 14 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

people we knew to keep their homes. Nevertheless, one of the things I remember most vividly is that many people lost their homes, were left with literally nothing. Roosevelt did everything he could to stop all that. “About Mayor LaGuardia, I don’t remember the specifics, except that he raised spirits, he was a very enthusiastic leader, he felt and sounded like he was one of us. That was very important.” Flynn’s school was PS 127, in East Elmhurst, right on the border with Corona, a neighborhood with a significant black population, so he had several black classmates and teachers in school. “We never thought anything about it. We were Polish, Jewish, Irish, Italian and black kids. It was an altogether very pleasant experience.” He loved being an altar boy and remembers, with great pleasure and fond memories, PS 127’s principal, Mr. Greenberg, who had given Flynn permission to be late for school on the many occasions when he was asked to serve at funeral masses at St. Gabriel’s. Funerals somehow seemed quite frequent during the Depression. By 1939, at the age of 12, he graduated and was now ready to begin high school, when St. Gabriel’s parish priest, the Rev. Anthony J. Foley, whom Flynn greatly admired, strongly encouraged him to apply to Cathedral High School Preparatory Seminary in


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

tribute

4:59 PM

Page 16

by edward cardinal egan

For God and Country

O

One rarely hears the phrase “For God and Country” anymore, but years ago it was seen as an excellent model for how young men and women should order their priorities in life. If a young person made serving God and following His commandments the first priority, then the second priority, service to the country, would inevitably follow, as that young person grew to be a responsible parent, a civic-minded neighbor, and conscientious citizen. It is disappointing that such concepts are in some quarters thought out of date in today’s society, but it is encouraging to know that there are still people like my good friend Bill Flynn who have never lost that sense of duty and responsibility. Indeed, “For God and Country” can be fairly considered an apt summary of his life. Having had the privilege of working closely with Bill over the years, I have seen that he is proud of and committed to his faith. Faith is not, however, something he wears on his shirtsleeve so that it may be admired by others. Rather, it is an integral part of the man, as much a part of who he is as his Irish heritage. Both are of the essence of how he lives his life. Bill is much more than a Sunday morning Catholic, as he strives to understand his faith and put it into practice. He is wonderfully well read, studies the teachings of the Church with intensity, and looks forward to those occasions when he can discuss a point of theology with me or another clergyman. His faith is deep and made all the stronger by his passion for learning.

16 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Edward Cardinal Egan, archbishop and cardinal of the archdiocese of New York, writes that Bill Flynn’s faith is as integral to who he is as his Irish heritage.

Pictured at the Mutual of America Building: William J. Flynn, Edward Cardinal Egan, and popular Irish Consul General Tim O’Connor, who now serves as a special assistant to Irish President Mary McAleese.

As a young man Bill attended the seminary and thought very seriously of pursuing a vocation to the priesthood. Although he ultimately decided that God was calling him elsewhere, this foundation has helped to guide Bill, both as he reared his own family and throughout his career as he became a most successful businessman; and it has earned him the respect of all who know him. To this day, Bill remains in touch with friends and classmates from his seminary days, enjoying the opportunity for discussion about the Church’s role in modern day

society. Throughout his adult life, he has always made himself available to support the Church including service as Chairman of the Knights of Malta and a founding member of the Pope John Paul II Vatican Museum on the grounds of Catholic University in Washington. After leaving the seminary, Bill joined the United States Army Air Corps. His love of country and respect for the men and women of the United States military stayed with him long after his service was completed. In later life, Bill became closely associated with the U.S. Army


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:00 PM

Page 17

Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams, William J. Flynn and Edward Cardinal Egan following a visit by Adams to the U.S. where he addressed the National Committee on American Foreign Policy at a luncheon held at the Mutual of America Building.

War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania, and arranged for many of Mutual of America’s officers to have an opportunity to become familiar with the leadership of our military by attending the National Security Seminar at the War College. Bill was eventually asked to serve as a member of the U.S. Army War College Foundation, and this he did for several years. Upon his retirement from Mutual of America, his successor, Tom Moran, and the Board of Directors of Mutual of America decided to honor Bill by donating to the U.S. Army War College the funds necessary to create, in Bill’s honor, the Omar N. Bradley Chair in Strategic Leadership. Bill is known to quote another great general, Norman Schwarzkopf, Jr., who said, “Leadership is character and competence. If you can only have one, opt for character.” Bill Flynn is one of those rare individuals who actually has lived his life with both character and competence. It was while Bill Flynn was in the Army that he married his dear wife, Peggy. Together they instilled in their children an understanding of the importance of a loving family and faith in God. During those early years of married life, Bill became a teacher, once again seeking to serve the Lord through his service to his students. Bill understood the importance of a good education and

shared his passion for learning with his students, just as he did with his own children. Bill Flynn is rightfully proud of his family and has taught them by example that even in the most difficult of times some comfort is to be found in prayer and that it is ultimately our faith that sustains us. Bill was also a marvelously successful business leader, serving for many years as the President of the Mutual of America Life Insurance Company. He always understood the potential and importance of Mutual of America as a provider of pension services to more than 15,000 charities across the country, so that individuals who worked to improve society might be able to retire with dignity. This is yet another example of Bill Flynn’s service to others. While Bill continues to serve the company whenever and however he is needed, he made certain that the good work he began would continue after his retirement, by choosing and mentoring a successor, Tom Moran, who not only has carried on Bill’s work but has done so fully aware of the need to lead with both character and competence. However, it is without question that Bill Flynn will always be especially remembered for his role in helping to bring peace to Northern Ireland. He has often told how his involvement in seek-

ing peace began when two friends approached him about helping them to raise money for the IRA. He knew that sending money to continue fighting was not and could never be a solution that would lead to peace. Thus, that very day he made a decision to do whatever he could to help find a path to peace. Once again, he turned to his friends in the Catholic community and sought the assistance of Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, President of the College of New Rochelle, and the U.S. Director of the Peace People, an organization formed by two women in Northern Ireland who won the Nobel Peace Prize for their work. Bill Flynn literally walked the streets of Northern Ireland with Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, seeking to learn from anyone and everyone who would speak to him and always seeking to be accurately informed. With those first conversations, it became clear that a new direction was needed, and Bill decided that he would work to try and find that new direction. From that time onward, he was tireless in his efforts, bringing every political group to New York to speak in front of a gathering of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, of which he is Chairman. When he was not bringing the leaders to New York, he and his small group of interested friends were traveling to Belfast to meet with politicians and paramilitaries from both sides. He was the only person to be in attendance as a witness at both the IRA and Loyalist ceasefire announcements. Those that had once criticized him for getting involved in a conflict that had no solution quickly reversed themselves and became his strongest admirers. It is no surprise that Bill Flynn is universally recognized as one of the most influential Americans in making peace a reality. I am proud to call Bill Flynn my friend. It is my hope that many more will emulate his life of service and commitment to helping others, and that they too will discover the beauty to be found in the simple truth of living one’s life “for God and Country.” HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 17


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:01 PM

Page 18

»»»»» Captain of Industry

A

After leaving the seminary of the Immaculate Conception, like most bright Catholic kids, Bill Flynn set his sights on Fordham University. It was 1948 and the Jesuit school was the Harvard of its day for Catholics, especially in the post World War II era when the GI Bill was in force. At Fordham Flynn went straight for an MA, bypassing the BA as he had earned its equivalent at the seminary. Casting around for a career after leaving the seminary, Flynn had realized his great love was economics. He had been particularly influenced by a book called Progress and Poverty by Henry George, written in 1879, which advocated a progressive solution to the issue of land ownership and natural resources. Flynn recalls that Henry George “had an extremely insightful understanding of the problem that continued to face our economy, even though [Progress and Poverty] had been written many years before. Flynn was impressed with how George addressed the problem. “How can there be so much poverty in the midst of such progress?” And that question is as real today,” reflects Flynn. “I think the best solution will always involve government and private enterprise working together. We have to protect the less well off as well as restrain the mighty. Above all, unbridled greed must be tempered.” In recent times, economists like the 1976 Nobel Prize winner Milton Friedman have agreed that Henry George’s book was a 18 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Niall O’Dowd follows Bill Flynn’s journey from seminary student to the upper echelons of corporate America.

trailblazer and one of the seminal texts. Flynn continued on at Fordham toward a Ph.D. in Economics. At the same time, he undertook, for a year, to teach mathematics at Regis High School in New York City. By the end of his first year at Regis, in the summer of 1949, the Korean War broke out and Flynn enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he served for three years, mainly in Texas and

Washington, D.C. During his tour in Washington, Flynn also taught a course in management at the University of Maryland’s Extension College. Meanwhile, he had caught the eye of a young Irish girl from the Bronx. Flynn first met Peg Collins at a dance at St. Vincent’s Church in Manhattan. Peggy’s parents had come over from Kerry and raised their five kids in New York. Church dances in Manhattan were where the action was for young Irish kids, and when the tall and handsome Bill Flynn met the dark-haired beauty from the Bronx, it was love at first sight. Fifty-six years later, Peg has continued to be a rock for her husband throughout his stellar business career, as well as a wonderful mother and grandmother. In March 1953 the couple had been married in a lovely little Catholic church “Annunciation” in Houston, Texas. Following his tour in the service, Bill Flynn remembers as the greatest time of his lifesetting up his young wife and family in Long Island and starting out on his career in business. All of this, however, brought to an end his work on a Ph.D. thesis and Flynn’s hopes for a doctorate. Wanting to put his degree in Economics to work, Flynn decided to try for a job at Equitable, then one of the largest pension plan companies in America. He was immediately hired by the pension department there. It was a different era; for instance, he was


