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Inspirational Irish Women

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Honoring the Inspirational Irish Women of 2011

Honorees Carmel Boyce, Anne McDade Keyser Hill and Karen Boyce McCollum

Honorees Carmel Boyce, Anne McDade Keyser Hill and Karen Boyce McCollum

It’s not for nothing that they’ve earned the description, “inspirational.”

The 12 recipients of the 2011 Inspirational Irish Women awards are really quite remarkable, accomplished people, coming from all walks of life—the judiciary, law enforcement, music, religious orders, fire and rescue, nursing, business, broadcasting and more.

The honorees were:

  • Sister Christine McCann
  • Margaret Reyes
  • The Honorable Pamela Pryor Dembe
  • Kathy Fanning
  • Anne McDade Keyser Hill
  • Mary Ann McGinley, Ph.D., R.N.
  • Kathy O’Connell
  • Carmel Boyce
  • Karen Boyce McCollum
  • Christine M. Coulter
  • Liz Crehan Anderson
  • Sister Peg Hynes, S.S.J.

(To read more about them, click here.)

For all their accomplishments, they remain quite humble—and more, as they accepted their awards in a special ceremony Sunday afternoon at the Philadelphia Irish Center, all credited the key people in their lives who helped guide them along the paths they ultimately followed.

Speaking of her parents Barney and 2011 honoree Carmel Boyce, communications executive and singer Karen Boyce McCollum thanked her parents for “bringing us up in a household where growing up Irish was a blessing and the greatest gift they could give.”

Businesswoman Anne McDade Keyser Hill, her voice quavering just a bit, thanked her husband Joe for his loving support. (And he blew a kiss back at her.) But she also recalled the strong influence of her father in her life: “My dad, when I was 14 or 15 years old, took me aside and he said, ‘Sis’—he called me ‘Sis’—don’t let anyone ever tell you that you can’t do what you want in your life because you’re a girl.”

The highly regarded nurse leader Mary Ann McGinley spoke lovingly of her own parents and credited them for setting a good example: “My dad clearly inherited the Irish talent of telling stories. My mom was a ‘Type E’ personality—everything for everybody each and every day.”

And, finally, WXPN Kids Corner host Kathy O’Connell recalled one exceptional woman in her life: “I want to dedicate this award to my grandmother, who became a widow 10 seconds before the Depression hit.”

Attending the event were more than 400 family members, friends and co-workers who attended the ceremony, who cheered and applauded as each woman (and representatives of two women who were honored posthumously, social activist Sister Peg Hynes and musician Liz Crehan Anderson) accepted her award. They also had a chance to admire the striking black-and-white portraits of the honorees, created by photographer Brian Mengini and commissioned by the Inspirational Irish Women committee.

In addition to honoring women of high achievement, the awards program benefited the Philadelphia Irish Center.

We’ve assembled an extensive photo essay from the day. We also present video highlights.


Sold-Out Crowd Helps Honor 11 Inspirational Irish Women

Rosemarie Timoney

Rosemarie Timoney, one of the 11 Inspirational Irish Women of the Delaware Valley. (Click on the photo to view a photo essay.)

More than 300 people watched on Sunday, May 23, as 11 Irish American women from the Delaware Valley were honored at the Philadelphia Irish Center, with the inaugural Inspirational Irish Women Awards.

The event was launched to recognize the important role women play in every aspect of Irish-American life and to single out those whose grace, courage, generosity, and intelligence particularly embody the Irish spirit. Among the honorees were Princess Grace of Monaco (the former Grace Kelly of East Falls); Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder of Project Home and one of Time Magazine’s 100 Most Influential People; and Rosemarie Timoney, an Irish immigrant who founded the Timoney School of Irish Dance to help keep Irish culture alive in the Delaware Valley. J.B. Kelly, nephew of the late Princess Grace, was on hand to accept her award on behalf of her children.

CBS3 news anchor Susan Barnett was the emcee for the cocktail reception which also honored her colleague, meteorologist Kathy Orr. Artist Pat Gallagher, himself the son of immigrants who grew up on the Main Line, painted abstract impressionist portraits of the women which will hang at the Irish Center for several months before they go to Ireland for a special exhibit at the Oscar Wilde House, American College Dublin. Vincent Gallagher, president of the Commodore Barry Club (the Irish Center), welcomed the audience to the event.

Proceeds from the event will support the Irish Center and Project H.O.M.E., the nonprofit agency that has been credited with reducing homelessness in Philadelphia.

