An Irish Blessing
Alumnus Continues to Fight for a Lasting Peace in Ireland
Optimism, faith and an unwavering devotion to his family's Irish heritage have inspired Willian J. Flynn, GSAS '51, to commit the better part of a lifetime to ending the violent conflict in Northern Ireland.
"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," said Flynn, one of the key architects of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. "These things were done by people with vision and hope"
When two friends approached the ever-optimistic Flynn about helping to raise money for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), he recognized a monumental opportunity to help begin the long journey towards peace. Instead of funding the group's continued buildup of arms, he decided to work directly with Sinn Féin, the Irish political arm often associated with the IRA, to put an end to the violence.
At his own expense, Flynn sponsored a series of advertisements in The New York Times titled “Irish eyes are crying for peace,” to help raise awareness about the centuries-old conflict.
His efforts eventually paid off. In 1994, he attended both the IRA and Loyalist ceasefire announcements. He was the only witness involved in the peace process to attend both announcements.
“Bill Flynn has shown such great devotion, affection and commitment to the land of his forebears, Ireland,” wrote Irish President Mary McAleese in a message published in a recent issue of Irish America Magazine. “His contribution to the Peace Process in Northern Ireland has been simply immense.”
Since then, Flynn has worked tirelessly to encourage dialogue among opposing political leaders as chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.
Recently, he received an honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen
Elizabeth II in recognition of his exceptional contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He was also the inaugural recipient of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy’s Initiative for Peace Award.
The same diplomacy that has enabled him to steer peace efforts in Ireland has also driven Flynn’s successful career in the business world, leading Mutual of America as president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board for nearly three decades.
In 1994, the Life Insurance Council of New York recognized Flynn as the industry’s most outstanding CEO of the past 25 years.
Flynn credits the foundations in theology, philosophy and language he received throughout his education, particularly at Fordham, for preparing him for a life of learning.
“I gained respect for the world, along with some idea of the problems and some idea of the solutions,” he said about his experience at Fordham. “You need to listen to others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. I’ve spent a whole lifetime listening and learning.”
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