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:01 PM

Page 19

TOP: Bill Barry, Senator Ted Kennedy and Bill Flynn at the Mutual of America building in March, 1999. FAR RIGHT: Bill and his longtime friend and business associate Bill Aramony in September, 2005. RIGHT: Bill Flynn and Ireland’s Taoiseach Brian Cowen at Irish America’s Wall Street 50 dinner, July 17, 2008.

required to wear a hat at all times when outdoors. “It took my family a year or so to get used to that,” he says. Be-hatted or not, he commenced a stellar rise to the top. He discovered he had excellent mathematical ability when it came to calculating risk strategy on long-term insurance and retirement plans. He created a new insurance product called Guaranteed Investment Contracts (GICs), which soon became an industry standard and led to huge new pension fund investments for Equitable. Soon he was shooting up the ladder and explaining his strategy in teaching sessions to other Equitable employees. At the same time, he took a position at Fordham University School of Business teaching freshman economics. Today he reflects on what goes wrong in most companies that take a downward spiral. “Greed is the biggest problem. People as well as companies get successful and altogether too many get very

greedy. Look at the recent mortgage crisis and all the Wall Street firms that overextended themselves. It’s the same mistake over and over. I saw it all at Equitable. Eventually AXA took over the Equitable Life Assurance Society; the great Equitable had nearly gone bankrupt. My advice is always, don’t get greedy, help the other guy and stay in the real world. That’s my lesson from business and to anyone who is willing to listen.” Flynn also observed how Equitable had become a major player in the mortgage business by observing how much the banks were charging their customers for mortgages. Equitable went up against the banking industry and, for many years, succeeded in offering some of the most attractive mortgage rates in the country. “You didn’t have to be Einstein to figure out how to do this,” says Flynn. It was a trying time to be an Irish

Catholic. The great news of the election of the first Irish Catholic president had been swept away with JFK’s assassination a few short years later. The shock of that moment still stays with Bill Flynn. “I’ll never forget it. I and two of my associates were up in Utica, making a pension plan presentation to the board of trustees of a major union pension fund. All of a sudden the news came that something awful had happened; Kennedy had been shot. Then we learned that he had died. It was the most traumatic day. Every one of us was in a total state of shock – not a dry eye in the place. “I was really caught up with John and Bobby Kennedy. I was very enthusiastic about them. Bobby in particular. I remember writing out thousands of envelopes asking for financial support for Bobby when he ran for U.S. Senate in New York. I was so pleased later to have gotten a letter from Bobby, after he had been elected, thanking me for my efforts.” By 1971 Bill Flynn was Senior Vice President of Equitable’s pension operations, but was increasingly interested in a job involving greater responsibility. He knew he needed a new challenge. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 19


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:02 PM

Page 20

captain of industry

This magazine celebrated William J. Flynn as Irish American of the Year in 1994. He is second from left above with Michael Roarty, Anheuser-Busch vice president/corporate marketing and communications, SDLP leader John Hume, and Donald R. Keough, chairman of the board of Allen & Company.

“Bill is without question one of the finest executives I’ve worked with. He was able to climb above his business success and reach out to the people of Ireland and he used his position to make a difference in the North/South conflict. He was

an exceptional leader with a heart for his people.” – William Aramony 20 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Then a small company called the National Health and Welfare Insurance came looking for a president. It had about $50 million in assets and 125 employees. Nowadays, it is known as Mutual of America with 1,100 people and billions of dollars in assets. The company had been in deep difficulty and on the ropes when Flynn joined. “My predecessor was a really lovely – beautiful guy. He asked me for my views on his company’s situation. I was very straightforward. I said, you must have top flight administrators and decent investment performance. If you let either one get out of hand, you become faced with a nightmare – which was what had happened to this otherwise fine company. Board members appreciated my straight talk, I think. In any event, I was hired as President and

Chief Executive Officer. “I sat down and looked at the worst case scenario and came quickly to the conclusion that we had to hire several new and very experienced people and quickly get on with the job of turning the company around.” Several fine professionals came with him from Equitable. During his first few months Flynn traveled extensively to meet the firm’s top customers and employees to evaluate the company’s problems and needs. It also needed a new name, as the old one, National Health and Welfare Insurance, was unwieldy and left customers in doubt as to what the company was actually doing. “Mutual of America” struck him as a straightforward title that left no ambiguity. An insurance giant was born. A man who had been on the Mutual board for over 20 years and is a longtime


IA.SI.Flynn.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:03 PM

Page 21

ABOVE: Bill with his assistant of 20 years, Tonya Lillie.

ABOVE: William Flynn and Lane Adams, friend and business colleague. Center: Bill Flynn with Heather Mitchell, wife of Senator George Mitchell.

friend describes Flynn thus: “He had the capacity to identify a market that no one else had thought about. He identified the non-profit market, the number of companies who were too small and thus incapable, on their own, of getting decent life and pension plans. “He also introduced an incentive compensation system for employees so that everyone was focusing on the customer. People were reasonably well paid, but they had to deliver. Those small nonprofits on their own did not have the power to negotiate for themselves, but they desperately needed coverage. It was Bill’s genius to identify that gap in the market and provide that coverage.” Flynn was “always hypersensitive” to the needs of people. “He was a great employer. Mutual had the best health care and pension plan imaginable for all employees, from the top guy to the littlest guy. I have been on many boards and I can tell you that Bill Flynn is as good as any executive I have ever met, including those who run the IBM’s and other major companies. He had a vision, a belief in people and a sense of responsibility that made all the difference.” That vision was never more evident than when, as Flynn began winding down his career, he made the risky move to build a new corporate headquarters on Park Avenue. He explains, “We were based over at 666 Fifth Avenue and a very large foreign company (name withheld) purchased the building with the result that, thanks to New York City’s then real estate tax code, our little company got hit

with a substantially higher real estate tax. The increase was enormous. I said, we can’t let this happen again; we’ve got to have another work space and we’ve got to own the place. “It was a five-year runaround looking in Suffolk County, in White Plains, in Connecticut, even Florida. Some people said we ought to be going to Florida and this went on and on, but it began bothering me that we should move out of New York City; after all, this is where we belonged, where we had our roots. “One day two Board Directors and I were talking and we decided, heck, we like it in New York, and why the hell are we going out in the suburbs or somewhere where we’ve no roots? Shortly thereafter, there came along a young real estate executive who, upon hearing what we wanted to do, said, ‘I’ve got something.’ “And what he had was this building at 320 Park Avenue which became our headquarters. The building, at that time, didn’t look that great, but it was owned by the people who built Canary Wharf in London, which was going downhill financially, so they were selling their Park Avenue building which was, by that time, empty and, indeed, completely stripped down. So here you have a building that was all cleaned out (including all

asbestos), and all the buyer had to do was to rebuild the building over the existing steel. The key was to construct a new building without redoing the steel. For if you were to take down the steel, zoning laws at that time would have required you to build a smaller building than what was there previously. “So it was close to two hundred million to buy, and close to another hundred million to rebuild, in total, close to three hundred million. Many questioned our decision, as there was a real estate slump at the time [September, 1992]. By the close of 2007, however, it was assessed at one and a quarter billion. It really worked out for us.” That is certainly putting it mildly. In real estate as well as in business, Bill Flynn had the Midas touch. But the former seminarian from Queens didn’t just want to be known as a good business head. He wanted to give back as well. Bill Flynn, the humanitarian and peacemaker, was not long emerging.

William Flynn received Honorary Degrees from: St. John’s University – 1989 The University of Detroit Mercy – 1991 The College of Mount Saint Vincent – 1995 The College of New Rochelle – 1995 College Misericordia – 1996 Sacred Heart University – 1996 Richard Stockton College of New Jersey – 1998. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 21


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:14 PM

Page 22

»»»»» The Williamsburg Charter:

A Golden Rule For Preserving Religious Freedom

O

On June 25, 1998, leaders in government, religion and business signed the Williamsburg Charter in Colonial Williamsburg. I felt privileged to be one of them. The Williamsburg Charter is an historic document that reaffirms the first sixteen words of the Bill of Rights. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free expression thereof.” We stand in awe of these men of Williamsburg who, more than 200 years ago, inspired these words. We salute their special genius. We admire their courage, for these sixteen words were to change, in a most remarkable way, the future course of history, both of our nation and the world. People were to be free to pursue, without interference, those things about which they felt most deeply – those elemental questions of conscience that give meaning to life. Yet, the affirmation of religious freedom would have meant nothing without the protection of a strong, abiding sense of mutual responsibility for its preservation. We must always remember that, in the words of the Charter, “Rights are best guarded when each person guards for all others those rights they wish for themselves.” It is no accident that Mutual of America was the major corporate sponsor of the “First Liberty Summit” at Williamsburg and of this “First Liberty Forum” in New York. It is part of our continuing commitment to those forces in life dedicated to

22 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

William J. Flynn presented the following remarks at the First Liberty Forum in New York on November 15, 1998. building a richer, better world. Nothing could have been more fitting than for us to play a supportive and enabling role in this reaffirmation of the First Liberty. At a time when our spiritual values are being tested perhaps more severely than ever before, we concluded that it would be most timely and appropriate to reaffirm our belief in and dedication to preserving the true meaning of the First Amendment. There are some commitments which one makes out of obligation, some out of position and some out of choice. There are other commitments which are thrust upon one by the weight of history and heritage. For me, religious liberty and freedom of conscience is such a commitment. I speak as a Catholic of Irish heritage whose father was from the north and whose mother was from the south. And I am deeply saddened when I see the violence that divides neighbors and the bitterness that hardens the soul. I speak as a father who has marveled at the birth of his children, who has delighted in watching them grow up, who has lived to see his children’s children playing on a summer day, and who – because of these precious, intimate experiences – cannot help but wonder about the world we will hand on to the generations to come. Will it be safe and sane or ugly and violent? The answer depends to a great degree on our willingness to commit our energies to searching for ways to live together in spite of deep differences. I speak as an American for whom free-

dom is not only an ideal to cherish, but a responsibility to act upon. In a world in which the contrasts are all too apparent, in our nation where differences too often breed bigotry, I feel the weight of that responsibility. In 1987, Mutual of America sponsored a film entitled, Courage to Care, a film about individuals who in quiet ways protected those at risk during the Holocaust. They were not born heroes nor did they view themselves as heroic. They did assume the responsibilities of their convictions. We must do the same. We must uphold and renew that which makes us caring persons, striving for a just nation and a peaceful world. Mutual of America is proud to have been part of the significant event of bringing the Williamsburg Charter to pass. I can’t remember a time when my deepest personal convictions and most important professional responsibilities converged so perfectly. I am proud to join the other signers of the Charter in reaffirming religious liberty and freedom of conscience, which is so central to who we are, so vital to our future, so needed in the world. The successful celebration of the Williamsburg Charter may be behind us, but its purpose is always before us and we look forward to spreading its message. I ask you to join me in affirming as your own the Summary of Principles that we commend to you today. The Religious Liberty clauses of the


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:15 PM

Page 23

William J. Flynn and Rev. Billy Graham on June 25, 1988 in Colonial Williamsburg.

