Irish-American entrepreneur and philanthropist William “Bill” Flynn, GSAS ’51, a Fordham trustee fellow who played an integral role in the peace process in Northern Ireland in the early ’90s, died on June 2. He was 92.
Flynn served as a trustee of the University from 1992 to 1997. He was elected a trustee fellow in 2005 and served in that role until his passing.
“I know the Fordham family joins me in grief over the loss of Bill Flynn, a man so full of life that his passing still seems improbable,” said Joseph M. McShane, S.J., president of Fordham. “Bill lived a life full of accomplishment—in business, in philanthropy, and in service to the human family, including his work to build a lasting peace in Northern Ireland. Our hearts go out to Peg, his family, and loved ones today.”
The son of Bill Flynn Sr. and Anna Connors of County Down and County Mayo, respectively, Flynn attended Cathedral College of the Immaculate Conception in Huntington, New York, and received an M.A. in economics from Fordham in 1951. Before pursuing a professional career in business, Flynn, a native New Yorker, served in the United States Air Force during the Korean War. He developed a distinguished career in the life insurance industry at Mutual of America, where he held various positions over the span of more than 30 years and eventaully rose to become president and CEO. Under his leadership, Mutual of America grew from a small organization to a nationally recognized financial services company with 33 regional offices across the continental United States. Since 2005, he had served as the company’s chairman emeritus.
In a statement, John R. Greed, chairman, president, and CEO of Mutual of America, described Flynn as a humanitarian and an innovative leader “who touched the lives of countless individuals both in the United States and abroad.”
“We who were privileged to have known him will gratefully remember his wise counsel, exceptional insights, high ethical standards, moral courage and most especially, his friendship. He will be greatly missed,” he said.
An Honest Broker
In addition to his business activities, Flynn, who was named to Irish America magazine’s Hall of Fame in 2011, was dedicated to social justice and peacemaking initiatives in his parents’ homeland. During the early ’90s, Flynn served as chairman of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy (NCAFP), an activist organization focused on advancing conflict resolutions. In 1994, he took out a full-page ad in the New York Times announcing that the group was inviting the leaders of the political factions in Northern Ireland to New York to discuss the Downing Street Declaration, a framework to end violence in the region. Later, Flynn helped to negotiate a U.S. visa for Sinn Féin president Gerry Adams to attend a NCAFP-hosted conference, which reportedly led to an IRA ceasefire that same year.
“I was considered an honest broker because I had no personal or business interest in anything in Ireland, except that I love the country and want peace,” said Flynn in a 1995 interview with Fordham magazine.
Among Flynn’s many affiliations, he was a former chairman of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy and of the board of the Life Insurance Council of New York. He also served on the boards of a number of organizations, including the Catholic Health Association of the United States, United Way Worldwide (formerly United Way International), the Elie Wiesel Foundation for Humanity, and the College Construction Loan Insurance Association.
Flynn was recognized with several awards throughout his lifetime for his accomplishments in business and international relations. In 1994, the Life Insurance Council of New York named him the “Most Outstanding CEO” of the life insurance industry in the prior 20 years. He received the Special Peacemaker in Action Award in 2005 from the Tanenbaum Center for Interreligious Understanding “for a lifetime devoted to conflict resolution.” In 2009, he was named an honorary Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (CBE) by Queen Elizabeth II for his contributions to the peace and reconciliation process of Northern Ireland.
Flynn is survived by his wife, Peg; his two children, William K. Flynn and Maureen Welsh; 11 grandchildren; and one great-grandchild.