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An Irish Blessing

An Irish Blessing
Alumnus Continues to Fight For a Lasting Peace in Ireland

By Claire Curry

Optimism, faith and an unwavering devotion to his family’s Irish heritage have inspired William J. Flynn, GSAS ’51, to commit the better part of a lifetime to ending the violent conflict in Ireland.

“No pessimist ever set foot on Ellis Island, no pessimist ever crossed the prairies and no pessimist ever built cities from one end of the continent to another,” said William J. Flynn, one of the key architects of the Northern Ireland Peace Process. “These things were done by people with vision and hope.”
William J. Flynn, GSAS '51, a past president, chief executive officer and chairman of Mutual of America, has committed a lifetime to ending the violent conflict in Nortern Ireland.

When two friends approached the ever-optimistic Flynn about helping to raise money for the Irish Republican Army (IRA), he recognized the monumental opportunity before him to make a personal difference in beginning the long journey toward peace. Instead of funding the group’s continued build up of arms, he decided to work directly with Sein Féin, the Irish political arm often associated with the IRA, to put an end to the violence in Northern Ireland.

At his own expense, Flynn sponsored a series of advertisements in The New York Times titled “Irish eyes are crying for peace,” to help raise awareness about the centuries-old conflict. In the ads, Flynn announced peace in Ireland was possible if the British and unionists would re-enter talks with their republican and nationalist rivals.

One telling example of his crucial role in Ireland’s gradual march toward a tenuous peace was his attendance at both the IRA and Loyalist ceasefire announcements in 1994. He was the only witness involved in the peace process to attend both announcements.

“Bill Flynn has shown such great devotion, affection and commitment to the land of his forebears, Ireland,” wrote Irish President Mary McAleese in a message published in a recent issue of Irish America Magazine. “And his devotion has been no empty word. When Bill Flynn gets involved, he gets involved. His contribution to the Peace Process in Northern Ireland has been simply immense.”

Since then, Flynn has worked tirelessly to encourage dialogue among opposing political leaders as chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy.

Recently, he received an honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire by Queen Elizabeth II in recognition of his exceptional contribution to peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. He was also the inaugural recipient of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy’s Initiative for Peace Award.

The same diplomacy that has enabled him to steer peace efforts in Ireland has also driven Flynn’s successful career in the business world. For nearly three decades, he led Mutual of America as president, chief executive officer and chairman of the board.

In 1994, the Life Insurance Council of New York recognized Flynn as the industry’s most outstanding CEO of the past 25 years. Mutual of America named him chairman emeritus in 2005. 

Flynn credits the foundations in theology, philosophy and language he received throughout his education, particularly at Fordham, for preparing him for a journey of lifelong learning.

“I gained respect for the world, along with some idea of the problems and some idea of the solutions, he said about his experience at Fordham. “You need to listen to others. It doesn’t mean you have to agree with them. I’ve spent a whole lifetime listening and learning.”

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