The Williamsburg Charter SUMMARY OF PRINCIPLES – June 15, 1988 “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof ...”

First Amendment to the Constitution are a momentous decision, the most important political decision for religious liberty and public justice in history. Two hundred years after their enactment they stand out boldly in a century made dark by state repression and sectarian conflict. Yet the ignorance and contention now surrounding the clauses is a reminder that not all the questions arising from them have been answered. We acknowledge our deep and continuing differences over religious beliefs, political policies and constitutional interpretations. But together we celebrate the genius of the Religious Liberty clauses, and affirm the following truths to be among the first principles that are in the shared interest of all Americans:

1.

Religious liberty, freedom of conscience, is a precious, fundamental and inalienable right. A society is only as just and free as it is respectful of this right for its smallest minorities and least popular communities. 2. Religious liberty is founded on the inviolable dignity of the person. It is not

based on science or social usefulness and is not dependent on the shifting moods of majorities and governments. 3. Religious liberty is our nation's “first liberty,” which under girds all other rights and freedoms secured by the Bill of Rights. 4. The two Religious Liberty clauses address distinct concerns, but together they serve the same end – religious liberty, or freedom of conscience, for citizens of all faiths or none. 5. The No Establishment clause separates Church from State but not religion from politics or public life. It prevents the confusion of religion and government, which has been a leading source of repression and coercion throughout history. 6. The Free Exercise clause guarantees the right to reach, hold, and exercise or change beliefs freely. It allows all citizens who so desire to shape their lives, whether private or public, on the basis of personal and communal beliefs. 7. The Religious Liberty clauses are both a protection of individual liberty and a provision for ordering the relationship of religion and public life. They allow us to

live with our deepest differences and enable diversity to be a source of national strength. 8. Conflict and debate are vital to democracy. Yet if controversies about religion and politics are to reflect the highest wisdom of the First Amendment and advance the best interests of the disputants and the nation, then how we debate, and not only what we debate, is critical. 9. One of America's continuing needs is to develop, out of our differences, a common vision for the common good. Today that common vision must embrace a shared understanding of the place of religion in public life and of the guiding principles by which people with deep religious differences can contend robustly but civilly with each other. 10. Central to the notion of the common good, and of greater importance each day because of the increase of pluralism, is the recognition that religious liberty is a universal right. Rights are best guarded and responsibilities best exercised when each person and group guards for all others those rights they wish guarded for themselves.

We are firmly persuaded that these principles require a fresh consideration, and that the reaffirmation of religious liberty is crucial to sustain a free people that would remain free. We therefore commit ourselves to speak, write and act according to this vision and these principles. We urge our fellow citizens to do the same, now and in generations to come. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 23


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:16 PM

Page 24

»»»»» Making a Difference

N

“No pessimist ever set foot on Ellis Island, no pessimist ever crossed the prairies, and no pessimist ever built cities from one end of the continent to another. These things were done by people with vision and hope.” Thus does Bill Flynn wonderfully describe the country he grew up in and the people who made it what it is. Flynn himself embodies that vision. He is a chronic optimist, even when it comes to the most intractable problems. He says it springs from his father and mother, who, despite raising a family through the Depression, never lost their hopes and dreams for their young family and their ambitions to do better every day of their lives. The Irish poet Eavan Boland wonderfully summarizes what the generations of immigrants went through in order to give their kids the opportunity of America. Bill Flynn can relate to it in the stories of his parents. “What they survived we could not even live. By their lights now it is time to imagine how they stood there, what they stood with, that their possessions may become our power: Cardboard. Iron. Their hardships parceled in them. Patience. Fortitude. Long-suffering in the bruise-coloured dusk of the New World. And all the old songs. And nothing to lose.” While Bill was growing up, the topic

24 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Bill Flynn’s commitment to the community is rooted in his Irish Catholic childhood. By Niall O’Dowd

New York Times advertisements proved to be one of the turning points in directing the world’s attention towards finding a political solution to the Troubles in Northern Ireland. Bill Flynn personally paid for three full-page ads.

of Ireland often got debated across the kitchen table in the Flynn household. Though he describes his father as mildmannered, other relatives who came over from Northern Ireland were not as forgiving of the harsh world from which Catholics had come. Essentially corralled into a state they felt no allegiance to and had never voted to join, they were strangers in their own land, second-class citizens and heavily discriminated against. Flynn remembers some firsthand experiences. “We had relatives that

would come in. They would tell the most awful stories. They were intensely interrogated by us as kids, but it led my own general disposition to question the British, and to be aware of the problems faced by Catholics in the North, to hate bigotry, and to hate sectarianism, really. Later on, those meetings had their impact, and suddenly I began to read about and study what was going on. There were other Irish influences, a lot of music, reels, dancing. Dad was, I think, more romantic about Ireland than was Mom. I think the women had it much


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:16 PM

Page 25

New York City, March 17, 1996: Grand Marshal of the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.

harder. Peggy’s mother felt that way too. “My father went back only once. He stayed with his only surviving sister, Rosena. As it turned out, he almost died over there. Struck with pneumonia, he came back early. For years he wanted to make the journey once again, but there was never really the opportunity for him financially or otherwise.” Bill Flynn made his first trip back to Ireland in 1971. “I took my mother over to visit her old home in County Mayo and to visit with my father’s only surviving sister, Rosena, in County Down, Northern Ireland,” he remembers. It was to be his introduction to the North. It also spurred renewed interest in his roots. “It’s a mysterious force, it’s like gravity; you can’t see it, but you can feel the

pull of it. It’s a feeling of being home and being at one with people—a coming together.” But it was other world trouble spots that interested him at first. One of his favorite comments is that if you believe in something, “sending a check is not enough. If you believe in something, you simply have to support it in every way.” Bill Flynn believed he could make a difference. Despite leading a major insurance firm that was experiencing rapid growth and consumed all his working hours, Bill Flynn was curious about giving back, about getting involved in issues greater than himself. His deep religious faith also spurred him. Unusual for a corporate chief executive, he combined a significant spiritu-

ality with a can-do business attitude. He appointed several Jewish leaders to his board and became very friendly with Elie Wiesel, the Nobel Peace Prize winner, writer and Holocaust survivor. “Elie is a great teacher; he helps you understand the darkness in the soul of men, but also the greatness that can reside there, as it surely does in him. There are some men who have earned the right to preach, to tell the world what they must do. Even if he had never won the Nobel Prize, Elie is one of those men.” Flynn became a board member of the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity after Wiesel won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1986. In 1990 Mutual sponsored the “Anatomy of Hate” conferences in Paris, in Oslo, and later, other major cities around the world, hosted by Wiesel’s organization. At these meetings, world leaders, including many Nobel Prize winners, gathered to examine the lethal effects of hatred on people and society with a view to discussing how to get beyond hatred. Flynn was deeply impacted by the clear efforts to bring about peace in conflicts such as the Middle East and South Africa. Inevitably his thoughts turned to his father’s native land. Two years earlier, Mutual had sponsored the Williamsburg Charter, which addressed the issue of religious liberty in a pluralistic society. Clearly Northern Ireland was a case study for such an issue. In 1992, Flynn took the plunge into his own ethnic history urged on by a Sister of Mercy, Sr. Carol Rittner. He sponsored a Beyond Hatred Conference in Derry, Northern Ireland entitled “Living with Our Deepest Differences,” meeting for the first time with Sinn Féin, SDLP and Unionist leaders of Northern Ireland. “I was learning, like everyone else who approached this issue. I hope I was humble enough to listen and, I hope, hopeful enough to not let the negativity that was still widespread put me off trying to help.” The sprigs of peace were beginning to sprout in the North at that stage. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 25