The 2010 honorees are:

  • Sister Mary Scullion, co-founder of Project H.O.M.E.
  • Sister Kathleen Marie Keenan, senior vice president of Mission and Sponsorship of Mercy Health System, the largest Catholic health care system in southeastern Pennsylvania.
  • Rosemarie Timoney, founder of Timoney School of Irish Dance, longtime promoter of Irish culture in the Delaware Valley.
  • Kathy McGee Burns, Realtor, president of the Delaware Valley Irish Hall of Fame, vice president of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Observance Committee.
  • Kathy Orr, Eight-time Emmy Award-winning CBS3 meteorologist, anchor of the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day coverage, and supporter of several local charities.
  • Emily Riley, executive vice president of the Connelly Foundation.
  • Denise Sullivan Morrison, senior vice president and president, North America Soup, Sauces and Beverages Division of Campbell Soup Company.
  • Siobhan Reardon, first woman president and director of The Free Library of Philadelphia.
  • Liz Kerr, RN, longtime member of Ladies Ancient Order of Hibernians Div. 25, member of the Heart Transplant Team at Temple University and director of the Patrick Kerr Skateboard Scholarship.
  • Rosabelle Gifford, winner of the Rose of Tralee Centre’s first Mary O’Connor Spirit Award in 2009 for her lifetime of courage in the face of adversity and personal advocate for abused women.
  • Princess Grace of Monaco, Academy Award-winning film star, mother, and founder of The Princess Grace Foundation which serves the needy in Monaco and supports the arts in the U.S.

Music for the gala was provided by Shannon Lambert-Ryan and RUNA, and Michael and John Boyce and Karen Boyce McCollum. The Timoney Dancers performed in surprise tribute to Rosemarie Timoney. Food was prepared and coordinated by Geraldine Quigg and Sarah Walsh, with assistance from Geraldine Trainor, Carmel Boyce, and Maureen Brett Saxon. Flowers by Susan Yeager and Sarah Meade.

The Inspirational Irish Women Awards committee included Sarah Conaghan, Karen Conaghan Race, Denise Foley, Marianne MacDonald, Kiera McDonagh, Jocelyn McGillian, Jeff Meade, and Emily Weideman.

Major sponsors included Connelly Foundation, The Philadelphia/Midatlantic Rose of Tralee Centres, Mercy Health System, the Wall-Burns family, and


Get Ready to Be Inspired

Kathy Orr and Kathy McGee Burns

Two honorees, Kathy Orr and Kathy McGee Burns.

They say it’s a man’s world.

They obviously do not know what they are talking about. Smart, strong, brave, loving, gifted, creative, compassionate women are at the heart of most of society’s institutions. And they’ve long been a driving force within the Irish community.

We know this, and we are inspired by their example. And on Sunday 11 of those wonderful, inspiring Irish women will be honored.

The Society of Commodore John Barry and the Irish Immigration Center of Greater Philadelphia commissioned artist Patrick Gallagher to create a series of portraits of inspirational Irish and Irish-American Women from the Delaware Valley. Their portraits will be unveiled at a reception at the Irish Center, 6815 Emlen Street, Philadelphia.

The Inspirational Irish Women reception begins at 4 p.m. and lasts until 7.

The portraits will remain on public exhibit in the Commodore Barry Room for several months.

CBS3 Anchor Susan Barnett will emcee the event. Part of the proceeds from this event will go directly to the general operating costs of the Commodore Barry Club (The Irish Center).

We’d like to share the stories of those inspiring women with you. Here they are:

Music, People

They’re Coming Home


Shannon Lambert-Ryan with RUNA.

For Shannon Lambert-Ryan, each scuff on the dance floor at Philadelphia’s Irish Center represents a happy memory. A few of them might be hers.

“I took step dancing classes there for years,” says the young singer-actress with the group, Runa. “My mom, Julie Lambert, started to go to the ceilis over there when she was 16 and 17, and when I was born we went to the festivals and music events. I took a hiatus for a while then wound up going back to the ballroom for the swing dancing. It’s one of those places where, when you’re there once or twice a week, feels like your second home.”

Karen Boyce McCollum thought it was her second home. The youngest of the six children of Carmel and Barney Boyce of County Donegal, longtime members of the Irish Center Board, Karen is a former singer with the group Causeway. “One of my first memories is of going up there with my mom and dad to the Donegal meetings. They were on a Sunday and we would go to church then head up there. While they were in their meeting, we had the full run of the place, and we’d usually meet up with some of the other kids and get into some fun and a little bit of trouble.”

