Recent passings in Ireland and Irish America.
1957 – 2016
Television comedy writer Kevin Curran, best known for his work on Late Night with David Letterman, Married… With Children, and The Simpsons, died at his Los Angeles home in October following a battle with cancer. He was 59 years old.
Curran was the winner of three Emmy awards for material produced for Late Night with David Letterman, including Letterman’s first “Top Ten” list, titled “Top Ten Things That Almost Rhyme with Peas.” In 1989, he joined the writing team for Married… With Children, for which he produced 11 episode scripts. In 2000, Curran joined The Simpsons as co-executive producer, where he won three additional Emmys and was nominated for a 2010 Humanitas prize for his episode “The Greatest Story Ever D’ohed.”
Born in Hartford, Connecticut, Curran attended Harvard University and began his writing career as an editor at the university’s Harvard Lampoon. He went on to write for the National Lampoon, acting as editor for the Letters and Cartoons sections, though remained in touch with fellow Harvard student Al Jean, who years later would serve as showrunner for The Simpsons.
“He was one of the funniest guys I ever met,” Jean told Variety. “He also had one of the biggest, sweetest hearts.”
From 1999 to 2006, Curran was in a relationship with Helen Fielding, author of the Bridget Jones’s Diary series. He is survived by their two children.
Peter Leo Gerety
1912 – 2016
The world’s oldest living Catholic bishop, Bishop Peter Leo Gerety, died at the age of 104 in Toweta, New Jersey in September. Gerety served as the Archbishop of Newark, New Jersey from 1974 through 1986.
In 1942, he became director of New Haven’s Blessed Martin de Porres Center, an interracial social and religious organization that ministered to the African American community. It evolved into St. Martin de Porres Parish in 1956, with Gerety as its first pastor. There, he first became engaged in black civil rights activism and promoting programs to eradicate poverty, and, in 1963, he became coordinator and director of the Diocesan Priest’s Conference on Interracial Justice. For this, he was named a Prelate of Honor by Pope Paul VI. He became the eighth Bishop of Portland (Maine) in 1969, where he provided housing for the elderly and expanded the Diocesan Bureau of Human Relations. As Archbishop of Newark, he created the Office for Pastoral Renewal (now RENEW International, which provides faith-sharing facilities for small Christian communities across the Americas) and began a ministry to divorced Catholics.
Born in Shelton, Connecticut, Gerety began training for the priesthood in 1932 at St. Thomas Seminary, Bloomfield, and later continued his studies in Issy, France. In 1939, he was ordained a priest for the Diocese of Hartford at the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris, and on his return to Connecticut was appointed curate of St. John the Evangelist Church, New Haven.
Upon resigning as Archbishop of Newark, Gerety said he had “done [his] best,” and was “very happy now to step aside.” He was succeeded by Bishop Theodore Edgar McCarrick.
1939 – 2016
Anti-war, civil rights and radical intellectual counterculture advocate Tom Hayden died in October in Santa Monica, California at the age of 76. Hayden, who was director of the Peace and Justice Center in Los Angeles County, was best known for his political activism in the 1960s.
Born to an Irish American family in Detroit, Hayden attended the University of Michigan, where he initiated the birth of influential leftist student activist group Students for a Democratic Society, serving as its president from 1962 to 1963. After a controversial tour of North Vietnam and Hanoi in 1965, the high point of the war, he published The Other Side. He made several more-publicized trips thereafter, and, alongside his wife Jane Fonda, to whom he was married from 1973 to 1990, and others, collaborated on the documentary Introduction to the Enemy, which depicted his group’s travels through North Vietnam in 1974.
Hayden made a primary-election challenge to California U.S. Senator John V. Tunney in 1976, telling the New York Times that “the radicalism of the 1960s is fast becoming the common sense of the 1970s.” He finished at a close second, but later served in the California State Assembly (1982 – 1992) and State Senate (1992 – 2000).
“A political giant and dear friend has passed,” tweeted Los Angeles mayor Eric Garcetti after Hayden’s passing was announced. “Tom Hayden fought harder for what he believed than just about anyone I have known.”
In addition to Fonda, Hayden is survived by his third wife, Barbara, and his two sons, Troy and Liam.
