A tribute to some of the fine Irish-Americans who touched our lives
Of the thousands of men and women who have given their lives in the conflicts in Afghanistan and Iraq, the deaths of three young Irish-Americans from the New York area brought home the terrible price of war. The funeral of Captain John F. McKenna took place on August 25 at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Brooklyn. McKenna was born in Windsor Terrace, Brooklyn and went to Bishop Ford Catholic High School. In 1998, he joined the Marine Corps, continuing a family tradition that included his grandfather and uncle, who died in WWII. John was killed alongside fellow Irish-American Lance Corporal Michael D. Glover, 28, in Fallujah, Iraq on August 15. Lance Corporal Glover, from Rockaway, New York, was a nephew of former FDNY Chief Pete Hayden’s wife Rita. Sergeant James J. Regan, 26, of Manhasset, New York, died February 9, 2007, in northern Iraq of wounds suffered when an improvised explosive device detonated near his vehicle while he was on combat patrol. Regan excelled in lacrosse at Chaminade High School and at Duke University before he joined the U.S. Army Rangers. At a service on February 16, he was remembered by his parents, sisters, fiancée and teammates, as the ultimate team man, for his undertakings on and off the field. “You couldn’t ask for a better person” said Jack Moran, who coached Regan in high school. Regan was the third Chaminade High School grad to die in Iraq and the second Duke athlete from Long Island to die there. Marine Lieutenant Matthew Lynch, 25, of Jericho, was killed by a roadside bomb on October 30, 2004. The total number of combat deaths in the U.S. armed forces as of February, 2007, is 3,150.
John Anthony “Johnny” Gibson, a former world-record holder in the 400-meter hurdles, died in January, 2007. He was 101. Gibson, who was born in Greenwich Village, New York, moved to New Jersey when he was 6 months old. He was 5 when his father died. He attended Bloomfield High School (N.J.) and then Fordham University at night, working days as a messenger on Wall Street, and training whenever he found the time, using park benches as hurdles. In 1927, Gibson won the college 400-meter hurdles in the Penn Relays in 55.2 seconds, beating Lord David Burghley of Britain. After the race, some officials tried to have Gibson disqualified contending that he was ineligible because he was a night student at Fordham. The matter was dropped when Burghley said that Gibson won fairly and he would not accept the first-place medal no matter what they ruled. That same year in London, Burghley set a world record of 54.2 seconds. Gibson broke Burghley’s record and set a new world record of 52.6 at the national championships in Lincoln, Nebraska on the same day. After coaching Fordham’s freshman track team in the mid-1930’s, Gibson moved on to Seton Hall where he coached from 1946 until he retired in 1972. His best athletes included Andy Stanfield, a sprinter who won two Olympic gold medals. Gibson, himself, narrowly missed qualifying for the final of the 400-meter hurdles at the 1928 Olympics, after which the demands of work forced him to quit racing. He is survived by two sons, three daughters, a sister, 19 grandchildren, 46 great-grandchildren, and five great-great-grandchildren. His wife of 67 years, the former Dorothy Croughan, died in 1997.
Everybody Loves Raymond star Peter Boyle, died on December 12, 2006. He was 71. The versatile actor, who played Raymond’s dad, Frank Barone, on the long-running comedy series, had been suffering from multiple myeloma and heart disease. Boyle, whose father, Peter Sr., was a TV personality in Philadelphia, was born in Norristown, Pennsylvania, on October 18, 1935 to a staunchly Irish Catholic family. Before becoming an actor Boyle spent three years with the Christian Brothers during the 1950s. “I prayed so hard I had calluses on my knees,” he said in an interview with Entertainment Weekly. Boyle made his mark in such unforgettable films as Taxi Driver, The Candidate and Young Frankenstein. He also appeared in NYPD Blue and won an Emmy for a guest appearance on The X-Files. But he will be best remembered for the cantankerous patriarch he played on Everybody Loves Raymond, for which he received seven Emmy nominations. Ray Romano said, “The fact that he could play a convincing curmudgeon on the show, but in reality be such a compassionate and thoughtful person, is a true testament to his talent…I feel very lucky to have known and shared great experiences with Peter, and I will miss him forever.” A devoted family man, Boyle is survived by his wife Lorraine Alterman, and two daughters, Lucy and Amy.