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:17 PM

Page 26

making a difference

Revelations about SDLP leader John Hume and Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams meeting with Rev. Alex Reid in secret at Clonard Monastery in West Belfast to hammer out a common attempt at a way forward were raising hopes for the first time in decades. A new Taoiseach (prime minister) in Ireland, Albert Reynolds, was making renewed efforts to crack the twenty-five-year deadlock. Flynn was suddenly hopeful. Since 1987 he had been seeking a way to become involved. Back then he had joined the Irish American Partnership and led an American delegation to Ireland to meet with Paddy Harte, the Donegal member of Parliament who saw the partnership as a powerful vehicle to involve America. The effort petered out, however, and Flynn’s next attempt had been with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Mairead Corrigan and her American coordinator, Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly, president of the College of New Rochelle. Flynn remembers that early involvement. “Dorothy Ann was head of the Peace People in the States, and she was deeply into this fine organization. I used to go to all their meetings and contribute to it as well. Mairead Corrigan was a powerful speaker. She’d get your blood going about what was going on in the North, so I became a real fan. I said to Dorothy Ann, I wish I knew more about all this. And she said, ‘How would you like to learn more about the Peace People?’ And I said I would, and she said, ‘I’ll take you to Ireland and I’ll introduce you to all these people.’ “We had a great week meeting all the Protestants and Catholics alike. It was a great learning experience. It also helped me to decide the level at which I wanted to operate.” Flynn also had contact with Irish Northern Aid, the Republican fundraising group in America. He particularly remembers a conversation with two leading Noraid members in his Fifth Avenue office. Flynn was troubled by the high level of violence in the North 26 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

TOP: When Bill Flynn speaks everyone listens, including Henry Kissinger. LEFT: One of three advertisements in The New York Times which focused on the Irish Peace Process.

and, to a degree, by Noraid’s efforts in support of Sinn Féin. He explained to them he could not support those using force to accomplish their purpose in the North. Then the men asked him what he was prepared to do or was he just content to blame others from the sidelines. “They made me feel like a draft dodger,” said Flynn. His chance to play a major role came soon after. A small group of Irish-Americans in New York was in close contact with the Clinton presidential campaign and had received assurances from them that Clinton would address the issue of Northern Ireland once he was in office. It was the kind of breakthrough that Irish America had always dreamed of: an American president becoming involved in the search for peace in Northern Ireland. It was a time and a tide. Positive conflict-resolution efforts were taking place in the


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:18 PM

Page 27

TOP: CEO Mutual of America Tom Moran, Gov. Hugh Carey, Amb. Mitchell Reiss, William Fynn and Dr. George Schwab. LEFT: September 2005: Sister Dorothy Ann Kelly and Sister Regina Kehoe.

Middle East and South Africa, the Cold War was over, and the ties between Britain and the United States were not as critical as they once were. The end of the century was coming up, and a generation of Northern Ireland leaders were suddenly asking, why not us? Many of them saw America as the key. The Irish-American group needed key names in the community to join them. Bill Flynn was already a standout, both in pursuing conflict resolution and as a successful and respected businessman, but would the Mutual of America chief risk his public profile, his business success and his Chairmanship of the National Committee on American

Foreign Policy, in seeking to help bring what many believed to be an unsolvable conflict to an end? Flynn never hesitated when he was asked. In the citation for his selection as one of the 100 IrishAmericans of the Century, Irish America stated that “William J. Flynn will always be remembered as the man who dispensed with a great taboo – the notion that American business should not get involved in bringing peace to Ireland. He broke the mold when he set out in tandem with a few others to change the reality that American business had nothing to offer toward peace in Ireland. The historic peace process was the result.” Bill Clinton was elected in January 1992. By September that year, the IrishAmerican group, numbering just five people including Bill Flynn, former Congressman Bruce Morrison, businessman Chuck Feeney, and labor leader Joe Jameson, were ready to play their part. The endgame was set to begin.

“Bill Flynn has been a great soldier for peace on the island of Ireland. His friendship and support to me as Secretary of State for Northern Ireland from 2005 to the historic political settlement of 2007 encouraged me to stick to my strategy which helped bring the breakthrough. Bill

was been ever-present to provide a helping hand in the cause of justice, and his time and generosity proved invaluable.” – Right Honourable Peter Hain, MP, Co-Chairman, British Irish Inter Parliamentary Body, and Secretary of State for Northern Ireland 2005-07.

HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 27


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:18 PM

Page 28

tributes “There would be no peace process without Bill Flynn.

The three pals: Bill Barry, Governor Hugh Carey and Bill Flynn.

T

He sponsored a series of ads in the NY Times saying, “Irish eyes are crying for peace,” back in 1993, and he invited the Northern Ireland leaders, James Molyneaux, Ian Paisley, John Hume, John Alderdice and Gerry Adams to speak in the U.S. and that was truly the beginning, especially when Bill followed through and helped get the visa for Gerry Adams. But those ads – which Bill paid for at his own expense – he did it in the most altruistic way – there was nothing in it for Bill Flynn, except the love of his Irish heritage – were truly the beginning.” – Bill Barry

oo often in the past, Irish committees were broken down or divided between the hardnosed and the peacemakers, and with Barry, a former FBI agent who was assigned to Attorney General Robert Kennedy, met up with Bill Flynn that didn’t happen. Bill Flynn in 1993 and worked alongside You can’t call him warmongerhim in the peace effort. ing – when he takes the side of a cause it’s because justice is involved. He doesn’t stop because of resources; be it money, effort or talent, he carries through and increases the understanding of the effort. I don’t know of anyone or committee that made as much progress, lasting progress [on Northern Ireland], as Bill Flynn. My only minor disappointment is that he doesn’t have the Nobel Peace Prize; it’s been awarded to a number of others in Ireland, but I think in all due regard to the others who have carried the prize, whether it be John Hume or David Trimble, no one deserves it more than Bill Flynn. He does not seek or relish public attention – maybe that’s why he is so effective. I don’t think he ever looks at anything for himself. He’s a very self-effacing man; maybe for that reason his efforts haven’t been fully recognized. At the same time, he has carried a family with great pride and prestige and he has sponsored a number of causes mainly on the charity side, all the way from schools in Harlem to a seminary in Long Island.” – Governor Hugh Carey. – Hugh Carey was elected to the United States House of Representatives in 1960, and served seven terms. He was Governor of New York from 1975-1982.

28 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:19 PM

Page 29

tributes

“Bill Flynn was indispensable to the peace process. He was there from the beginning giving invaluable advice and support to both sides of the sectarian divide, which in the end solidified the peace process for all time.” – Jean Kennedy Smith was appointed by President Bill Clinton as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland in 1992. She played a pivotal role in the peace process.

“Bill is the quintessential Irish-American with a quick wit and ready smile and always ready to lead any worthwhile cause. He charged into the peace process, met with both sides, creating forums for discussion and dialogue and never showed discouragement. We should all be grateful that Bill stepped in with leadership at a time when the American Irish needed a leader. He has made a contribution that will always be there for history to record.” – Donald Keough Chairman Allen & Co.

“[Bill] Is a wonderful gentleman. A true visionary, he is a great friend of Ireland-American relationships. I am proud to include him as my friend.” – Dan Tully, Chairman Emeritus, Merrill Lynch

“People would always say to Bill about the Adams’ situation – ‘The reality of the situation is . . .’ The reality of the situation was that the American government would never give a visa to Gerry Adams until the IRA campaign was called off. The reality was the IRA was not going to call off the campaign, just like that. So what it took was the idealism of people like Bill Flynn and others, especially Bill Flynn, to say ‘we can change realism.’ “What happened was that Bill Flynn and those others took the realism and then made idealism. As I say, idealism and realism met on the road and we got the best of both. Everyone came to the cease-fire and everyone came to the peace-process. “The first time I met Bill I tried to push him on how one man can make a difference. I used analogies with the great Joe McGarrity who was probably instrumental in getting us most of the freedom we got in the 26 counties. And I said to Bill, you can be the modern day Joe McGarrity. I think he filled that role.”

“As soon as I had the job [as special envoy to Northern Ireland], I flew to New York to meet Bill Flynn who graciously, over the course of two hours, acquainted me with what I would be dealing with. More than that, he endorsed me in his own unique way to all of his friends in Irish America and overseas, and what that meant to me professionally is beyond words. I’m in his debt. We all are.”

– Ciaran Staunton.

– The Honorable Mitchell B. Reiss.

Staunton, the owner of O’Neill’s Bar and Restaurant in New York City was a major player in the peace process. Joe McGarrity was a leading member of the Clan na Gael organization in the U.S.

Reiss was appointed by President George W. Bush in January 2004 as Special Envoy to Northern Ireland with the rank of Ambassador, a position he currently holds. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 29


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:19 PM

Page 30

»»»»» The Irish Peacemaker

O

On February 12, 1994, Bill Flynn and his trusted friend and associate Bill Barry drove to Belfast to meet with Gerry Adams. (Barry was Chairman of Barry Security Services after leaving an exciting career with The Federal Bureau of Investigation.) It was directly in the wake of the granting of a visa by the U.S. government to Adams allowing him to come to America. His 48-hour visa visit had won international headlines, and Bill Flynn’s role in securing that visa had been widely covered. The Northern Ireland conflict was center stage worldwide — placed there because Bill Flynn had helped lead the audacious strategy to win an American visa for Adams at a time when he was considered an international pariah. Flynn and Barry’s appointment was at Connolly House in West Belfast and Flynn was behind the wheel of a rented Mercedes. They were behind time and turned off the M1 motorway close to their destination. Suddenly they came upon a burning building, with tanks and soldiers with machine guns everywhere. Their destination had just been hit with an RPG rocket launcher fired by Loyalist paramilitaries. If they had been on time for their appointment they would have been in the building when the rocket hit. If Bill Flynn ever needed confirmation that it was a tough and dangerous business he was involved in in Northern Ireland, he received it that day. Given his Northern Irish roots and his pride in his Irish heritage, it is hardly surprising that Bill Flynn became interested in the conflict there. Unlike millions of other Irish-Americans, however, Flynn did not confine his interest to a sentimen-

