Irish-American philanthropist who helped peace process

Tom Moran obituary: New Yorker served as Queen’s University chancellor and worked with Concern agency

Tom Moran

Born: October 14th, 1952

Died: August 12th, 2018

Tom Moran’s death was marked in his native New York and in Ireland for his contribution to making peace and for worldwide philanthropy. He had served since 2015 as chancellor of Queen’s University Belfast.


His contribution to the international relief agency Concern Worldwide, which he chaired for 16 years, brought many honours including Ireland’s presidential medal (the Presidential Distinguished Service Award for the Irish Abroad). He travelled to see Concern’s work in many countries including Afghanistan, Haiti and Rwanda.

As head of Mutual of America life insurance he succeeded his mentor Bill Flynn, a major supporter of the embryonic peace. Flynn coaxed Moran into joining him as envoy to the process. As “Irish American of the Year”’ in 2008, Moran won praise from the Rev Ian Paisley as well as Gerry Adams, former taoiseach Bertie Ahern and Sir Hugh Orde, then chief constable of the PSNI.

After his death, tributes came from the present Chief Constable George Hamilton – “a great friend; full of honesty, candour and wisdom” – and notably from both Adams and ex-SDLP leader Mark Durkan. His was “good counsel given straight”, Durkan tweeted. “A head for big business but a heart for small causes.”

Moran, said Adams, had been a friend to David Ervine, the deceased former leader of the PUP, political voice of the UVF. The friendship was “one of the great riches of my life”, Moran said. With Flynn, he was invited to the announcement of the 1994 loyalist ceasefire. He spoke at Ervine’s funeral in loyalist east Belfast, having helped arrange Adams’s attendance as a fellow mourner.

He believed working class loyalist voices were essential to balance those of Sinn Féin and the SDLP with Irish-America, according to Prof Monica McWilliams. He had also stayed in touch with the Women’s Coalition ever since the Good Friday negotiations, she added. Before the funeral Mass at St Patrick’s Cathedral, McWilliams noted waiters in uniform at the funeral home there “to pay respect to a man who had treated them with dignity and generosity”.

Work ethic

A strong believer in education, he often said his earliest employment, starting as a 14-year-old janitor in his high school, taught him every job had worth. One of three children of an Irish-Italian-American mother with Fermanagh and Tipperary ancestors, and an Irish-American father, an invitation from a “couple of Donegal guys at Doherty’s Bar and Grill on Staten Island” first brought him to Ireland as an 18-year-old. Later he “fell in love with the people of the north”.

At his induction as Irish-American of the Year, publisher Niall O’Dowd said that Moran never developed “airs”.

“The kid from Staten Island who once drove a cab to survive would never have let him,” he added.

In response, Moran credited many for his success, especially the Daughters of Divine Charity when he started school unable to speak.

He got his mathematics degree from Manhattan College, while driving a taxi at night. He liked to recall that on graduation his first “very important” Mutual of America job was to “paperclip anything that needed to be signed” when a pension was sold. When the contracts piled up, he had to take them to be signed by then-president Bill Flynn. He met his wife Joan in the company, also of Irish stock, eventually responsible for the company’s technology.


Vice-chancellor Prof Ian Greer said Moran often talked of Queen’s as family. He was happy to travel for events including an award to the university’s Centre for Secure Information Technology, presented at Buckingham Palace by the Prince of Wales.

Beaming on the lawn at his first graduation ceremony, Moran told a young interviewer that he was “thrown” to be asked to be chancellor after being “involved a bit in the peace process”. The then vice-chancellor, Prof Patrick Johnston, persuaded him: “Paddy’s international renown – you couldn’t help but want to be associated with that.” Johnston’s reputation and that of Queen’s, he believed, would unlock a new Northern Ireland future. (Johnston died on a cycling holiday last summer.)

O’Dowd wondered if Moran’s death, so soon after that of the 92-year-old Flynn in May, perhaps marked the end of an era of Irish-American active involvement in peace-making.

He is survived by his wife, Joan, and his mother Lillian. His sister Bess Zampella and brother Jack Moran also survive him.