Bill Flynn formed part of a group of Irish Americans who played a vital role in the Northern Ireland peace process.
Flynn, the leading Irish-American businessman and former chairman of Mutual of America, together with Bruce Morrison, Niall O’Dowd and Chuck Feeney, successfully persuaded the State Department in 1994 to grant Gerry Adams a U.S visa.
This was a hugely controversial move that brought Flynn a considerable amount of criticism at the time. Had it backfired it could have seriously damaged his career and reputation
"We wanted to get corporate Irish America and our government behind peace in the North,” he later explained. “We began to bring together our business executives, labor leaders and educators with political leaders from both sides in the North. We wanted them to hear us and for us to hear them."
History proved him right: the move to grant Gerry Adams a visa eventually led to the IRA ceasefire that year, an important milestone that would culminate in the Good Friday Peace Agreement four years later.
The British government strongly objected to the granting of the Adams’ visa. But recently, to honor Flynn’s commitment to peace in Northern Ireland, it made him a Commander of the British Empire – an award just below a knighthood.
Flynn’s father comes from Co. Down and mother, from Co. Mayo. When his father left Ireland, he first worked in various U.S mining, before ending up in New York in the 1920s.
He studied for the priesthood after leaving school, but told an interviewer that that he left because he “likes to dance.”
He graduated from Fordham University in 1951, before going on to work for Equitable Life Assurance Society. Later he joined Mutual of America, then a struggling company. Three decades, under his guidance, it was one of the top U.S insurance companies.
Flynn’s awards are many. He was Irish America magazine’s Irish-American of the Year in 1995, and in I999, was selected by same magazine as one of the greatest Irish-Americans of the century. That year, he was also the Grand Marshal of New York’s St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
His ties with Ireland remain as solid as ever – every times he visits Ireland, he once told an interviewer at the Sunday Business Post, he visits his paternal relatives in the Mourne Mountains, in Co. Down.
He is married to Peg, and has three sons, one daughter and 11 grandchildren, and lives in Long Island, New York.