Loretta Brennan Glucksman, one of New York’s most prominent benefactors, will be honored with the first Tom Moran Business to Arts Leadership Award at Origin Theatre Company's annual Spring Gala on May 20.
Although she has been at the forefront of Irish political and cultural life on both sides of the Atlantic for decades, Loretta Brennan Glucksman has always eschewed the limelight, preferring to highlight the work of others than seek accolades for herself.
Irish America won't let her off the hook that easy, though. Just last year they made her Grand Marshall of the 2018 Saint Patrick's Day Parade on Fifth Avenue and even now a week before she is scheduled to pick up the prestigious Business to Arts Leadership Award in New York City, she's instead celebrating her friendship and admiration for the man it's named after - the late Tom Moran, who was President and CEO of Mutual of America from 1994 to 2017.
“I like to think I'm getting out of the awards rodeo,” Brennan Glucksman tells the IrishCentral with a laugh, “but the name Tom Moran is something that you just don't turn away from. I'm thrilled.”
If generosity is the hallmark of freedom, as the playwright Tony Kushner writes, then Brennan Glucksman and her late husband Lew (who died in 2006) have lived free.
The pair have donated tens of millions to Irish causes over a remarkable two-decade philanthropic campaign and one of their most far-reaching initiatives was created in 1993 when they endowed New York University with the landmark Glucksman Ireland House on Fifth Avenue.
“Lew was a trustee at NYU and he loved Ireland,” says Brennan Glucksman, who was lauded for her work by Irish Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney (an ardent admirer of both Ireland House and of Brennan Glucksman's leadership) in a celebratory poem that he wrote for the 20 anniversary of its opening.
“That edifice off 1 Fifth Avenue/Fit monument to herself and Lew/Is like a small translated Clonmacnoise/An amplifier for the native voice/Of Irish writing, culture, scholarship/An answer given to the famine ship...,” Heaney wrote, in a poem that is both celebration and consecration.
It's also a measure of her impact.
If a persons glory begins and ends with their list of friends, then Brennan Glucksman's is already assured. Heaney, Friel, McCourt, Hume, McGuinness, Clinton, all the principals in Irish culture and politics of the last three decades have enjoyed her friendship. And all have afforded her a unique vantage point on Irish history and contemporary events that few possess.
But it was the land itself and the people that really changed her, she says. “Lew actually took me to Ireland for the first time,” she continues. “We lived there for a total of 11 years. And we felt - both of us felt - so at home.”
As Chairman of The American Ireland Fund (now Chairman Emeritus), Brennan Glucksman played a key role in philanthropic efforts to secure peace throughout the island of Ireland and under her leadership the Funds raised over $250 million for Ireland and Irish causes.
Explaining why Brennan Glucksman's award is named in Moran's honor George Heslin, the founding artistic director of Origin, tells the Irish Voice, “Tom was passionate about helping Irish organizations and making dreams a reality. From introducing Origin to influential people to hosting events, to introducing us to board members, he always said yes.”
How can we teach other CEOs to be as passionate about the not-for-profit sector as Moran was is the question that Heslin recently asked himself. “It was always very difficult to thank Tom because he was somebody who'd given you so much and yet he had remained so under the radar and so humble. That's why we have named this award in his honor.”
Heslin co-founded Origin in 2002 and the 1st Irish Theatre Festival in 2008 with the intention of bringing new European and Irish plays to a New York audience and that work continues in the second annual European Month of Culture NYC festival this month.
Choosing Brennan Glucksman to be the first recipient of the new Origin award was an easy choice, he says. “When I first came to the U.S. as an actor I wrote a letter to her and I didn't expect to hear back. But the phone rang and she invited me to tea at NYU Ireland House. I told her I was going to found Origin. I was just a new person in New York and all I knew about her was that she was somebody who was passionate about Ireland. She is one of those people who just says yes, even though she probably received so many requests all the time.”
Raised in an Irish neighborhood in Allentown, Pennsylvania, the granddaughter of four Irish immigrants Brennan Glucksman had a classic Irish American upbringing. Her grandfather was a miner from Leitrim who was involved with the first unionizing efforts there, her father worked on the railroad during World War II before joining the Civil Service, first as a mail carrier and then as an office worker.
Brennan Glucksman's Irish grandparents lived next door so she would visit them every day. “They gave me such a curiosity about life and I think that's what stood me in good stead,” she says. “Nancy Pelosi had a beautiful term when she was in Ireland recently, she spoke of the emerald thread that connects the Irish to each other around the world and I strongly believe in that.”
Brennan Glucksman was in Derry for President Bill Clinton's historic visit in 1995, befriending the key political leaders and working to ensure consensus whilst providing opportunities for underserved communities. The peace process helped release Ireland from historical forces that held it back she believes.
The more recent renaissance of new Irish writers (particularly women) delights her and she believes that the peace process and its benefits will be more durable than many think.
“One of my theories – and I don't want it to be tested - is that I really don't believe that the women of Northern Ireland will allow us to go back to the bombs and guns. I don't believe they will. I saw how resilient they are. I don't see them putting their grandchildren through that. I don't pray much anymore, but I pray that we all that are hoping for the best that it, that it works out.”
Another delight has been the scale of the social change she that has witnessed in Ireland: “I have proudly talked about my gay son and his husband and I was never so proud of Ireland as on that day of the referendum on marriage equality in 2015. And I don't say ever that no other Taoiseach would have done that, but Leo did it and I just think it was astounding.”
Everything that she and her husband have done for Ireland has come back to them a hundred times in the satisfaction of knowing that someone with such huge amount to give to the world has now had a forum and a stage, she says.
“George Heslin was a kid from Limerick and he came out here with no backing and he just said, I have an idea that Ireland can present the whole of Europe and he's done it, dammit. He deserves so much credit.
“And that is linked to Tom,” she concludes. “I just hope I get through the two-minute talk on another great friend. It's challenging when it's someone that you love and admire and miss so much.”
Loretta Brennan Glucksman will be awarded the Origin Theatre company's Tom Moran Business to Arts Leadership Award at its annual Spring Gala on May 20.