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Photo by: Kit De Fever

The Spirit of America

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Photo by: Kit De Fever

As I write this the world outside my window is peaceful. It’s Sunday so the construction that happens on weekdays is stopped and though I actually enjoy watching the men at work, doing manly stuff, digging and endlessly moving  things about, I’m glad of the quiet. (New York is always reinventing itself. “Our country is so new that we watched it being built,” I once heard someone say).

The peace today is especially comforting because it’s 9/11 – the tenth anniversary. For weeks now the world has been remembering. Last night, I watched Commissioner Ray Kelly on TV hand out medals to the families of the police officers who lost their lives on that day;  Patricia Smith, now a young tween of 12, picked up her mother’s medal. I watched a documentary on the rebuilding of the World Trade Center, and listened to Mike O’Reilly say that he decided to become an ironworker after 9/11. His father had worked on the World Trade Center and he wanted to be part of the rebuilding effort. I read an article in today’s New York Times about the Irish in Rockaway and how hard they were hit. And I watched Tragedy and Triumph, a stirring account of the resilience of people in the financial sector in the aftermath of 9/11.  

And I have my own memories.

One is of firefighter Tom Foley, so young, so good-looking, accepting our Top 100 award. I remember the way he stepped up to the microphone and said, “When anyone asks me, I just tell them I’m Irish.”  I remember looking through the lists of those who died and finding his name.

We used to host our annual Wall Street 50 event at Windows on the World, on the top of Tower One. It was the ideal setting to toast the achievements of the Irish. Taking in the view of the sun setting over New York Harbor and the Statue of Liberty, you couldn’t help but reflect on those early Irish immigrants who had come over in hard times and whose descendants now sat at the top of the city.

I always felt a special relationship to the Twin Towers. It was where I took people when they came to New York. I was proud of the Irish laborers who helped build it. The complex was opened soon after I got here. The final building, 7 World Trade, was opened in 1985, the year we founded Irish America and began putting in print the story of the Irish in America. 

At our last event at Windows on the World on July 11, 2001, I have a clear memory of saying good night to Joe Berry, CEO of Keefe Bruyette & Woods, and his wife, Evelyn. I watched them walk away, a middle-aged couple holding hands. “They are  still in love,”  I thought to myself. 

They met at a high school graduation party. I read in Joe’s obituary in the Times.

Keefe Bruyette is one of three financial companies with strong Irish connections that Tragedy and Triumph focuses on. Sandler O’Neill, and Cantor Fitzgerald are the other two. All three companies suffered terrible losses, yet all have managed to regroup.

The University of Pennsylvania, in a study noted in Tragedy and Triumph, concluded that  these companies, and Wall Street in general, rose again because of  “the resiliency rooted in its character, and the moral purpose it demonstrated in the midst of crisis.” John Duffy, who took over as CEO of KBW, put it more simply. “The families had already lost probably the primary breadwinner; we didn’t want to tell them that the company was lost too,” he said.

Among the Wall Street 50 whom we honor in this issue are men and women who stepped up to cover the jobs of lost colleagues. They are by far the youngest group we have ever honored and they have a lot riding on their shoulders as the market confronts this troubled economic period. But they have history on their side. 

Brian Ruane (read Sheila Langan’s “A View from One Wall Street”) is on the upper rungs of the ladder at BNY Mellon, the world’s largest resource for American and global depository receipts. The company founders go back to Alexander Hamilton (Bank of New York, 1784) and Thomas Mellon who opened T. Mellon & Sons bank in 1870. He nearly lost his estate in the economic depression of 1873 but he prevailed.

Mellon was born on a farm in County Tyrone and his story is a  shining example of the story of the Irish in America as one of endurance and triumph against the odds.

We wish all of our honorees, Irish-born, first, second, third and fourth generation, every success. Look to your history and “beir bua.” 

You will win out.

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