So it seemed fitting that Shannon and her group and Karen and brothers Michael and John (of Blackthorn) will provide the music at Sunday’s Inspirational Irish Women Awards. The event honors 11 Delaware Valley Irish and Irish-American women who embody the Irish spirit and is a fundraiser for the Center, which, like many organizations, has experienced some recent financial difficulties.

“I had to do it,” says Shannon. “It’s important to keep it afloat. The Irish Center allows for quite a lot to happen. Just to coordinate it elsewhere would take quite a bit of effort.”

Along with ceilis, dance lessons, and concerts, the Center houses most of the county associations and hosts most of the annual county balls. “We went to all the Balls—Donegal, Mayo, Cavan,” recalls Karen, who eventually wore two crowns: Miss Mayo and the 2006 Rose of Tralee. “When I was little I remembering wishing I didn’t have a dress on so I could really spin around on the dance floor.” She laughs.

Later, she began taking fiddle lessons at the Center. Her family held her bridal shower there; her sister Colleen’s reception was held at the Center, as was her brother, Brian’s. She sang and danced in the ballroom and on the Fireside Room stage, most recently with her brothers at the Center’s Rambling House entertainment events, produced by Irish radio host Marianne MacDonald.


Karen Boyce McCollum and brothers Mike and John.

“As time went on I started to love it more,” says Karen. “I don’t think there’s a place that cozier than or more appealing on winter’s night than the Fireside Room with a fire going, having a beer. Some of the memories I have are of the people I met there—people who are gone now, like Tommy Moffit and Jim Kilgallen and a man who became like a grandfather to me, Tom Finnegan. He was a widower with no children and my parents met him through the Donegal Society. They would drive him here and there on weekends, and finally they said ‘Why don’t you stay here?’ So for 10 years, he stayed at our house Thursdays to Mondays. Every time I’m at the Irish Center I think of how Tom used to get up a dance. He had these moves he did.” She laughs. “One drink and he was kicking his feet up, cute as button.”

For Shannon, it was the dancers. “I think about Frank Malley, who just passed away about a year ago. He was somebody who my mom used to dance with at the ceili when she was much younger and they met later on. He became a friend of ours and his partner, Connie Koppe, is still a friend. He was always so gentle and warm. He would take you under his wing and my mom said he was one of the best dancers.”

She also remembers “waltzing with Eugene O’Donnell,” the legendary five-time All-Ireland step dancing champ and master fiddler from Derry who was a fixture at the Irish Center. “This is really where music became the love of my life forever,” she says.

For both singers, Sunday’s performances are a labor of love. “There are people who go to the Center and love it, and go back all the time. I think their spirits are there,” says Karen. “They say that the older a chair gets, the more comfortable is is. That’s the way I feel about the Irish Center. When the lights are low and there’s a good band playing, there’s nothing like it. It feels like home.”


Amazing Grace

Princess Grace of Monaco

Princess Grace of Monaco

Not too bad for a kid from East Falls.

Admittedly, Grace Kelly was not just any kid from East Falls, but the daughter of John Brendan “Jack” Kelly—triple Olympic gold medalist in rowing, and the enormously successful millionaire owner of “Kelly for Brickwork.”

The Kellys were no ordinary East Falls family—and, although the young Grace Patricia Kelly was regarded as quiet and withdrawn, she knew one thing for sure at an early age: She wanted to become an actress.

When she was 12, Grace landed the lead role in “Don’t Feed the Animals,” a play produced by the East Falls Old Academy Players. Later, tthroughout her years at the Stevens School, she continued to act. And when it came time to leave the Stevens School, she moved to New York to pursue her dream in earnest.

She enrolled in the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and, by all accounts, devoted all her energies to her acting studies.

It didn’t take long for Grace Kelly to find her place in the footlights. She debuted on Broadway in Strindberg’s ”The Father,” which starred the formidable Raymond Massey. The then burgeoning arena of television drama soon beckoned. The hard-working Grace Kelly would go on to perform in nearly 60 live telecasts—an acting pursuit not for the meek or faint of heart.

Hollywood soon noticed what many people already knew well: This Grace Kelly was something special.

Her first film was “Fourteen Hours”—and not too many movie-goers noticed her. She continued to work in television and on stage—and then along came a role that everyone would notice. She was hand-picked for a co-starring role opposite the great Gary Cooper in the classic Western, “High Noon.”