Dennis Duggan, one of the most beloved and respected members of the “Mick clique,” a generation of New York City pavement-pounding Irish journalists, passed away on April 20, 2006. He was 78. He died in St. Vincent’s Hospital after a long illness. Duggan’s parents, Irish immigrants, Michael and Anne, settled in Detroit before their son came East and landed a $42-a-week copyboy job at The Daily Mirror. After stints at The New York Times and the Daily News, Duggan joined Newsday in 1967, where since 1985 he penned the “About New York” column, which he used to report on the best and worst that the city had to offer. He wrote about the mighty and the modest, and was a strong defender of working people, particularly firefighters and cops. His last column, published Feb. 28, 2006, was about a man who lost his son on 9/11 who, like Duggan, had come to question the war in Iraq. “When I visited him at St. Vincent’s, he quoted Yeats and the McCourt brothers, and he joked about his own bad luck,” Police Commissioner Ray Kelly, told Newsday. “He left his visitors smiling.”
Irish America lost one of its finest actors on July 11, 2006 when Barnard Hughes died in New York City, just six days before his 91st birthday. The Tony and Emmy-award-winning actor featured in a host of movies including Midnight Cowboy, The Lost Boys and The Cradle Will Rock, and more than 400 Broadway shows. But he is best remembered for his starring role in Da, the first Irish play to win a Tony Award. The play, by Hugh Leonard, which opened on Broadway in 1978, tells the story of a New York playwright who goes back to Ireland to bury his father and is visited by his ghost. The New York Times described Hughes’ portrayal of the father as “masterly in the role of a lifetime, working with every jewel in place.” Born in Bedford Hills, New York to Irish immigrant parents, Hughes made his Broadway debut in 1935 in Herself Mrs. Patrick Crowley. After serving in the U.S. Army in World War II, Hughes returned to acting. He received a Best Featured Actor Tony nomination for his 1973 performance as Dogberry in Much Ado About Nothing, but would wait another five years for his career-defining role in Da. Hughes’ last Broadway appearance was in 1999 in Noel Coward’s Waiting in the Wings. Hughes is survived by his wife, Helen Stenborg, his son, Doug Hughes, an acclaimed director who won a Tony Award for his direction of John Patrick Shanley’s Doubt, a daughter Laura Hughes, and a grandson Samuel Hughes Rubin.
Tom Manton, a former New York City councilman and U.S. congressman who was chairman of the influential Queens Democratic organization for 20 years, passed away on July 22, 2006. He was 73. An old-school politician, who was a police officer and a Marine before becoming a lawyer, Representative Manton made sure his own people were looked after and that New York interests were kept high on the priority list. He was also a very proud Irishman who traced his family roots back to County Galway. Whenever Irish issues surfaced over the years, Manton, whose parents were Irish immigrants, was there in Congress, especially on Northern Ireland; he was a fearless advocate for Irish unity. At the White House St. Patrick’s Day celebrations a few years ago, he spoke to Niall O’Dowd, of the I.R.A. ceasefire, and Gerry Adams U.S. visit. “You know, I have spent a lifetime in politics,” he told O’Dowd, “and that was one of my greatest days. That we could do something like this for the country where my people came from was one of my proudest moments.”
Kenneth McCabe, a legend among crime fighters, died on February 19, 2006, after a year-long battle with cancer. He was 59. McCabe was a member of the New York Police Department for 18 years, and then for 20 years worked as an organized crime investigator for the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan. He spent years conducting surveillance of the mob, and his work provided the groundwork for dozens of successful prosecutions, including those of the late mob boss John Gotti and his brother Peter, that have left New York City’s Mafia families weakened to the point of extinction. Patrick J. Fitzgerald, the special prosecutor in the Valerie Plame/Lewis Libby leak investigation, who worked with McCabe in Manhattan, was quoted in The New York Times, saying: “If you went to ask him a name of somebody involved in organized crime, not only did he know the person, but he might have arrested him once or twice, or been to his house.” McCabe’s professionalism and courteous manner won him the respect of colleagues and even the mobsters he arrested. Mob informant Michael (Mikey Scars) DiLeonardo paid tribute to McCabe during his testimony at John A. (Junior) Gotti’s federal kidnapping trial a couple of weeks after McCabe’s death. Asked to identify a surveillance shot, DiLeonardo guessed that it was probably taken by McCabe. “He was relentless,” DiLeonardo said. McCabe, who stood 6-feet, 6-inches, was reared in Park Slope, Brooklyn and attended Cathedral High School before playing power forward for Loyola College in Maryland. He is survived by his wife, Kathleen Moriarty, whom he married in 1968; three daughters, Kerry, Kristen and Kelly (a prosecutor in the office of the Brooklyn district attorney), a son Kenneth Jr., sisters Rosemary and Anne Marie, brothers John and James, and five grandchildren. ♦