Recent Passings in the Irish American Community
Harold Connolly, who won the gold medal in the hammer throw at the 1956 Melbourne Olympics, died in Maryland on August 19. He was 79. His son Adam Connolly reported that he died of a heart attack.
After suffering from severe nerve paralysis as a child, Connolly underwent serious physical therapy and began a training regimen of strength conditioning, weight lifting and athletic activity at Brighton High School in Massachusetts, and Boston College.
A four-time Olympian, he set American, world and Olympic records in the hammer throw. After winning his gold medal in Melbourne, Connolly began a romantic relationship with Czechoslovakian gold medalist in discus throwing, Olga Fikotová. They married in a public ceremony in Prague, but divorced in 1974.
After an illustrious career as a competitive athlete, Connolly coached throwing at Georgetown and Boston universities. He was the executive director of U.S. programs for the Special Olympics from 1988-1999.
A statue of Connolly by sculptor Pablo Eduardo has stood in Brighton since 2005. Survivors include his wife of 35 years, Pat Winslow Connolly, and six children from his two marriages. – KR
Denis E. Dillon
Denis E. Dillon, the long-standing District Attorney of Nassau County, died early on the morning of August 15 at his home in Rockville Center after a long battle with lymphoma.
Dillon was first elected as Nassau County District Attorney in 1974 as a Democrat, but then switched to the Republican party in 1989 in support of its anti-abortion stance. He continued to serve as the D.A. until 2005, overseeing many notable cases. He was considered unique among his peers for holding firmly to his personal beliefs, sometimes even at the cost of his political aspirations.
Born in 1933 in the Bronx, Dillon also lived in Woodlawn, N.Y., Arlington, Va and Rockaway Beach, N.Y. He attended Fordham Law School and worked as a police officer in New York City while studying for his degree. Dillon was a devoted Roman Catholic and is remembered by family and friends as loving Irish music, culture, and limericks. He is survived by his wife Anne and their two daughters, Barbara and Anne Marie. – SL
Mick Lally, one of the most widely known actors in Ireland, died in hospital on August 31 after a brief illness. As an actor, Lally was most famous for his long run as Miley Byrne on the TV show Glenroe, and for his roles on the BBC’s Ballykissangel and Ballroom of Romance. More recently, he starred in Oliver Stone’s Alexander and was the voice of Aidan the monk in the Oscar-nominated The Secret of Kells.
Off screen, Lally was a key figure in Irish theater. After a few years teaching history and Irish, Lally founded the famous Druid Theater Company with Garry Hines and Marie Mullen in 1975. His stage career really took off when he was cast in the 1981 premiere of Brian Friel’s Translations. He went on to be in over twenty productions at the Abbey Theater. Fluent in Irish, he was also in many Irish-language performances and films, and the TV series Ros na Rún. Everyone from his fellow Druid members to Taioseach Brian Cowen has expressed their sadness over Lally’s death and their great admiration for his work.
Lally was born in Tourmakeady, Co. Mayo and was the eldest of seven siblings. He is survived by his wife, Peggy, and their three children, Sailego, Darach, and Maghnus. – SL
When New York City-native Bill McCabe sought the position of street cleaner in 1940, the physical component of the application was known as the “Superman test.” Shocking the Sanitation Department and the media, McCabe received a 100, the only recorded instance of a perfect score. He died at age 90 on July 17 at his home in Bethpage, NY.
Born William Joseph McCabe on March 31, 1920 in the Bronx, he was the son of William and Nora McCabe. His father was a construction worker and trained him in lifting weights, according to McCabe’s son, Kevin. In 1940, McCabe joined 68,000 men applying for the street cleaner position, which paid $35 a week. The sanitation department, looking to fill only 2,000 available positions, tested applicants with an extremely rigorous physical test, far from the easier version used today.
McCabe’s test included lifting a 120-pound trashcan to a 4-foot-6-inch ledge and lifting a 60-pound barbell placed behind his head while on his back. He also broad-jumped over 8 feet, jumped a 3-foot hurdle, climbed an 8-foot fence and vaulted another four-feet-six-inches during a run, all of which he finished in 10.8 seconds. In a separate test, he ran 120 yards carrying two 50-pound dumbbells in 25 seconds. His unheard-of perfect score caught the attention of the media, with The New York Times dubbing him the “Perfect Man” in a June 13, 1940 headline.