The rest is Hollywood history. Fans will never forget her star turn in “Mogambo,” opposite the brooding Clark Gable, for which she earned her first Oscar nomination—for best supporting actress. In a career in which there were almost no missteps, Grace Kelly turned down the role in “On the Waterfront” that ultimately went to Eva Marie Saint. But it bears remembering that in the same year, she appeared in three of Hollywood’s best films—“Dial M for Murder,” “Rear Window” and “The Country Girl.” For her performance in “The Country Girl,” she earned the Academy Award fo best actress.

A string of movie successes followed, including “To Catch a Thief” and her last film, “High Society.”

But by the time of her last film, the girl from 3901 Henry Avenue was preparing for a new role in life. She had met Prince Rainier III of Monaco at Cannes in April 1955. A relationship blossomed. And in December of the same year Ranier traveled to the United States and proposed. On April 18, 1956, they wed in a simple civil ceremony in Monaco, followed the next day by a far more lavish religious ceremony. Grace Kelly’s movie days were over, but she seamlessly transitioned into her new role as Princess Consort of Monaco.

The world knew her from that point on simply as Princess Grace. As princess, she became renowned as a world-class humanitarian. She was the tirelessly devoted president of the nation’s Red Cross, and honorary president of AMADE-Monaco, a highly regarded non-profit child-advocacy organization.

No one in Philadelphia who knew of and loved Grace Kelly will forget September15, 1982—the day she died following a traffic accident. Her passing had a profound impact, not just in Monaco, but here in Philadelphia.

James Stewart delivered the eulogy at her funeral. He spoke for all of us when he said: “Grace brought into my life as she brought into yours, a soft, warm light every time I saw her, and every time I saw her was a holiday of its own. No question, I’ll miss her, we’ll all miss her.”

It would be easy to focus on her death. But far better to recall her astonishing and inspiring life.

Like we said: Not bad for a kid from the Falls.


On Air and In Person, the Real Deal

Kathy Orr

Kathy Orr

Kathy Orr’s first notable on-air appearance had nothing to do with Arctic highs, offshore breezes or flash-flood warnings.

Nor did it require her to fly through a hurricane—as she would one day do.

And perhaps best of all … no risky predictions of winter snowfall totals.

CBS3’s chief meteorologist was still a student at Syracuse University when the producers of a new MTV game show, “Remote Control,” came to the campus, looking for contestants.
Kathy passed the audition.

As she recalled in an interview: “I had a final exam and I asked my professor if I could take it a later time. They picked a bunch of us. I had a blast… I lost.”

Well, she may well have lost on a game show. But from that point on, Kathy Orr’s broadcast career has followed a winning trajectory.

The broadcasting bug hit Kathy early. As a kid growing up in the Syracuse, New York, suburb of Westvale, she is said to have loved watching televised sports—and that heightened her interest in a career before the cameras.

Orr went on to receive her degree in meteorology from SUNY-Oswego. She also received a dual bachelor’s of science degree in broadcast journalism and marketing from Syracuse University.

After school, one of her first jobs in news was, happily, not too far from home. Kathy landed the job of chief meteorologist for CBS affiliate WTVH in Syracuse. There, she presided over the nightly “Fivecast”—predicting snow showers for Manlius, sunny skies for Old Forge, or unseasonably high temperatures for Norwich. (Also sitting at the anchor desk was her future Philadelphia colleague Tracy Davidson.)

Flash forward to 1998, when she arrived in the nation’s fourth largest media market and a weekend weather slot at WCAU. It didn’t long for people to sit up and take notice of the new kid in town. The Delco Daily Times named her “Rookie of the Year.” Not long afterward, she was picking up Mid-Atlantic Emmy awards.

In January 2003, she accepted the post of chief meteorologist at CBS3. And the honors and words of praise have just kept coming.

Of course, Philly’s Irish know Kathy as more than just their favorite source for weather. She also hosts the Philadelphia St. Patrick’s Day Parade—an assignment she obviously loves. Even when she has to predict a hard rain for the day of the parade, nothing dampens Kathy’s enthusiasm.

Kathy devotes her off-the-air energies to local charities such as Susan G. Komen for the Cure. In 1998, she was awarded the New York Governor’s Award for community service.

There’s clearly much more to Kathy Orr than what you see on screen. (Ask her about scuba diving.)

A discerning fan once described Kathy Orr as “a smart, competent, schtick-free woman.”

Whether you’re looking for a weather forecast or service to the community … that’s just what you want.


A Lifetime of Facing and Overcoming Challenges

Rosabelle Gifford

Rosabelle Gifford

Rosabelle Gifford left England in 1958 as an impoverished single mother to bring five children to the Philadelphia area. She now presides over an extended family of 13 grandchildren, all college graduates, and 21 great-grandchildren.

