Recent losses in the Irish and Irish-American community.
1923 – 2012
The man who played the pope, the governor of Texas, Dustin Hoffman’s Tootsie suitor, four different Santa Clauses, and a bumbling Mel Brooks-inspired Nazi colonel has died. Charles Durning, known in the business as the King of Character Actors, died Christmas Eve at his home in Manhattan. He was 89.
Born in Highland Falls, NY into an Irish family of ten children, the first years of his life were a struggle. His father, wounded in WWI, could not work, and Charles lost five sisters to smallpox and scarlet fever. Durning eventually joined the Army and was among the first wave to land on Normandy, was wounded in the leg, and became the only member of his unit to survive.
Beginning his career in entertainment as an usher in a burlesque theater in Buffalo, NY, he landed a breakout role in 1972 in the award-winning Broadway play That Championship Season.
Afterwards, Durning appeared in some of his best known roles, including opposite Robert Redford and Paul Newman in The Sting as a corrupt police detective, an FBI agent bartering with Al Pacino in Dog Day Afternoon, the comically corrupt governor opposite Burt Reynolds and Dolly Parton in The Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, and a Nazi colonel in Mel Brooks’ To Be or Not To Be, the latter two of which garnered him Academy Award nominations for Best Supporting Actor in 1982 and 1983 respectively.
He is survived by his children Michele, Douglas, and Jeannine and was laid to rest at Arlington National Cemetery.
1955 – 2012
A dedicated mother, wife, and charitable worker, Maureen Healy passed away on December 9 at Stanford Medical Center in Stanford, CA, in the company of her husband, Aidan O’Sullivan, and their three children, Fiona, Maeve and Paul. Healy had been diagnosed with an MDS condition in August 2012, and had contracted MAI, a mycrobacterial infection, during treatment.
Maureen Healy was born in Rhode Island in 1955 to Ernestine and Charles F. Healy. The family moved to Morocco for three years, where Maureen attended a French school, which began a life-long love of the language. Returning to the US, the family moved to Marin County, California, where Maureen attended Hidden Valley Elementary, Drake High School and College of Marin. During her school years Maureen was a force to be reckoned with in track and field, competing in the 100 and 220 meter races, and the long jump.
After graduating, she worked as an escrow officer for the Trans America Title Co., an administrator at the Cascade Canyon School, and as a real estate and business manager.
Healy and O’Sullivan met in 1982, and in 1983 took a six-month backpacking trip around the world, visiting New Zealand, Australia, Southeast Asia, India, Kashmir, Abu Dhabi, Germany, Switzerland, Italy, Greece, France, and Ireland.
She was a dedicated volunteer with Guide Dogs for the Blind, organized visits to local elderly through LITA, cooked meals for the homeless and collected books for bilingual children in nearby San Raphael.
In addition to her husband and children, Healy is survived by her mother, sisters Francine and Kate, and a large extended
Eileen Moran, one of the most accomplished and respected visual effects producers in the film industry, died on December 2 in Wellington, New Zealand. She was one of the key talents behind the visual effects of landmark films including James Cameron’s Avatar and Peter Jackson’s Lord of the Rings trilogy and The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. She was also part of Jackson’s visual effects company, Weta Digital. Moran’s sister Jane Hamill told the New York Times that the cause was cancer.
Born Eileen Mary Moran on January 23, 1952 in Queens, New York, she was raised in Lindenhurst, Long Island and studied drama at the State University of New York at New Paltz. After graduating, Moran moved to New York City to enter the acting world, but soon switched to commercial production, where she found her calling in visual effects.
She moved to California and was hired by Digital Domain, a special effects company, where she worked on the effects for both acclaimed films and award-winning commercials, including the “Bud,” “Weis,” “Er” frogs. In a 2006 interview with the New York Daily News, Moran said that her favorite commercial was one she made for Guinness, featuring a fish riding a bicycle – a play on the feminist slogan “A woman needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle.”
In 2001, Moran relocated to New Zealand and joined Weta Digital to begin work on Lord of the Rings. She most recently worked as a co-producer on Peter Jackson’s latest work, the first installment of the new Hobbit trilogy of films.
Moran is survived by her two children, Jack and Ava; by her father, John G. Moran, and by three sisters.