McCabe only stayed with the job for about a year, moving on to become a police officer and then a firefighter. However, he continued to stay in shape for the rest of his life, playing semipro baseball, tennis and golf. He also played racquetball twice a week until he was 82. McCabe is survived by his wife of 64 years, Margaret; two sons; two daughters; five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. – AO’N
Oscar-winning actress Patricia Neal died August 8 at her home in Edgartown, Massachusetts. She had a dazzling career on stage and screen that showcased her lifelong passion for acting. Born Patsy Lou Neal in the coal mining town of Packard, Kentucky, Neal attended Northwestern University as a drama major and left for New York when she heard that the Theater Guild was looking for a tall girl to star in Eugene O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten. O’Neill was impressed with her acting and she had soon found success on Broadway. Before age 21, she scored a Tony, a Donaldson Award and a New York Drama Critics for her debut in Another Part of the Forest, and appeared on the cover of Life magazine. With a Warner Brothers contract, she was off to Hollywood to star opposite Ronald Reagan in John Loves Mary and to play the lead in The Fountainhead, based on Ayn Rand’s novel. Neal fell in love with Gary Cooper, who played opposite her, and their affair lasted for three years. Neither movie did well in box offices. Neal starred in several more movies before her contract with Warner Brothers was broken and she was back on Broadway to star in Lillian Hellman’s The Children’s Hour in 1952. Through Hellman, Neal met childrens’ author Roald Dahl, who she married in 1953. Their thirty-year marriage suffered several tragedies, including the brain damage of their four-month-old son Theo in a traffic accident and the death of their daughter Olivia at age 7.
Neal experienced a comeback at the end of the 1950s in more Broadway productions and performances on the big screen opposite John Wayne, including Hud, for which Neal won the best actress Oscar. But at age 39 and pregnant with her fifth child, Neal began experiencing strokes that would leave her in a temporary coma and take away her abilities to walk and speak, which she regained through Dahl’s harsh determination that she would recover. In 1983, Neal and Dahl were divorced when she uncovered an extensive affair he had maintained with one of her close friends. Dahl died in 1990.
Neal focused on fundraising for brain-damaged individuals in her later life. She is survived by her four children, a brother, a sister, ten grandchildren and step grandchildren and one great-grandchild. – KR
Jack O’Connell, the CIA station chief in Amman, Jordan who became King Hussein’s diplomatic advisor and later his personal lawyer, died July 12 of congestive heart failure in Arlington County, Virginia. He was 88.
Jack O’Connell was born John William O’Connell on August 18, 1921 in Flandreau, South Dakota. He began his higher education at University of Notre Dame, where he played defensive end on a football scholarship until a car accident left him unable to play. He then transferred to Georgetown University where he graduated from the School of Foreign Service in 1946 after a serving in the army during World War II. O’Connell received his law degree in 1948 and immediately joined the CIA, which sent him to the University of the Punjab in Pakistan on a Fulbright scholarship. There he received a master’s degree in Islamic law in 1952. He also received a doctorate in international law from Georgetown in 1958.
O’Connell’s first encounter with King Hussein occurred in 1958 when he traveled to Jordan on his first foreign CIA assignment to stop a coup attempt on the king’s throne. His success in foiling the attempt led to a friendship that would last decades. As station chief of Jordan from 1963-1971, one of O’Connell’s top priorities was to help expand the powers of the Jordanian intelligence service throughout the 70s with CIA funding. Today, Jordan is still considered one of America’s most important allies in the Middle East due to its strong intelligence service.
Well-known in Jordan, the tough Midwesterner once tripped and broke his leg walking out of the Jordanian Foreign Ministry. When someone suggested that he see a doctor, O’Connell replied, “Irishmen don’t wear casts,” and simply used a cane until the broken leg healed.
O’Connell retired from the CIA by 1972 and moved back to the U.S., but his relationship with Hussein remained strong. He was Hussein’s personal lawyer and political advisor until the king’s death in 1999.
O’Connell is survived by two children from his first marriage, Kelly and Sean, who both live in Virginia. He is also survived by a grandson. O’Connell’s memoir is set to be published in 2011. – AO’N
Paul Ryan Rudd
Paul Ryan Rudd, a notable stage and television actor from the 1970s and 80s, died on August 12 at his home in Greenwich, Connecticut due to pancreatic cancer.
Rudd’s acting career began in his late twenties, following an amicable departure from the Roman Catholic seminary where he had been studying to join the priesthood. He started off working with regional theater companies and then made his Broadway debut in 1974.
His memorable performances included lead roles in Eugene O’Neill’s Ah! Wilderness, a revival of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, and a 1976 production of Romeo and Juliet. His television credits ranged from the role of an Irish chauffeur on Beacon Hill to playing John F. Kennedy in the NBC movie Johnnie We Hardly Knew Ye.
Rudd was born in Boston in 1933 and attended Fairfield University. He is survived by his wife, their three children, and his mother. – SL