Recent passings in the Irish and Irish-American communities.
Louis le Brocquy
Louis le Brocquy, one of the most important and influential Irish artists of the last century, died at age 95 in his family home in Dublin on April 25.
Le Brocquy was born in Dublin on November 10, 1916, the son of Albert le Brocquy, the honorary secretary of the Irish League of Nations Society, and Sybil Staunton, co-founder of Amnesty International Ireland and a noted figure within Dublin’s literary circles. Le Brocquy was educated at St. Gerard’s School, Co. Wicklow, and studied chemistry at Kevin Street Technical School and then Trinity College Dublin. At the same time, his childhood interest in art, particularly painting, re-emerged, and he produced two early experimental paintings, both of which were accepted for exhibition by the Royal Hibernian Academy.
According to le Brocquy’s wife and biographer, Anne Madden, the summer of 1938 marked the time when le Brocquy the chemistry student first considered becoming le Brocquy the painter. That November, he left Ireland to immerse himself in studying the European art collections of London’s National Gallery, the Louvre in Paris and the Prado Collection on loan to Geneva. By 1940 he had returned to Ireland, where his work began to get attention. Throughout a career spanning over seven decades and many ground-breaking stylistic manifestations, le Brocquy became internationally recognized as one of the foremost Irish painters of the 20th century.
In 2002, his seminal 1951 work, A Family, was added to the Permanent Irish Collection of the National Gallery of Ireland, making him the first and living artist to be included in the collection. The “Head Images” of literary figures for which he is so famous began in 1964, with portraits of James Joyce and Samuel Beckett. In 1975 he began a series on W.B. Yeats.
Le Brocquy is survived by his wife, Anne Madden, their sons Pierre and Alexis, and a daughter, Seyre, from a previous marriage.
Ninety-year-old journalist and author Priscilla Buckley died on March 25 of kidney failure at her family’s home in Sharon, Connecticut. It was the house in which she and her nine siblings grew up.
Buckley was born on October 17, 1921 in New York City to William Frank Buckley, of Irish descent, and Aloise Josephine Antonia Steiner, a New Orleans native of Swiss-German descent. She graduated from Smith College in 1943 with a bachelor’s degree in history, and soon after got a job with the United Press. She took a break from journalism to work for the Central Intelligence Agency, before eventually returning to the United Press as a reporter in Paris. Her brother, William F. Buckley Jr., founded the National Review in 1955, and asked her to join the magazine the following year. She was soon made managing editor. Eventually stepping down from the position, she became a senior editor at the magazine—a position she retained until her retirement in 1999.
Buckley is survived by her brothers James L. Buckley and F. Reid Buckley, and by her sister, Carol Buckley.
George Cowan, a chemist who helped build the first atomic bomb, died on Friday, April 20, at his home in Los Alamos, NM. Friends said his death followed a fall. He was 92.
Born on February 15, 1920 in Worcester, Mass., Cowan attended local schools before graduating from Worcester Polytechnic Institute with a degree in chemistry in 1941. Cowan first worked under Eugene Wigner at Princeton University. That experience led him to help the federal government’s secret effort to develop the atomic bomb with the Manhattan Project. In 1946, Cowan married fellow chemist Helen Dunham. They were married for 65 years and had no children. She died last year. In 1950, Cowan received his doctorate in physical chemistry from the Carnegie Mellon University. Cowan was part of the group ordered by President Harry S. Truman to develop the hydrogen bomb and served on the White House science council during the Reagan administration.
In 1984, Cowan assembled scientists to found the Santa Fe Institute, a scientific research center. He was awarded the Federal Energy Department’s highest honor, the Enrico Fermi Award, as well as the Los Alamos Medal, the highest honor given by the Los Alamos National Laboratory.
Murray Lender, vice chairman of Quinnipiac University’s board of trustees, who played a key role in forming the school’s unparalleled Ireland’s Great Hunger Special Collection, died on March 21 in a Miami hospital, following complications from a fall.
Along with his brothers Marvin and Sam, Murray Lender was responsible for transforming their father’s New Haven, CT bagel business, H. Lender & Sons, into the leading national distributor of frozen bagels. The company went from selling wholesale to local bakeries to selling millions of bagels each year. It was purchased by Kraft in 1984 and by Pinnacle Food Group in 2003.
Murray Isaac Lender was born on October 29, 1930 in New Haven to Harry and Rose Lender. After college he served in the Army for two years and then went to work in the family business, becoming president and, later, chairman. Lender was extremely active and generous with his alma mater, Quinnipiac University, from which he graduated in 1950 (when it was still called the Junior College of Commerce). In addition to serving as vice chairman, he provided significant funding for the university’s school of business, which bears his family’s name, and played a vital role in the development of Quinnipiac’s Great Hunger Collection.