30 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Niall O’Dowd writes about Bill Flynn’s extraordinary role in the Irish peace process. tal attachment on St. Patrick’s Day or an occasional tip of the hat to his Irish roots at some dinner or other. Typical of the man, he became involved at the deepest level possible after weighing the many options he had about where and when to get involved. Too many Americans allowed their sentiment and family history to cloud their judgment when it came to Northern Ireland. Bill Flynn would not make that mistake. His approach was typical of his successful business career: a great deal of analysis followed by a direct and clear-cut strategy. If mistakes were made, they were corrected. Friendships on all sides of the conflict were cultivated and acted on. “This was never going to be an emotional outreach, rather it was going to be a carefully planned strategic involvement designed to achieve maximum impact,” says Flynn. Professor Fergal Cochrane of the Institute for Peace and Conflict Research at Lancaster University in Britain has

argued that it was Irish-American “soft power” as exemplified by Bill Flynn and others that transformed the Northern Ireland peace process. In his 2007 paper “Irish America, the end of the IRA Armed Struggle and the Utility of Soft Power,” Cochrane makes the telling point that hardline Irish-American organizations such as Noraid had nothing like the impact that men like Bill Flynn and Charles Feeney, highly successful businessmen, had on the peace process when they became involved. In early 1993, just as the Northern Ireland issue was beginning to heat up, Bill Flynn made the key decision to become Chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy, a group with great standing in the American foreign policy world. This gave him a powerful independent position, which he was to use to great advantage. “The National Committee brought together a very fine group of foreign policy experts,” Flynn says, “and I believed


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:20 PM

it was a very useful forum for discussions such as we wanted to hear about how peace might come to Ireland or one of the many other trouble spots around the world. I saw it as a great venue for different points of view to be expressed to us.” Since June 12, 1991, Flynn had been aware that a major effort was underway to create a new opening for peace in Northern Ireland using Irish-American influence as a major lever. On that date he had met with a leading Irish-American figure, a close friend and confidant (who asked that his name be kept private) who outlined the strategy to him. It would involve Irish America becoming an honest broker between the Republican movement and the powers that be in America. It was a high-risk strategy but it appealed to Flynn because he could see the logic behind IrishAmerican soft power. “Irish America had never become involved in a direct way, acting as a broker rather than cheerleading one side or the other,” he says now. “This was an outstanding opportunity to think outside the box.” The first crucial test of the new departure occurred when the Americans for a New Irish Agenda (ANIA) as the deputation was known, arrived in Belfast on September 3, 1993. The group consisted of Flynn, businessman Chuck Feeney,

Page 31

LEFT: 9/25/07: New York City. Prime Minister of Britain Tony Blair and Bill Flynn. BELOW: The Loyalist viewpoint is aired at a NCAFP meeting: Left to right: Billy Hutchinson, Joe English, William Flynn, David Ervine, Amb. Angier Biddle Duke and Gary McMichael. OPPOSITE PAGE: Gerry Adams, Bill Flynn with fellow IrishAmerican businessman Chuck Feeney, and Martin McGuinness at Sinn Féin’s Connolly House headquarters in 1997.

“It was smart thinking on their part,” says Flynn. “The Republican movement needed to end their international isolation, and we were the ones who were going to try and help them achieve that.” Prior to their visit North, the group spent two hours in Dublin with new Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Albert Reynolds, who threw everyone else out of the meeting and told the group he was making real progress with his British counterpart John Major and he needed American help to bring Sinn Féin in from the cold.

former Congressman Bruce Morrison, publisher Niall O’Dowd and labor leader Joe Jameson. The election of Bill Clinton had dramatically changed the equation between America and Ireland. Clinton was on record as proposing a far more involved stance on the issue of seeking peace in Ireland. The New Irish Agenda group was about to be the instrument of that. Through a series of secret contacts and long-distance communications, a secret document was produced which outlined the willingness of the IRA to conduct a week-long ceasefire starting at midnight on Friday, September 3, while the American delegation was in Ireland. Their intent was to show the American administration that the IRA were interested in a major outreach to America.

It was the beginning of a great friendship between Flynn and the Prime Minister. “Albert saw things not just as a politician, but also as a successful businessman, which he was before he ever entered politics,” says Flynn. “We connected right away. I loved his straightforward analysis and I think he had a deep affection for America, which really helped.” They also went to see Jean Kennedy Smith, the new U.S. Ambassador to Ireland, and Flynn made another invaluable connection. “She was just getting used to the job,” he remembers. “But I could see she had a lot of determination and she wanted to make a difference.” One of the key meetings was with Loyalist political figures in Belfast and again Flynn found himself meeting an HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 31


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:21 PM

Page 32

August 31, 1994: Awaiting the news of the ceasefire: Bill Barry, Bruce Morrison, Joe Jameson, Bill Lenehan, Niall O’Dowd, Mairead Keane, Martin McGuinness, Lucillea Beathnach, Martin McGinty (obscured from view) and Gerry Adams, at Sinn Féin’s Connolly House, Belfast.

unlikely cast of characters that included Gusty Spence, an icon in Loyalism; David Ervine, Spence’s successor as head of the Progressive Unionist Party, and Gary McMichael who led the political wing of the Ulster Defense Association. “They really opened my eyes and those of our delegation,” Flynn remembers. “They talked about the poverty and depression on the Shankill Road and in the major Loyalist areas. It was a real change to hear their side of it, how they felt Ian Paisley had misled their communities and how they were also bearing the brunt of the violence. They were so articulate and committed, they really made an impression.” It was the beginning of an important relationship for both sides. Bill Flynn took it upon himself to include the Loyalists in every future move he made in Northern Ireland. They deeply appreciated the inclusion after years of exclusion. The meeting with Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness on that trip was the key moment. There was a huge media presence outside the meeting place, but once inside it was all business. “It was a long and very intense meeting,” Flynn remembers. The Americans laid out their strategy 32 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

that every move by the IRA towards peace would be matched by political benefits in the United States, including a visa for Gerry Adams as President Clinton had promised. While the American delegation could not promise such a visa, they made clear they would be ready to fight hard for it. “I was very impressed with Gerry Adams,” Flynn now remembers. “He struck me right away as a man of his word, and there is nothing more important. I have never wavered in that belief since.” The unofficial ceasefire held while the group was in Ireland. From September 3 to September 11 there was no IRA activity. Back in Washington, through the network created by the visiting Americans, the news reached directly into the highest levels of the White House. The first seeds had been sown.

I

n the months that followed, the peace process began to pick up steam. The British government admitted it had conducted secret talks with Sinn Féin, and it was leaked in Ireland that the two governments had been working on a joint declaration plan to push progress in the North.

The American delegation needed to decide on strategy, and at a midtown meeting in a New York pizza parlor, the decision was made to pursue a visa for Gerry Adams. It was a long shot at best. Previous applications had all been turned down. While there was significant contact with the White House, the idea of an Adams visa before an IRA ceasefire was still considered too risky for the new administration. The British Embassy was actively canvassing against any gesture towards Sinn Féin. Bill Flynn had the perfect vehicle, however, as Chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy. He himself had impressive credentials for hosting the event, having sponsored conflict resolution conferences on the Middle East and Ireland previously. His friendship with a clutch of Nobel Prize winners such as Elie Wiesel also gave him enormous credibility. Taking the issue out of its Irish context and placing it in an international dimension was critical. Flynn put the proposal to invite all the Northern Ireland leaders, including Gerry Adams, to come to America and speak at a peace conference to the NCAFP board. Some of the mem-


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:21 PM

Page 33

the irish peacemaker

Above: Consul General Niall Burgess, Peter Hain and Bill Flynn pictured outside Glucksman Ireland House, NYU in June 2008. Above right: 12/3/2007: Ian Paisley and Martin McGuinness pictured with Bill Flynn on the occasion of their joint visit to New York.

bers were highly dubious about inviting an “international terrorist” to speak before them. A few years earlier, Margaret Thatcher had spoken at an NCAFP event. Henry Kissinger was an honorary chairman and made clear he did not like the idea. But Flynn persevered. “It’s important when you commit to something that you give it everything,” he remembers. “I knew it was the right thing to do and I was determined to do it.” Flynn set the date of February 1, 1994, as the conference date and booked the Waldorf-Astoria. He invited all five leaders of the major Northern Ireland parties. The invitation won worldwide headlines. On December 27, Flynn arranged for a full-page ad in The New York Times entitled “Irish Eyes Are Crying for Peace” co-signed by hundreds of leading IrishAmerican business and community leaders. The impact was immediate. “It set the tone,” Flynn remembers. “It created a sense that the Irish issue was one of great concern to leaders all over America.” It was followed a few weeks later by another advertisement in The New York Times entitled, “Peace for Northern Ireland Is Within Their Grasp.” It was from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and featured the five political leaders invited to the conference. The issue had suddenly become mainstream. The Adams visa battle will go down in history as a seminal moment in Irish-

