Recent passings in the Irish and Irish-American communities.
1978 – 2012
In 1981, Katie Beckett, at the age of 3, helped bring about major healthcare reform. On Friday May 18, at the age of 34, she passed away due to complications from a digestive disorder.
Born Mary Katherine Beckett in 1978, Katie contracted viral encephalitis four months later. The disease, which caused inflammation of the brain, left her partially paralyzed, unable to swallow and in need of a ventilator. Her parents, Julie and Mark Beckett, believed they could better manage her care at home. Hospital care was costing $12,000 a month, six times what home care would cost. They found themselves in a bureaucratic battle.
Under Medicaid, Katie qualified for the Supplemental Security Income program. However, her parents’ incomes would have counted against her. Julie and Mark began lobbying politicians. Then-Vice President George Bush relayed Katie’s case to President Reagan. In a news conference, Reagan cited Katie’s case as an example of “hidebound regulations.”
A day after the news conference, Richard S. Schweiker, secretary of health and human services, waived the Medicaid rule. This became known as the Katie Beckett Waiver and allowed Katie to return home while still retaining federal support.
Katie graduated from Mount Mercy University in 2001 with a degree in English and creative writing. She worked as a secretary in a homeless shelter. She was writing a novel and had applied to graduate school. At 34, Katie was more than three times the age that doctors predicted she would reach. She is survived by her parents and a stepsister, Chelsea.
1938 – 2012
John Curran, a prominent leader in Boston’s Irish-American community, died on June 21 at age 73. The cause was heart disease, which he had battled for a number of years.
Best known for his roles in founding the Boston branch of Comhaltas Ceoltoiri Eireann and the Irish Cultural Center in Canton, MA, and for his participation in the local Sound of Erin radio program and TV show, Curran was born in Waterville, Co. Kerry in 1938. He was raised in Crosshaven, Co. Cork, and immigrated to the U.S. in 1955, settling in Boston. There he met his wife, Kitty Ryan from Ballinagare, Co. Roscommon, when the two were riding a bus through Cambridge. They married in 1960 and had four children.
In addition to his successful career as a food broker, Curran devoted much of his time to various Irish-American causes in the Boston area. In 1973, Curran, along with Pat Berry, Billy Caples and Larry Reynolds, formed the Boston chapter of CCE, which, with over 500 members, is now one of the largest in the world.
From 1973-2008, Curran was a regular voice on the Sound of Erin radio program on WNTN. In 2011, with his friend Tommy Sheridan, he began to host a Sound of Erin television show. A member of the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 14, Curran was inducted into the Comhaltas Hall of Fame in 2006. He also served as Comhaltas’ National Public Relations Director of the North America Province.
Curran is survived by Kitty, their four children, Sean, Tricia, Deirdre and Maura, seven grandchildren, and extended family in Ireland.
1989 – 2012
A journalist, playwright, activist and 2012 Yale graduate, Marina Keegan of Wayland, MA died on May 26 in a car crash in Dennis, MA. She was traveling with her boyfriend, a fellow Yale graduate, from her grandmother’s house in Brookline to her parents’ house in Cape Cod for her father’s birthday dinner.
By all accounts, and by the legacy of writings she left behind, Keegan, at age 22, had learned and achieved much more than most people twice her age. She was a regular contributor to the Yale Daily News, president of the College Democrats and a leader of the campus Occupy movement. Independents, a musical for which Keegan wrote the book, had recently been accepted to the New York International Fringe Festival. She was set to enter the professional world with aplomb, as an editorial assistant at The New Yorker.
Keegan had already made a name for herself in national media when one of her articles, “Even Artichokes Have Doubts,” which questioned the disproportionately high percentage of Yale graduates being recruited for and heading straight in to careers in financial consulting, was picked up by the New York Times’ DealBook blog. “I’m JUST SCARED about this industry that’s taking all my friends and telling them this is the best way for them to be spending their time. Any of their time. Maybe I’m ignorant and idealistic but I just feel like that can’t possibly be true. I feel like we know that. I feel like we can do something really cool to this world. And I fear – at 23, 24, 25 – we might forget,” she concluded.
Following her death, Keegan’s last piece for the Yale Daily News, “The Opposite of Loneliness,” went viral and was shared, read and quoted from all around the world. Stunning in its optimism, insight and tragic poignancy, the column describes Keegan’s sadness at leaving the Yale community, and her charge to her fellow graduates to not be scared, to make the most of the years in front of them:
“What we have to remember is that we can still do anything. We can change our minds. We can start over. Get a post-bac or try writing for the first time. The notion that it’s too late to do anything is comical. It’s hilarious. We’re graduating college. We’re so young. We can’t, we MUST not lose this sense of possibility because in the end, it’s all we have.”
In her memory, Keegan’s family and friends have started the Artichoke Fund, which aims to endow a staff position at Yale to help students pursue career options driven by passion and ambition. Keegan is survived by her parents, Kevin and Tracy, and by her younger brothers, Trevor and Pierce.