When Quinnipiac’s president, Dr. John Lahey, served as Grand Marshal of the NYC St. Patrick’s Day Parade in 1997, he centered his speeches around the Great Famine, which caught Lender’s attention. As Lahey explained in a 2010 interview with Irish America, “While I was giving all these speeches, he came to me and said, ‘John, it’s just amazing to me, this story of the Great Hunger.’ You could tell that he associated it with persecution of the Jews and other ethnic groups, African Americans, Native Americans, in this country, and he said, ‘I’ll give you a gift for the library but it’s got to be for the Irish Great Hunger special collection. You go out and tell me what you need to do and collect the art and get the research materials and the books and periodicals, and we’ll take care of it.’” The collection, which is soon to move into its own museum space, contains 700 volumes of historic and contemporary texts, and an ever-growing number of works of art that portray or respond to the loss of more than 1.5 million Irish lives between 1845 and 1852. In a statement released to the campus, Dr. Lahey stated that he was “deeply saddened” to report Lender’s death, and commended his “outstanding leadership.”
Lender is survived by his wife, Gilda, a daughter, two sons, eight grandchildren, and his brother Marvin.
Barney McKenna, the last surviving founding member of the Irish folk group The Dubliners, died on April 5 in Dublin; he was 72. McKenna, a household name in Ireland, was a self-taught. gifted musician who began playing the banjo because he couldn’t afford a mandolin. He is credited with revolutionizing the use of the banjo in traditional Irish music and was known as one of the world’s finest banjo players. McKenna was born in Donnycarney, Co Dublin on December 16, 1939. Rejected from the Irish army band due to poor eyesight, he played with a few groups in the 50’s and 60’s before joining up with Ronnie Drew; together they played at O’Donoghue’s pub and were later joined by Luke Kelly and Ciaran Bourke; the four comprised “The Dubliners.”
The Dubliners rose to international acclaim as one of the world’s most famous folk groups. However, McKenna’s greatest pride came not from fame, but from knowing he helped popularize the banjo in modern folk culture. He was extremely influential in how the instrument was played – his style was copied by many banjo players around the world, making it the standard for Irish music. McKenna was happiest in the company of musicians and continued performing and touring. Before his death, he finished up The Dubliner’s 50th anniversary tour, and in February, The Dubliners won the BBC folk award’s lifetime achievement award. McKenna’s wife, Joka, died in the 1980s. He is survived by his partner, Tina, his sister, Marie, and brother, Sean.
Melvin Lloyd Parnell, a famed left-handed starting pitcher for the Boston Red Sox, died in his New Orleans home on March 20, of complications from cancer.
Parnell was born in New Orleans on June 13, 1922. His father, Patrick, was a mechanic on a passenger train between Chicago and New Orleans. After playing baseball for his high school team, Parnell spent three years pitching in the minor leagues before beginning his career with the Boston Red Sox in 1947. The team, which won over 90 games a season between the years 1948 and 1950, at one point had a lineup that included Ted Williams, Dom DiMaggio, Johnny Pesky, Bobby Doerr and Vern Stephens. Parnell’s best season was in 1949, during which he won 25 games.
After an elbow injury forced him to retire from the major leagues, he coached at Tulane University, and later served as general manager to the New Orleans Pelicans. In 1965, he became a broadcaster for the Red Sox.
Parnell is survived by his wife of 64 years, their four children, and three grandchildren.
Rory Staunton, the beloved twelve-year-old son of Ciaran Staunton, founder of the Irish Lobby for Immigration Reform, and Orlaith Staunton, and nephew of Irish America’s co-founder and publisher Niall O’Dowd, died tragically and suddenly on April 1, when an elbow scrape sustained playing basketball became infected with a toxic bacteria.
The outpouring of sadness over Rory’s death and the support for his grieving family members was tremendous on both sides of the Atlantic. A commemoration service on April 5 in Woodside, Queens, drew close to 1,500 people to St. Mary Winfield Church, where Rory was praised and remembered by his family and friends, his classmates and teachers from the nearby Garden School, and by members of the Irish American community, including City Council Speaker Christine Quinn and Congressman Joe Crowley. With each tribute, the character of this remarkable boy became clearer and clearer, as those gathered remembered his intelligence, humor and kindness; his passion for politics; his keen interest in piloting airplanes; and his love of Ireland.
He was flown to Ireland on Good Friday for a funeral mass in Drogheda, Co. Louth. Taoiseach Enda Kenny paid his respects at the mass, as did Sinn Féin leader Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness, deputy first minister of Northern Ireland. He was then waked by his family: his parents, Ciaran and Orlaith; his younger sister, Kathleen; his grandmother Tessie Staunton; uncles Joe, Pearse, Declan, Noel, Aidan, Fintan and Gabriel; aunts Debbie, Dervla, Triona and Loretta, and many more. He was laid to rest beside his grandmother Kathleen O’Dowd.