American history. Against the odds, President Bill Clinton eventually sided with Flynn and the NCAFP and allowed Adams a 48–hour visa to come to America. In doing so he defied his own State and Justice Departments, FBI and CIA and key advisors including House Speaker Tom Foley. Jack Farrell of the Boston Globe later wrote about the decision, “It was a case of classic Clinton, of a president who brooded and temporized and weighed the political ups and downs and then followed his heart down a risky path.” For Flynn it was a majestic victory. After Adams arrived, Bill hosted a small party for him in a room at the Waldorf. The media world was full of images of Adams arriving in New York. Flynn himself felt utterly calm despite the whirlwind surrounding him. The conference itself was a huge success, and the images of Gerry Adams speaking at the Waldorf-Astoria with Flynn at his side were flashed worldwide. Also present were John Hume, SDLP leader and future Nobel Prize winner, and Lord John Alderdice, leader of the Alliance Party, both of whom added to the history of the occasion. In his remarks, Flynn promised that Ian Paisley and James Molyneaux, the two Unionist leaders who had refused the invitation, would be invited to come at a time more convenient to them. Within the next few weeks, both had agreed to come

to New York and explain their positions. America was showing Ireland how peace could be made. On March 17 that year the White House threw open its doors and invited leading Irish-Americans from all over the country for a St. Patrick’s hooley. Hollywood celebrities like Michael Keaton, Paul Newman, Joanne Woodward and Richard Harris mixed with Senator Edward Kennedy, Senator George Mitchell and others. At about 11 o’clock President Clinton stood up to say a few words to the assembled 400 when cries of “bravo” rang out and a huge cheer arose. A Clinton staffer remarked that he knew then they had made the right decision on Adams. Bill Flynn, the architect of much that had happened, was there that night, taking in the magnitude of the occasion, but also aware that much was still to be accomplished before the IRA ceasefire that was now on the horizon could be realized. The next few months were full of backand-forth negotiations with Sinn Féin by the American group. Assurances were sought and received, some of which remain private to this day. Flynn made several trips to Ireland, sounding out opinions in Dublin, London and Belfast, and forging friendships in all camps, including good relations with Sir Patrick Mayhew, the Northern Secretary of State, as well as Sir John Stevens, the HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 33


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:22 PM

Page 34

the irish peacemaker

famous head of Scotland Yard. On Thursday, August 25, the New Irish Agenda delegation was back in Dublin. The secret message had come from Sinn Féin that late August was a good time to come over to Ireland. The import was clear – the IRA was about to make a move. They had a meeting in Dublin with Albert Reynolds and his Deputy Prime Minister, Dick Spring. It was clear that a ceasefire was coming, but its length and whether any conditions were attached was not. Flynn himself believed the ceasefire would be open-ended and without conditions. “I felt we could trust Adams on that,” he says. Amid huge media coverage, the New Irish Agenda group arrived in Belfast for their meeting with the Sinn Féin leadership. Once inside the door, Adams told them that the IRA was going to call a complete cessation. “It was one of my greatest moments,” Flynn remembers. “Against all the odds our group had helped achieve something historic and momentous.” A few days later, Flynn was in Dublin when the historic announcement came down. The IRA had declared a complete cessation of operations. “To me that IRA decision was the most natural thing in the world. I looked on it as another good business decision,” Flynn says. “You know, in my business we celebrate great victories and then we’ll have a martini and we’ll go back to work. I felt awfully, awfully good about it, but the arguments were strongly in favor of this being the only reasonable solution.” It was only when talking to his relatives in Northern Ireland that he realized the full import of what he had helped achieve. Six weeks later on October 13, Bill Flynn was accorded the singular honor of being the only Catholic and American present when the Loyalist Combined Military Command met at Lord Carson’s old military compound in Belfast to announce the Loyalist ceasefire. Flynn had been contacted by phone in America and told in coded language to come over. It was an incredible compliment to the Catholic son of a Northern Irish father. 34 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

Bill Flynn, Martin McGuinness, and Bill Flynn, Jr., at an NCAFP luncheon, ‘21’ Club, July 29, 2005.

They invited him to meet them the night before and study the document they had prepared. “What I remember is that in the proposed ceasefire document Gusty Spence and David Ervine had apologized for the harm Loyalists had done over the years. And I remember urging them that they not take that apology out of the statement because it would mean so much to so many of the people of the North and, thus, help make the settlement come more quickly. We went over the statement word for word. The next day Gusty Spence told me, ‘Bill, whatever you do, should there be any cameras around, don’t get yourself in the picture.’ So I sat in an anteroom with a former commander of the Combined Military Command and listened as Gusty Spence, to his great credit, read clearly and forthrightly, the order of ceasefire to all of the Loyalist forces. I was very pleased that they had invited me there. It was one of my proudest moments.” In the years that followed, throughout breakdowns in the ceasefire, new IRA and Loyalist violence, roadblocks in the peace process, and presidential visits to Northern Ireland, Bill Flynn remained a key figure. He ensured that every party, from whatever background, had a forum in America if they wanted to speak. On numerous occasions he personally flew to Northern Ireland to try and help when negotiations hit a snag. A measure of the man is that the British government, Loyalist leaders and nationalists and

Republicans all considered him an honest broker when problems arose. Throughout it all he remained true to his convictions that peace would find a way. He believes the Downing Street Declaration, the first document signed by Albert Reynolds and John Major in December 1993 remains the touchstone of the peace process. It affirmed the right of the people of Northern Ireland to selfdetermination, and that the province would be reunited with the Republic of Ireland if and only if a majority of the people was in favor of such a move. It included for the first time in the history of Anglo-Irish relationships, as part of the prospective of the so-called Irish dimension, the principle that the people of the island of Ireland, North and South, had the exclusive right to solve the issues between North and South by mutual consent. The joint declaration also pledged the governments to seek a peaceful constitutional settlement, and promised that parties linked with paramilitaries (such as Sinn Féin and Loyalists) could take part in the talks, so long as they abandoned violence. “It truly was the cornerstone for the entire process and you can draw a line from there through the Good Friday Agreement to the St. Andrews Agreement which brought about the power sharing government of today,” says Flynn. The North’s troubles are likely coming to an end because of this agreement. Bill Flynn is one man who played an indispensable part. His father would be very proud.


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:23 PM

Page 35

by martin mcguinness

tribute

An Architect of Peace

O

Martin McGuinness, Northern Ireland’s Deputy First Minister, reflects on Bill Flynn’s contribution to peace on the occasion of the Flax Trust Dinner in New York City.

Over the course of many years, enjoy themselves and I think that many people have been given a also, given that we are speaking tremendous amount of credit for to an audience in the United being architects of the peace States of America, it is important process and being involved in to stress that the United States of contributing to the peace America and Irish America have process. Some of them are dubiplayed an incredibly important ous claims but not in the case of role in the development of the Bill Flynn, and I want to make it Irish peace process over the quite clear in the course of this course of many years through contribution that I regard Bill President Clinton and President Flynn as one of the heroes of the Bush and the various envoys that peace process. He stood by the they sent to the North, not least process through thick and thin, Senator George Mitchell who he is my friend, he is someone I was very much involved in the have a tremendous amount of final days of negotiations leading confidence in, he was there with to the Good Friday Agreement. us from the very beginning to Things here have taken off the very end and it was a real joy incredibly and we’re now four having him in Parliament months into the establishment of Buildings on that historic day of these institutions, and the hope May 8th when the institutions of and optimism of the entire compower sharing, the North South munity has never been higher institutions and the British Irish than it is at the moment. Ian institutions went live effectively Paisley and I, as I say, have been for the first time. in government for nearly four I want to acknowledge and months and we meet almost pay tribute to the work done by every day sometimes for three, the Flax Trust in Belfast and four hours a day and there hasn’t indeed throughout the North. been one angry word between the They have contributed wondertwo of us. fully on a process of reconcilia- At a luncheon to celebrate the joint visit of Martin McGuinness I think he has played a remarkIan Paisley to New York in December, 2007, McGuinness tion through economic and and able role in contributing to this presents Bill Flynn with a memento to mark the occasion. social development. It is a regiseffort and I think that there is a tered charity. They do tremenvery definite commitment from dous work and now, in terms of economadmirer of Sr. Mary Turley and Fr. Myles both himself and myself on behalf of the ic regeneration in the communities, are Kavanagh, people who have for all their two largest parties in this administration branching out into areas like the arts, adult lives worked for reconciliation and to ensure that we go from strength to education and business incubation. I peace through providing employment strength. Thank you for contributing to think that’s very very laudable and very and jobs and now their story goes from one of the most successful peace much complementary to the ongoing strength to strength. I’m very proud to processes in the world today. work of Government which we were contribute to what I hope will be a woninvolved in at this time. I’m a huge derful evening, I hope everybody will Go raibh Mait agaibh. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 35


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

tribute

5:23 PM

Page 36

by rev. joseph o’hare

A Man For All Seasons

I

I have always admired Bill from the first days we served on the Board of the College of New Rochelle, and I appreciated his counsel when he served as a Trustee of Fordham University. I admired his pioneering work in developing the initiatives that led to the Good Friday Agreement in Ireland and the possibility of a path to peace in Northern Ireland. Bill exemplifies many of the characteristics of a leader, which is why the naming of this Center is so appropriate. It seems to me that Bill combines several traits that are critical to leadership. He is loyal and dedicated to his own per-

Bill Flynn and his longtime friend, Rev. Joseph O’Hare at the dedication of the William J. Flynn Room at the Mutual of America building.

36 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

On September 21, 2005, Mutual of America dedicated a room in Bill Flynn’s honor. Rev. Joe O’Hare, a longtime friend, marked the occasion with the following remarks. sonal, family, national and religious traditions, but he is also able to reach across borders to others of different traditions and find common cause with them. Similarly, he is respectful of the past and the origins of our deepest commitments, but he is also sensitive to new challenges, able to recognize the pertinence of new questions, willing to question established ways of doing things, if more promising ways seem possible, whether this be the protocols for the St. Patrick’s Day Parade or the need to listen to uncomfortable opinions in our own religious family. He is a wonderful companion at a

meal or a party; he is also a source of strength in times of testing and tragedy. This is a season when there seems to be a crisis of confidence in many of our leaders and institutions: corporate leaders who have deceived the public and indulged their own extravagant tastes; political leaders whose views seem dic-

tated by spin doctors and focus groups; journalists in print or television who seem indifferent to any claim of personal privacy and hardened to the human consequences of their preoccupation with sensationalism. We need people and institutions we can trust. Bill Flynn is and has been a man for all seasons. But he is most especially a man for this season, when we have been too often disappointed in our leaders, in government, in the corporate world and even in our church. We recognize in Bill Flynn a leader we can trust, and for this we are most grateful. Joseph A. O’Hare, S.J. is a New York City civic leader and editor. He was a longtime president of Fordham University and, for a brief period, President of Regis High School, a New York City Jesuit high school.


