“I want to go home.”
Those were the heartbreaking words that Co. Tipperary native Pat Dunne uttered to his dear friend John Egan, not long after Dunne suffered a stroke related to worsening Multiple Sclerosis late last year.
Dunne, 50, had been living in New York since the 1980s with his beloved dog, working as a superintendent at an apartment building on the Upper East Side and devoting all of his spare time to raising millions of dollars for local children’s charities.
During the past couple of years the MS was starting to consume Dunne’s frail body, culminating in a crippling stroke just after Thanksgiving, 2012. Dunne's doctors at St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital were forced to put him into an induced coma for several weeks.
When he came out of the coma Egan, a native of Dublin and a fellow New York building manager, asked the relevant question – did Dunne want to continue on in New York, or return home to Ireland?
“He said he wanted to go home. I asked him a day later and he had the same response, so that’s when we stepped into action,” a tearful Egan told the Irish Voice last week.
The outpouring of affection for the much-loved Dunne has been overwhelming, Egan said, and a fundraiser on his behalf to raise money for his ongoing medical expenses at a nursing home in Co. Limerick will take place on Tuesday, November 19 starting at 4 p.m. at Rosie O’Grady’s, 800 Seventh Avenue in New York.
The story of Pat Dunne is that of a life well-lived despite hardships that started when he was only a nine-year-old boy in Lattin, Co. Tipperary. His left leg had to be amputated due to a childhood disease, but the youngster persevered and relocated to London to work in the hotel industry.
Dunne won a Donnelly green card in the late 1980s and came to the Bronx to work as a handyman. He, along with his dog, eventually found his way to Madison Avenue where he settled into his resident manager position. He then got involved with Irish clubs and the Ronald McDonald House, which provides housing for families of sick children receiving treatment far from their homes.
Dunne was diagnosed with MS several years ago but kept working at his job. Thanks to his own childhood experience Dunne had great affection for sick children, Egan said, and during his time in New York he raised over $2.5 million for Ronald McDonald House through various fundraisers and golf events that he hosted.
“I can’t even begin to describe the affection that’s out there for our dear Pat,” Egan said. “He is the kindest, gentlest soul you will ever meet. He’d come to your home, open your fridge and have a glass milk and start to chat.
“And the children just love him. He relates to kids. He comforted the sick children he met and showed them his prosthetic limb. He gave them great encouragement.”
Dunne was a founding member of the Hibernia Provident Society for building managers in New York in 2005. At a group raffle the following year Dunne won the grand prize, a car – and promptly turned the ticket over to the Ronald McDonald House, even though his own car was in disrepair.
Dunne, who never married, was also a member of the Emerald Guild Society and was the guest of honor at the 2012 dinner of the Tipperary Association of New York. His family, including his mother, flew over for the dinner, and he accepted a $2,500 donation from the association for the Children’s Happy Faces Foundation, which he served as a board member and volunteer.
Just before Hurricane Sandy last year Dunne collapsed in his apartment, Egan recalled. He was hospitalized and made a slow recovery.
“We could see he was very shaky. He came to an event for the Ronald McDonald House kids for Thanksgiving and we knew he wasn’t well at all,” Egan said.
Not long after that Dunne suffered the debilitating stroke that left him unable to care for himself. His many friends here reached out to his family in Ireland and delivered the news that Pat wanted to spend the rest of his days at home.
The family came to collect him, and Dunne departed for a nursing home in Pallas Green, Co. Limerick at the end of June, with the Dan Dooley car rental company paying for upgraded airline tickets.
His New York friends will never forget Dunne, and they’ve organized a plan of action for his future care. Proceeds from the fundraiser on Tuesday will be used to pay for a specially equipped wheelchair in a child size, as Dunne has lost much of his body weight and cannot hold his head up. The fundraiser will also pay for a medically equipped van so that Dunne will occasionally be able to enjoy excursions out, and assist with the ongoing costs of €1,000 ($1,350) per week for the nursing home.
“Poor Pat can’t do anything for himself, but the nurses at the home have been wonderful to him,” said Egan.
Dunne’s prognosis is day by day. “MS is like having a loaded gun to your head. You don’t know when it’s going to go off,” Egan added.
The fundraiser on Tuesday will feature an array of auction prizes, including prime tickets to David Letterman’s show, merchandise from former Manchester United manager Alex Ferguson – a close friend of many Hibernia Provident members – electronics, trips and other sports memorabilia. The event is being supported by many leading businesses in New York, including Danny Moloney’s Liffey Van Lines and Douglas Elliman Property Management, whose president, James O’Connor, is a close friend of Dunne. Dermot Henry will act as auctioneer for the prizes.
“We’re heartbroken over our unforgettable friend Pat. And we will never, ever forget him. The response to our fundraiser has been amazing, and we’re hoping for a huge turnout,” said Egan.
For information, contact John Egan at 212-744-6121 or email [email protected] com.