One Remarkable Woman

Denise Foley

Denise Foley

A reporter’s job is to cover the story … not to be the story.

For my longtime blogging partner and friend Denise Foley, the tables are about to be turned.

Denise is the 2013 winner of the Mary O’Connor Spirit Award. The Philadelphia Rose of Tralee Centre confers the award each year on an Irish-American woman who embodies the qualities of strength, humility, courage and service as exemplified by the heroine of the 19th century ballad who inspired the creation of the International Rose of Tralee Festival.

The O’Connor Award will be presented April 6 at the annual Rose of Tralee Selection Night and Dinner. Of course, the focal point of the evening will be the selection of the 2013 Philadelphia Rose of Tralee—an outstanding young woman of Irish descent who will represent the region at the Rose of Tralee International Festival in County Kerry, Ireland, in August.

For the Philadelphia Rose of Tralee Centre, the Mary O’Connor Spirit adds another dimension to the event, but it’s all part of the same theme: highlighting the contributions of smart, strong, involved Irish-American women.

Denise meets the criteria in spades. (And add “funny” to the mix.)

“Every year, we go through a list of women who are contributors to the community here in Philadelphia,” said Philadelphia Rose organizer Sarah Conaghan. “The Rose of Tralee aims to connect the global Irish community. Denise does that here locally in Philadelphia through It really strengthens our community as a whole. She has always been a strong contender for this award. She’s a great supporter of various causes. She’s a role model for future generations of Roses.”

Choosing a Spirit Award winner can be difficult, Conaghan said, but it’s a good problem to have. “This award could go on forever because we’re blessed with so many motivational women in our community. We’re really lucky.”

When she first heard about her selection, by email from Sarah’s sister and fellow Rose organizer Karen Conaghan Race, Denise was taken totally by surprise.

“I thought it was just a reminder that the Rose was coming up and to ask if I was coming to cover it, as I always do,” Denise recalled. “I know it’s a total cliche to say you don’t deserve an award and most of the people who say that don’t really mean it, but I do. In fact, I could come up with a huge list of people I’d give the award to. I’ve met some incredible people—incredible women—in the seven years we’ve been doing who deserve recognition more than I do, including Sarah and Karen! But to say that I’m honored is an understatement. If Sarah and Karen think I’m worthy, who am I to argue?”

As always, Denise said, she’s looking forward to the event, which shines a spotlight on so many remarkable young women. “I feel fortunate to count some of them—as well as some Mary from Dungloes and Miss Mayos—as my friends.”

Sarah Conaghan expected Denise to react with with her characteristic humility at news of her selection. “I believe she said she doesn’t deserve it, but that it’s something to live up to. That just goes to prove how humble she is.”

She also expected this year’s self-effacing honoree to feel just a bit discomfited to find herself on the other side of the camera. “Like I said, she’s very humble,” Conaghan said, laughing. “And she’s not going to like this article.”

The Philadelphia Rose of Tralee Selection Night & Dinner will be held at the Radnor Hotel, 591 East Lancaster Avenue in Wayne. Tickets are $55 per person. The evening’s events include music by Bucky Scott Entertainment. CBS3’s consumer reporter Jim Donovan will be the emcee.

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