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:24 PM

Page 37

by cardinal seán brady

tribute

A Man of Faith

F

Cardinal Seán Brady, Archbishop of Armagh and Primate of All Ireland, pays tribute to a man of faith who made a difference in the lives of others.

Few Irish-American Catholics have done more good works in one lifetime than Bill Flynn and have received more gestures of respect and recognition. It has been a privilege and pleasure to know him and to pay him a well-deserved tribute at this time, along with others who have been touched by his life and values: by his sheer goodness and greatness. First and foremost, he has always been a devoted husband to his wife Peg. Together they are the proud parents of four, and grandparents of eleven. Bill has always brought his family honour and pride. In his work life he has made an outstanding contribution to the insurance industry, and through his work Bill has been a catalyst for good not only in New York, but throughout the United States and beyond. Over the years, with energy and enthusiasm, Bill has helped promote countless international, national, local and community-based organizations. Cardinal Seán Brady is pictured here with Irish President Mary McAleese and her husband, One part of the world that has par- Dr. Martin McAleese. ticularly benefited from Bill’s influence and resources has been Northern Ireland. That is something to to promote peace and justice in Northern Flax Trust and its community-based iniwhich I can personally attest. Bill has Ireland have been tireless. He has weltiatives in Northern Ireland have long traveled to Ireland hundreds of times comed significant political figures on been the beneficiaries of Bill’s energetic over the past thirty years. Among his both sides of the conflict in the North, to leadership and financial support. numerous leadership roles, he has been tell their side of the story to an American Bill is also a man of deep personal the longtime Chairman of the National audience – probably the first person in faith, deeply rooted in his Irish ancestry. Committee on American Foreign Policy. the United States to provide such a The Church in Ireland owes him much In truth, his principal international effort forum. for all he has done, and continues to do, has been to inculcate democratic princiNor did Bill forget the importance of to make our world a better place. ples and values into the process of buildassistance to the ordinary people in Ad multos annos! Long may he coning peace and reconciliation in Northern Northern Ireland, Catholic and tinue to grace us with his charismatic Ireland. Bill Flynn’s energies and efforts Protestant, at the community level. The presence. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 37


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

tribute

5:27 PM

Page 38

by dr. robert ivany

A Man of Ideals Dr. Robert Ivany, President of the University of St. Thomas, Houston, writes about Bill Flynn’s dedication to serving others. The university has initiated a campaign to name and strengthen its existing Center for Irish Studies as the William Flynn Center for Irish Studies.

F

For the past several years, I have had the good fortune to observe a great, selfless leader in action. William J. Flynn, Chairman Emeritus of Mutual of America Insurance Company, is a true leader. Bill and I met in 2002, when he was a member of the Distinguished Visitors Board for the U.S. Army War College in Carlisle, Pennsylvania where I served as commandant. I admired his work promoting the peace process in Northern Ireland and his vigorous support for the men and women of our armed forces. Bill successfully promotes the ideals in which he believes. More importantly, he does so with integrity and dedication to serving others. I doubt anyone knows all of his accomplishments, not only because he habitually understates his achievements, but also because he freely

gives credit to all who have worked with him. His contributions to professionalism within the insurance industry, his lauded efforts to bring about lasting peace in Northern Ireland and his willingness to help scores of worthy causes have enriched the lives of men and women in Ireland, Northern Ireland and the United States. Rarely has a citizen of one nation contributed so significantly to the peace and prosperity of another. Bill’s initiatives to enlist the support of Irish-American chief executive officers to promote grass roots dialogue in Northern Ireland and to use his stature to bring opposing sides to the negotiating table have been recognized by former Irish Taoiseach Bertie Ahern, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and countless organizations here and abroad. Much of his work was

“Bill has been a major player in telling the story of Policing in Northern Ireland since I arrived in 2002. He was prepared to listen and then key players in America understood what we were determined to deliver, namely a professional police service to every man, woman and child. Without his help that story would not have been told. I am deeply grateful to him and regard him as a dear friend. I am delighted to see that he is being ensure that the

honoured in this way.”

– Sir Hugh Orde OBE, Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland

38 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

behind the scenes, facilitating cooperation and collaboration. As President of the University of St. Thomas in Houston, I’m proud to honor Bill’s tremendous achievements. In recognition of his contribution, the University of St. Thomas has initiated a campaign to name and strengthen our existing Center for Irish Studies as the William Flynn Center for Irish Studies. Integral to the success of this project are the endowment of the Center and the collection of material relating to the Irish peace process. We are very fortunate to have gained support of donors and friends from all over the United States and Ireland. In addition, St. Thomas organized a group of individuals who value Bill and his achievements. “The Friends of Bill Flynn,” who wish to see his legacy memorialized by nurturing Irish culture in America and promoting the study of Irish history and politics, will continue to meet with Bill and his distinguished guests to discuss the current situation in Northern Ireland and the prospects for peace throughout the world. Bill became associated with St. Thomas through a presentation to the Houston community in 2005. Following his talk entitled “Peace in Northern Ireland: Is it Lasting Peace?” Bill reflected, “When I visited the University of St. Thomas, I was astounded by the vibrancy of its Center for Irish Studies. In partnership with The Irish Society and the


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:27 PM

Page 39

New York University, the University of Notre Dame and Boston College. Through Fulbright, St. Thomas hosted Professor Méadhbh McInerney, an Irish language professor with a master’s degree from University College Cork, to teach on campus for 20062007. In 2007-2008, she served as a visiting scholar in Irish language. In 2008-2009, we will have a new visiting scholar in Irish language and music, Aoife Ni Ghloinn, who has a master’s degree in Irish language and music from Queen’s University, Belfast. We also have received grants from the Irish Government Department of (L to R) University of St. Thomas President Robert R. Ivany, Lori Gallagher, director of the Center Community, Rural and for Irish Studies, with Bill Flynn who spoke at the University in October, 2005. Gaeltacht Affairs to promote the Irish language and provide Houston community, St. Thomas has creobserved the destruction of Irish scholarships and books to students. ated a dynamic focus for appreciating Republican Army weapons and continue To promote peace and reconciliation in Irish heritage and culture as well as proto work on peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland, St. Thomas particimoting peace and reconciliation through Northern Ireland and around the world. pates in the Business Education Initiative the democratic model of Northern The University of St. Thomas is one of program that brings students from uniIreland. I am pleased to be part of this a handful of universities west of the versities in Northern Ireland to faithendeavor.” Mississippi with a minor and a graduate based universities in the United States. The University of St. Thomas Center concentration in Irish Studies and a The program provides students with an for Irish Studies has given particular Center for Irish Studies. Each semester, opportunity to experience other cultures attention to the Irish peace process. Bill’s we offer four to six interdisciplinary while studying business. Donors in papers relating to his role in bringing courses in the Irish peace process, histoIreland and the United States provide about the historic events of the last ry, politics, law and culture, film, theolothese students with tuition. St. Thomas decade are key to enhancing our expertgy, music and the Irish-American experistudents, meanwhile, study abroad in ise on peace building. In addition to ence to undergraduate and graduate stuIreland and Northern Ireland. Bill’s lecture, the University has hosted dents as well as to the community. The University of St. Thomas is dedimany speakers on Northern Ireland, In 2006-2007, the University of St. cated to educating leaders of faith and including Gerry Adams, who spoke on Thomas was chosen to participate in the character. Bill Flynn’s leadership, his the Good Friday Agreement, and Fr. Alec Fulbright Foreign Language Teaching passion for peace and his commitment to Reid and Rev. Harold Good, who were Program to promote the Irish language. social justice serve as an inspiring role the independent clerical witnesses who St. Thomas was in good company with model for students and faculty alike. Dr. Robert Ivany is the president of the University of St. Thomas, a Catholic, Basilian university founded by Irish-born priests in 1947 in the heart of Houston. Ivany came to the university after a 34-year career in the United States Army, from which he retired as a decorated Major General. He presided over the United States Army War College in Carlisle, PA, served as the Army Aide to the President of the United States and an assistant professor of history at the Military Academy at West Point. After completing his Army service in October 2003, he joined the faculty of the Graduate School of Business, Columbia University as an adjunct professor in Executive Education. In addition to earning a Bachelor of Science degree from the U.S. Military Academy, he received a Ph.D. in History from the University of Wisconsin in Madison. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 39


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:28 PM

Page 40

»»»»» William J. Flynn:

In His Own Words The Holocaust: A Modern Perspective The Holocaust illustrates that we are all capable of inhumanity in the name of specious and superficial authorities, and that once such rationalizations takes hold, few there are who can stand in the face of such tidal waves of mass deception, hysteria or insanity. Yet, we must remember that there were some who kept their heads. In Israel, on the grounds of Yad Vashem, the national memorial to the 6 million Jewish victims of the Holocaust, there is another memorial. It is a grove of trees for each of the “Gentiles of Righteousness” who helped Jews in the years of terror and murder during the Holocaust. The grove is large, but not large enough. There were simply not enough Good Samaritans in those days for reasons of fear and passivity. But we are still finding some. In Toronto earlier this year, a 70 year-old man gave quiet testimony to the reason he helped Jews in Germany almost 40 years ago. He said simply . . . “I helped because that is what

a good person should have done.” What of the future and the search for the good that is in us all? The shadow of the past hangs over us still. There have been genocides of a kind in Cambodia and Uganda; there are atrocities in Northern Ireland and bombings of synagogues in Paris. Too often these days, a version of the “final solution” has become the usual solution for other people besides the Jews. That’s the point we should ponder. Clearly, the historic memory of man must be made to sharpen his contemporary conscience and sensitivity in the interest of peace and justice for all people throughout the world. If one is vulnerable, all are vulnerable. Excerpted from “The Holocaust: A Modern Perspective,” address by William J. Flynn on October 16, 1980 on the occasion of his receipt of the Brandeis University Distinguished Community Service Award.