1933 – 2012
Mike McGrady, award-winning Newsday reporter and author of the best-selling 1969 hoax of a novel Naked Came the Stranger, died on May 13, at age 78. He lived in Lilliwaup, Washington.
Born in New York City in 1933, McGrady earned his bachelor’s degree at Yale before going on to study at Harvard as a Nieman fellow. After serving in the Army, he began writing for Newsday, where he covered the civil rights movement and the Vietnam War, becoming a film and restaurant critic for the newspaper in later years.
He invented “demure Long Island housewife” Penelope Ashe to serve as the pen name for a novel which is, in reality, a parodic series of horribly written chapters following the torrid adventures of a bored suburban woman. The book, to which 24 of his award-winning Newsday colleagues contributed, satirized the reading public’s taste (or lack thereof), without their knowledge. The writers eventually came clean, and the book developed a cult following. But what always worried McGrady, he said in a 1990 interview with Newsday, were “the 20,000 people who bought [the book] before the hoax was exposed.”
McGrady is survived by his wife, Corinne Young; two sons; a daughter; a brother; and five grandchildren.
Thomas H. O’Connor
1922 – 2012
Thomas H. O’Connor, Professor Emeritus and University Historian at Boston College, died at his home in Milton, MA on May 20. He was 89.
Born and raised in South Boston, O’Connor attended Gate of Heaven School and Boston Latin. He received degrees in history from Boston College, and his doctorate from Boston University.
O’Connor was one of Boston’s most influential and perceptive historians. He wrote 20 books and hundreds of scholarly papers concerning various aspects of Boston, New England and American history. His best-known book, Bibles, Brahmins and Bosses, published in 1976, opened the door to many unexplored topics of Boston history and life, which his subsequent books would delve into. O’Connor also wrote extensively about the American Civil War, starting with an influential series of pamphlets entitled The Call to Arms: Massachusetts in the Civil War (1960). He was also a gifted chronicler of local celebrations and milestones, such as the Boston Irish Famine Memorial project in 1998. The Eire Society of Boston gave O’Connor its Gold Medal Award in 1999.
O’Connor is survived by his wife, Mary McDonald; a daughter, Jeanne; a son, Michael; two grandsons, and Boston College’s community of scholars and students.
1915 – 2012
The Irish-born actress Joyce Redman died on May 10, in Kent, England from pneumonia. She was 96 years old. Redman was widely acclaimed for her intelligent stage presence, though she is best known to Americans for her lavish eating scene with Albert Finney in the 1963 film Tom Jones, above.
Joyce Redman was born on Dec. 9, 1915 in Newcastle, Ireland and grew up in Co. Mayo. She got her start as an actress when she began her training at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art in London. Standing at 5’1”, Redman was small in stature, yet she had a commandingly husky voice. Together, these attributes gave her a unique mien, which she used brilliantly in both dramatic and comic roles.
Redman was almost continually employed in British theater and television from the 1940’s to 1970’s, and worked with nearly every major repertory troupe in England, including Old Vic and the National Theater Company, as well as the Comedie-Francaise in Paris. She was twice nominated for Academy Awards for best supporting actress: for her role in Tom Jones and for her portrayal of the maidservant Emilia in the 1965 film of Othello.
She continued acting until 2001, when she played the elderly Queen Victoria in Victoria and Albert. She married her late husband, Charles Wynne Roberts, in 1949. Redman is survived by three children and five grandchildren.
Kevin M. Tucker
1940 – 2012
Kevin M. Tucker, Police Commissioner of Philadelphia from 1985-1988, died from a brain tumor on on June 19th, just two days short of his 72nd birthday.
Tucker was born in Brooklyn on June 21, 1940. His father, William, was a railroad worker, and his mother, Catherine, was a nurse. Both were emigrants from Ireland. In 1965, after graduating from Kean College, Tucker was offered a job with the secret service. His first assignment was to protect Jacqueline Kennedy and her children. The inscription in a book she gave to him read “To Kevin Tucker, whose humor and intelligence made our time together so memorable and missed.”
In 1985, after resigning as director of the Philadelphia office of the secret service, Tucker was chosen by then-mayor W. Wilson Goode to replace Gregore J. Sambor as head of the city’s police department. The first outsider to lead the Philadelphia police since the 1920s, Tucker brought great change to the corrupt system, which had come under criticism following Sambor’s decision to bomb the houses of the radical group Move during a standoff. Tucker’s implementations included foot patrols, guidelines against police abuse, and strategy training sessions for officers.
In 1990, doctors discovered that Tucker had a brain tumor, and he was initially told he had six months to live. Undaunted, Tucker continued to contribute to the greater community by joining the board of managers at a National Cancer Institute Center for biomedical research, on which he served until 2005. Tucker is survived by his wife, Judy, their daughter, Christine, three brothers, a sister, and four grandchildren.