“We were all poor during my childhood,” recalls Gifford, born Rosabelle Blaney in Doorin, Donegal. “There were no cars. We thought it a great adventure to get a ride home on the bar of some boy’s bicycle.”

One of those boys, Edward Harvey of Castleogary, married the young Rose Blaney and they had five children, raised in London following World War II. Living conditions in England following the war were terrible—not just because of widespread food rationing and shortages, but because Rosabelle’s marriage was disintegrating.

But adversity to Rosabelle simply meant another challenge to overcome. At a time when society frowned of divorce and single parenthood, she headed for the United States with her children, where she ultimately married again, this time to Charles Gifford, a World War II veteran.

Life has given Rosabelle some heartbreaking challenges that would test even the strongest person’s courage. Her beloved husband, Charlie Gifford, passed away more than 20 years ago, shortly after the death of her son-in-law Joseph McCullough. Her oldest son, Ted Harvey, died four years later, followed within five years by his wife Mae. Rosabelle cherishes spending time with her four surviving children: Rosemary McCullough, Kathleen Harshberger, Frank Harvey and James Harvey.

Five decades after arriving in Philadelphia, she is an inspiration to the Irish community, a longtime member of the Donegal Society of Philadelphia, staunch supporter of Irish affairs, and an avid advocate of educational opportunity for all and of programs to combat domestic violence. She is a friend to the downtrodden who combines remarkable energy with a powerful will.

In 2009, she was honored with the first-ever Mary O’Connor Spirit Award by the Philadelphia Rse of Tralee Centre, which is now presented annually to one Irish-American woman who is considered to be a role model for the younger generation of women in the community. The truth is, Rosabelle has surely inspired mostly everyone who has ever been lucky enough to meet her.


“You Just Do the Best You Can”

Sister Mary Scullion

Sister Mary Scullion

For some, the road to a religious life is paved with uncertainty. They wonder: Do I really have a vocation? Do I have what it takes?

Young Mary Scullion harbored no such misgivings. God spoke to the very heart of this girl from an Oxford Circle row home, and she knew it early on.

“There really wasn’t any doubt,” she says. “It was the one thing I wanted to do when I was young. That’s what I felt most drawn to.”

Today, Mary Scullion is as resolved in her commitment to the religious life and the Catholic church’s mission of social justice as she was when she entered the Sisters of Mercy in 1972 at the age of 19. Now extraordinarily well known as the co-founder with Joan Dawson McConnon of Philadelphia’s Project H.O.M.E., one can only describe her life and career as remarkable.

Project H.O.M.E. is devoted to ending homelessness in Philadelphia. Since its founding in 1989, the project has reduced homelessness by half. An estimated 95 percent of the homeless people who enter the program don’t go back to the streets.

That’s impressive. But it is still far short of the goal set by Sister Mary Scullion and her colleagues and supporters. (Among the latter is rocker Jon Bon Jovi.) They live by these words: None of us are at home until all of are at home.

In 2009, Time Magazine recognized Mary Scullion’s good works by naming her one of the 100 most influential people in the world. (She was Number 17 on the list of Heroes & Icons, just before Oprah Winfrey and Sarah Palin.)

Probably no one whose life is described as inspirational gets to that point without being inspired by others. For Mary Scullion, there were many, including activist Dorothy Day, Mother Theresa and Jesuit Father Pedro Arrupe, all of whom attended the 41st Eucharistic Congress in 1976, held in Philadelphia.

Sister Mary, who was also there, was especially moved by Father Arrupe. “He talked about how, if anyone is hungry anywhere in the world, the Eucharist is incomplete everywhere in the world,” she recalls. “That has still resonated with me over the past 40 years.”

Another source of inspiration to Mary Scullion is someone who believed in her vocation when others—including her father Joseph, born in Derry, and her mother Sheila from Mayo—weren’t so sure.

“Sister Ellen Cavanaugh was the director of formation (of the Sisters of Mercy). “I do think she had her reservations, but she nonetheless encouraged me and others to participate in workshops for women thinking about the religious life,” says Sister Mary. “She was a wonderful example of what a Sister of Mercy is. She strengthened me by inspiration and by motivation. She was and still is a great woman.”

Although she has been singled out for honor as a “great woman” herself often in her life, Sister Mary Scullion seems dubious about that characterization. “I am a person who struggles, just like everyone else, to be open to God’s grace,” she says. “You just do the best you can.”