The Spirit of Voluntarism in America Alexis de Tocqueville came to America in the 1830’s to study prisons, but in time he wrote that perceptive and prophetic description of the meaning of the American experience, Democracy in America. He observed our instinct for community, our universal concern for each other, our sense of common purpose. This commitment to community, de Tocqueville found to be the most distinctive aspect of the American tradition. Our political institutions were organized in ways that permitted wide participation. That was extremely important, but not unique. He found that our budding commercial institutions were organized along free enterprise lines. That too was significant, but Adam Smith’s precepts were already well known. What astonished de Tocqueville was another much more indistinctive American impulse – to join together voluntarily where there was a job to be done. He saw the beginnings of what was to become America’s great third sector, her voluntary sector, independent of both government and commerce. De Tocqueville believed that America might become the first nation in world history to achieve all three of mankind’s historic ambitions at the same time – a society that was free, prosperous, and responsive to human needs. It would be free because its government was limited; prosperous because it was free; and responsive because it could focus its prosperity and leisure on common human needs through its voluntary institutions. That, I think, is what we mean when we talk about the American dream. Excerpted from “The Renaissance in The Spirit of Voluntarism” an address by William J. Flynn to the American Cancer Society Convention, in New Orleans, July 23, 1985. 40 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

The Peace Process in Northern Ireland I speak to you not as a politician, nor as a would-be diplomat, but as an American businessman of Irish heritage whose parents were driven from Ireland by poverty and lack of opportunity. Also, understand that, while the work undertaken to promote a peaceful resolution to the difficulties in Northern Ireland over the years resulted in my developing close personal relationships with leaders of Sinn Féin as well as the leaders of the political wing of the Loyalist paramilitary organizations, I have always sailed under one flag, viz., that Ireland should be unified but only at such time as the majority of the people in Northern Ireland, as well as those of the whole island, agreed. The people of Ireland must learn to live with their deepest differences. They must learn to resolve their differences peacefully. Although of two traditions, the people have much more in common than they have in difference. Further, they must learn to respect not only what they have in common but also those things about which they may differ. The Loyalist paramilitary forces, in their cease-fire statement, put it well when they said, “Let’s firmly resolve to respect our differing views of freedom, culture and aspiration, and never again permit our political circumstances to degenerate into bloody warfare.” Excerpted from “The Peace Process in Northern Ireland” an address by William J. Flynn on January 15, 1997, on accepting the Initiative for Peace Award from the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:29 PM

Page 41

tributes

“I would describe Bill as a giant of a man in every respect: family, faith, friends, community and the industry. The guy has been everywhere in all those key areas. “He has made certain to remain loyal to his Irish roots. Without his advocacy of the peace effort in Ireland, we would most likely still be dealing with the Troubles. He brought over Gerry Adams to the Waldorf for the first time. I don’t think any private American has done for peace in Ireland what Bill has done. He has been respectful to all sides of the divide, brought everyone over, and had numerous meetings and lunches with everyone. “From a business standpoint, I don’t think I have met many people in my life with the accomplishments that Bill has. He can legitimately be considered a legend in the life insurance business. He resuscitated a dormant company (National Health and Welfare) about 3540 years ago and turned it into Mutual of America, and made it one of the nation’s leading life insurance companies. He made Tom Moran his successor, a wise choice. Tom has continued

in Bill’s path as a major player in the industry. “Bill is always reaching out to the less gifted among us to make their lives better. I don’t think I have found a better person or friend in my eight decades on earth. I have nothing but good things to say about Bill Flynn. The fact that I had some impact on his interest in getting involved with the Troubles, once he caught wind of what was going on he did not put a toe in the pool, he dove in head first and he made a lot of things happen. I just have the highest respect for Bill. You are talking to one of his biggest fans.” – John F.X. “Jack” Mannion, Chairman of Unity Mutual Life Insurance Company. Bill Flynn credited Jack Mannion, pictured above with Tom Moran (lft.) Gerry Adams and Bill, with challenging him to find a solution to the Troubles.

“Where most people believed it would never happen, Bill never wavered in his commitment to achieve peace. It took an inordinate amount of his personal time to go back and forth to Ireland with all of the meetings he attended with all of the stakeholders in the process — he kept them focused on peace. When people talk about Bill Flynn, besides being a very successful businessman, they will think about his role in the peace process. I met Bill through business circles and Irish associations. We have both been grand marshals in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade and have gotten to know each other very well. This past May we were both in Ireland for the economic summit that was held in Northern Ireland. It was the first time I was in Northern Ireland with him and it was amazing to see the amount of respect that people had for him over there, it came from both sides. To witness this firsthand was amazing and rewarding for me.”

“Bill Flynn never stops impressing those who know him. His positive, helpful nature and special warmth make him a great friend of everyone. His commitment to good causes and Ireland resulted in his playing an early and critical role in bringing the parties together in the North. He is widely admired both for his contribution to the peace process and for his modesty in eschewing any credit for it.” – U.S. Ambassador to Ireland Thomas Foley

– Edward J. Molloy, president of the Building Trades Council. HERITAGE SERIES IRISH AMERICA 41


IA.SI.Flynn.3.FINAL.qxd

12/2/08

5:29 PM

last word

Page 42

by patricia harty

The Courage to Try

W

42 IRISH AMERICA HERITAGE SERIES

party conference, because he wanted to send back the message to Irish America that “it was time for talks – time to find a political way forward.” What struck me about that second meeting with Bill was his ability to listen. He had already been contacted by Niall O’Dowd and asked to get involved in bringing the Troubles to an end. He not only got involved, he brought his considerable weight as a corporate leader to bear in legitimizing a new way forward – one that would move Northern Ireland away from the bomb and towards the ballot box. And in his capacity as Chairman of the non-governmental National Committee on American Foreign Policy, he helped bring about the IRA ceasefire by helping to procure a U.S. visa for Adams. Through it all, he never lost that ability to listen. Perhaps the most important thing he did was provide a forum, most often at lunches at Mutual of America, at which leaders, community and otherwise, from across the Northern Irish divide, got to air their grievances and tell their side of the story. On a personal note, I have enjoyed many lunches with Bill Flynn over the years, and have come to know the Irish firebrand as a friend. He is a great storyteller, and one personal story of his which struck a chord was how his father would bring people home for meals during the Depression. When Bill asked him, with a young kid’s curiosity, why

his neighbor was eating at their house more often than his own, he was told, simply, “because I have a job and he doesn’t.” Bill’s father was from County Down – he had known the Troubles; Bill’s mother was from County Mayo, a beautiful but poor county, which was decimated during the Irish Famine. Last year, when I was driving through County Mayo, on that beautiful but haunting and unpopulated road between Louisburg and Delphi, I took the photo on the page opposite. There’s a “terrible beauty,” to borrow a line from Yeats, about that landscape. During the famine several hundred people from Louisburg set out for Delphi Lodge to entreat the Board of Guardians for food – a distance of 12 miles. They were turned away by the “Guardians” so they set out on the journey home, walking, cold and emaciated. A storm blew up and many died that night – some were blown into the lake at Doolough pictured right. The beauty and tragedy of Ireland is in our DNA – in the best of circumstances it allows us to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. In Bill Flynn’s case the empathy he learned at his parents’ table is what made him the kind of person who did not turn his head away from the Troubles. “One person can make a difference and each person should try.” Bill not only tried – he succeeded. PHOTO: KIT DE FEVER

Whenever I think of Bill Flynn, I think of that quote attributed to John F. Kennedy: “One person can make a difference and each person should try.” Bill Flynn did make a difference, and how he tried. He was fearless in his attention to Northern Ireland and intrepid in his belief that with Irish-American help the “Troubles” could be brought to an end. Looking back now, I’m amazed at his audacity. As a corporate business leader his reputation was everything. He had built his company from the ground up and he was putting it all on the line – for a country that he wasn’t born into, wasn’t running for political office in, and didn’t have any business interests in – a country that his parents had left a long time ago. So many people turned their backs on the Troubles. Bill never did. I first met Bill in 1990 at an Irish America Business 100 lunch at the 21 Club; he was one of our honorees. My first impression was that he was not someone you took lightly – he has a commanding presence. My next meeting with him, shortly thereafter, was again over lunch. I had just come back from interviewing Gerry Adams and Bill was interested in getting my take on Adams. And I told him – about the Sinn Féin office in Belfast with its intimidating bullet-proof door and security camera, the narrow stairs that took me to the meeting room with its mismatched furniture, the pot of tea and biscuits, and how Adams had patiently answered my questions, spending more time with me than was scheduled even as he was preparing for an upcoming


insidebackcover.1 .qxd

11/25/08

2:02 PM

Page 1

“One person can make a difference and each person should try.� - J.F.K.

One man did make a difference and that man was William J. Flynn


backcover.4 .qxd

11/25/08

12:55 PM

Page 1

“No pessimist ever set foot on Ellis Island, no pessimist ever crossed the prairies, and no pessimist ever built cities from one end of the continent to another. These things were done by people with vision and hope.” –– William William J.J. Flynn Flynn

Profile for Irish America Magazine

Irish America Heritage Series  

Irish America Heritage Series