Recent passings in the Irish America community
John W. Finn
John W. Finn, World War II veteran and Medal of Honor recipient, died on May 27 in Chula Vista, California. He was 100. Finn was the last survivor of the fifteen Navy men who received the Medal of Honor for their service during the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and had been the oldest living recipient of the medal.
Born on July 23, 1909 in Los Angeles, Finn dropped out of school after the seventh grade and enlisted in the Navy when he was seventeen.
Already a fifteen-year veteran of the Navy, Finn was at home with his wife Alice on December 7, 1941 when he heard the sound of machine guns just outside Kaneohe Bay Naval Air Station. Finn quickly drove to the station and spent the next two and a half hours firing at Japanese planes that were part of the attack on Pearl Harbor. He was hospitalized with serious injuries the following afternoon. On September 15, 1942, Chief Finn received the Medal of Honor aboard the USS Enterprise in Pearl Harbor.
Finn retired from the Navy in 1956 with the rank of Lieutenant and moved to a cattle ranch in Pine Valley, California. He is survived by a son, Joseph.
– Aliah O’Neill
Gerald W. Heaney
Midwestern federal appeals court judge Gerald Heaney died June 22 at age 92. He served more than four decades on the bench and championed the desegregation of schools. Beginning in 1981, Heaney wrote 27 opinions that oversaw the integration of schools in St. Louis. In 1967, he wrote the 1967 ruling that reversed a lower court’s decision to dismiss complaints of racial discrimination in schools in Altheimer, Arkansas. Heaney also authored a decision that granted school newspapers First Amendment protection, which the Supreme Court overturned.
A well-known liberal, Heaney’s views were shaped by his upbringing in Goodhue, Minnesota, where his father William owned a butcher shop and provided for the hungry during the Depression. Heaney graduated from the University of Minnesota and earned his law degree there in 1941, then enlisted in the Army and served as a first lieutenant. He became involved in local politics and joined the Democratic-Farmer-Labor party, and was nominated by President Lyndon Johnson in 1966 to the United States Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit.
Heaney is survived by his wife, son, daughter, sister, six grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren.
– Kara Rota
Known as a vibrant and adventurous Hollywood personality, producer Peter Keefe passed away at his sister’s home on May 27th. The Rochester native was best known for his work on the Voltron series and often credited as the inspiration for Pokemon and Power Rangers.
– Tara Dougherty
Actress Rue McClanahan, famous for her role as Blanche Devereaux in The Golden Girls, died June 3 at age 76. She died at New York Presbyterian hospital of a brain hemorrhage.
Born Eddi-Rue McClanahan (a composite of her parents’ names: Rheua-Nell and William Edwin) in Healdton, Oklahoma, she was of Choctaw and Irish heritage. Her paternal grandparents, Zebbin and Fannie McClanahan, said that Rue had her grandmother’s “Copeland eyes,” referring to the Copeland islands in the Irish Sea, north of Co. Down.
McClanahan graduated with honors from the University of Tulsa, having majored in drama, and moved to New York to study acting and ballet. She performed onstage in Pennsylvania, California and New York, where her Broadway debut was in Jimmy Shine, starring Dustin Hoffman. She got some experience in TV work on All in the Family in 1972 and Maude, then was cast as the youngest member of the Golden Girls, which hit the number one spot during its pilot episode in 1985. It remained in the top 10 for six seasons, and McClanahan won an Emmy for outstanding lead actress in a comedy series in 1987. The show ended in 1992, after which McClanahan appeared in movies and on Broadway. McClanahan’s autobiography, My First Five Husbands…and the Ones Who Got Away, was published in 2007.
– Kara Rota
Harold W. McGraw Jr.
Harold W. McGraw Jr., president and CEO of McGraw-Hill during the 1970s and ’80s, died on March 24 at his home in Darien, Connecticut. He was 92.
Born in Brooklyn on January 10, 1918, McGraw grew up hearing about his family’s company from his father and grandfather, James H. McGraw, who entered the publishing business in the 1880s. McGraw Jr. graduated from Princeton University in 1940 and was a captain in the Army Air Force during World War II. After working in advertising and book retailing, he joined the family business in 1947 as a sales representative. McGraw worked his way through the ranks and became chief executive in 1975, leading McGraw-Hill through a period of expansion during his eight years in the post. Under his guidance, company revenues reached over $1 billion in 1980 for the first time.
McGraw retired in 1988 at age 70 but remained active in the publishing world, serving 25 years on the board of the Princeton University Press and 16 as president. McGraw is survived by a son, Robert, and daughter, Suzanne, as well as eight grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.
– Aliah O’Neill