1935 – 2016
Metropolitan Transportation Authority chairman Robert Kiley, who was credited with rescuing the New York subway system from its decline into decay in the 1980s, died in August at his home in Chilmark, Massachusetts. He was 80.
When Kiley was appointed chair of the MTA in 1983, concerns about graffiti, defective trains, and decomposing tracks saw New Yorkers rejecting subway travel. In response, he oversaw a subway train clean-up project, with the first rejuvenated car being nicknamed “Snow White” by its cleaners. Five years later, train breakdowns were down 75 percent. Kiley also tackled the issue of crime on the subway. “I believe there ought to be order in the station,” he said in 1989. “We’re not proposing jackboots, whips, and clubs. We’re asking our police officers to enforce the rules.” Despite public dubiousness, they did, and annual subway murders dropped from 20 to just one or two.
Kiley was born in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and attended the University of Notre Dame in Indiana, graduating magna cum laude before moving on to the Harvard Graduate School. In 1963, he joined the CIA as manager of Intelligence Operations, later serving as executive assistant to agency director Richard Helms. Prior to moving to New York, he was chair of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston.
In 1974, Kiley lost his wife, Patricia Potter, and two children in a car accident. He is survived by his second wife of 40 years, Rona Shuman Kiley, and their two sons.
1937 – 2016
Cook County Commissioner Joan Murphy, who transformed the face of gender dynamics in Chicago-area public service, died at her Crestwood, IL home in September after complications with treatment for breast cancer. Despite a prognosis given in spring that she had only weeks to live, Murphy cast her superdelegate vote for Hillary Clinton in Philadelphia this July from a wheelchair. She was 79.
A Boston native and graduate of State Teacher’s College, Murphy’s political career was studded with milestones – she was the first woman elected to public office in Crestwood, as well as the first woman elected clerk in Worth Township, south of Chicago, and Worth Township supervisor. In 2002, she was elected to the county board following a patronage position and chaired the board’s labor committee.
Prior to being elected Crestwood’s village clerk in 1965, Murphy founded the Women’s Club at Incarnation Parish in Palos Heights. Her new position brought new challenges, her daughter, Tricia, told the Chicago Tribune. Local firefighters welcomed her by pasting a Playboy centerfold to her office door, with a photograph of Murphy’s face covering the model’s. When her husband, Donald, advised her to stay tough, Murphy followed through. “She added a little bubble that read, ‘Naughty naughty, you’ve been peeking’ and nobody ever said anything again,” Tricia said. Murphy was elected Worth Township clerk in 1977, and promoted to supervisor in 1989. She held the position for eight years.
In addition to her husband, she is predeceased by her son, Donald, Jr. She is survived by her daughter, Tricia, sons, Tim and Tony, and five grandchildren.
1922 – 2016
Self-described “hillbilly singer” Kay Starr died in her Beverly Hills home in October. Best known for her series of 1950s hits, Starr was among the first female artists to experiment with mixing the jazz, blues, pop, country, and rock n’ roll genres. She was 94.
Born Katherine Laverne Starks to an Irish American mother and Iroquois father, her career began at the age of seven when an aunt discovered her singing to the family chickens in their Dallas backyard. She was entered into a local radio competition and won, becoming a twice-weekly performer. It was then that she changed her last name to Starr, as listeners often misheard it this way. At fifteen she sang with violinist Joe Venuti during his stay at the Peabody Hotel, all the while keeping to her parents’ midnight curfew. At sixteen, Starr made her first records, “Baby Me” and “Love With a Capital You” with the Glenn Miller Orchestra.
She went solo in 1946 and released her breakthrough hit, “You Were Only Fooling (While I Was Falling in Love)” in 1948. Two years later, her rendition of country song “Bonaparte’s Retreat” sold over one million copies.
“When they brought in rock, hard rock, and acid rock, I thought God was trying to tell me it was my turn to get off the stage,” Starr once admitted. She was, however, dauntless, continuing to perform for devoted fans in Las Vegas and Atlantic city into the 1990s, and, in 2001 recorded a duet with Tony Bennett for his album, “Playin’ With My Friends.” ♦