1919 – 2012
Dr. Joseph Murray, winner of the Nobel Prize in Physiology or Medicine, died November 27 at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, the same hospital where he performed the world’s first successful organ transplant in 1954. He was 91 years old.
Born in Millford, Massachusetts in 1919, Murray attended the College of the Holy Cross and then Harvard Medical School, graduating in the middle of World War II and joining the Army Medical Corp.
Working with wounded soldiers at Valley Forge General Hospital, Murray concentrated on skin grafting techniques and reconstructive surgery, leading him to pioneer new research into how the human body accepts or rejects foreign cells and tissues.
Once back in the civilian sector at Brigham and Women’s, Dr. Murray began working with colleagues to develop the techniques used in skin grafting for full organ transplantation.
Then, on December 23, 1954, Dr. Murray successfully performed what many in the medical community thought medically questionable, taking a kidney from a healthy 23-year-old man and transplanting it into his identical twin’s ailing body. The procedure resulted in the widespread acceptance and application of his techniques to other organs, including heart, lung, and liver transplants.
Dr. Murray continued to research transplant procedures, and also performed the first transplant between non-related patients in 1959, and the first transplant from a cadaver in 1962. After retiring in 1986, Dr. Murray was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1990 for his transplant work and research in immunosuppressive therapies, which have impacted the lives of hundreds of thousands world-wide.
Born to a father of Irish and English descent and a mother of Italian heritage, Dr. Murray spent his life deeply rooted in Boston, spending summers on Martha’s Vineyard with his extended family. He is survived by his wife Virginia “Bobby” Murray, six children, and 18 grandchildren.
1942 – 2012
Catherine O’Neill, who founded the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children (now the Women’s Refugee Commission) with actress Liv Ullmann, died in Los Angeles on December 26 at age 70. Her husband, the writer Richard Reeves, told the New York Times that the cause was complications from cancer.
Over the course of her varied and distinguished career, O’Neill worked as a social worker, ran for California State Senate and secretary of state, served as finance director of Governor Jerry Brown’s 1976 presidential campaign, and was appointed director of the United Nations Information Center in Washington, DC, by then UN secretary general Kofi Annan, a position she held from 1999 until her retirement in 2007. She helped found the Women’s Refugee Commission in 1989, after witnessing conditions for women and children in refugee camps in Pakistan as a board member of the International Rescue Committee.
The daughter of two Irish immigrants, O’Neill was born Catherine Vesey on July 19, 1942 in New York City. Her father, Patrick Vesey, was a subway conductor, and her mother, Bridget Ruddy Vesey, was a school cafeteria worker. O’Neill graduated from St. Joseph’s College in Brooklyn and later received a master’s in social work from Howard University, and a second master’s, in international affairs, from Columbia University.
In addition to Reeves, O’Neill is survived by their daughter, Fiona; two sons from her first marriage to Brian O’Neill, Colin and Conor; two stepchildren, Cynthia and Jeffrey Reeves; her sister; and one grandchild.
Páidí Ó Sé
1955 – 2012
Gaelic football legend Páidí Ó Sé passed away suddenly in his home in Árd a Bhóthair, Ventry on December 15 at the age of 57, of a suspected heart attack.
One of the most recognizable, beloved, and decorated footballers, Ó Sé accumulated eight senior All-Ireland football medals during his ten-year playing career, in addition to two more as manager of the Kerry team. He also led West-meath to its first ever Leinster championship title in 2004, his first year managing the team.
Irish President Michael D Higgins praised Ó Sé, telling the Irish Times, “Páidi Ó Sé had a reputation that went far beyond his great achievements in sport and far beyond the boundaries of his own beloved country.” Indeed, Ó Sé carried the Kerry green and gold world wide, traveling to Dubai on an all-star GAA exposition trip in 2001.
Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also said in the Times that Ó Sé “personified that spirit of competitive rivalry that is the hallmark of the GAA.”
More than a football legend, Ó Sé was a cultural icon. Born in Ventry, in the heart of the Gaeltacht in County Kerry, Ó Sé was a native Irish speaker and “was a well-spring for the stories and the craic,” according to current Kerry captain Dara Ó Cinnéide. “He was Kerry to the core,” Ó Cinnéide continued.
Ó Sé is survived by his wife Máire, and children Neasa, Siún and Pádraig Óg, as well as his brother Tomás and his nephews Darragh, Tomás and Marc, all three GAA All-Star footballers themselves.