William J. Flynn, GSAS ’51
William J. Flynn is a 1951 alumnus of Fordham’s Graduate School of Arts and Sciences.
Optimism, faith and an unwavering devotion to his family’s Irish heritage have inspired William J. Flynn 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,” says Flynn, chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy and 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 toward peace. Instead of funding the group’s continued build-up 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 events. “Bill Flynn has shown such great devotion, affection and commitment to the land of his forebears,” 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.”
The same sense of diplomacy and devotion has driven Flynn’s successful career in the business world. For nearly three decades, he led Mutual of America as president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board. 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 journey of lifelong learning. “I gained respect for the world, along with some idea of the problems and some idea of the solutions,” he says about his experiences 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.”