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Dan Rooney ‘gave Newry the confidence to believe that the world was their oyster’

Tuesday, 18 April 2017

Dan Rooney ‘gave Newry the confidence to believe that the world was their oyster’ thumbnailDan Rooney

NEWRY has lost "a great friend" with the passing of Dan Rooney, said Chairman of Whitegates Community Business Limited, Peter Jackson.

Mr Rooney, whose great great grandfather was born in Newry in 1829, passed away last Thursday (April 13) at the age of 84.

The late Mr Rooney was the son of publican Arthur Rooney, who in 1933 founded the American football team the Pittsburgh Steelers, the most successful team in American Football history, with six Super Bowl wins.

Taking over the running of the Steelers from his father in the 1960s, Dan Rooney, the eldest of five boys in a family of nine children also rose to great prominence not only in Pittsburgh, but nationally.

On St Patrick's Day 2009, Mr Rooney was announced as U.S. Ambassador to Ireland by President Barack Obama.

Back in 1990, together with the then MP, Mr Seamus Mallon, Dan Rooney founded the Newry Pittsburgh Partnership. This was a joint venture between Enterprise Newry Limited (comprising local business and community leaders) and the Irish Institute of Pittsburgh (IIP) to encourage corporate interests in Pittsburgh to consider Newry as a potential location for international investment and entry to the European market.

As part of this venture, the Rooney Fellowship (a $250k endowment) was created and sponsored by the American Ireland Fund honouring Dan Rooney which enables a student following a Higher Education Course in Business and Management at the then Newry & Kilkeel Institute, now the Southern Regional College, to study at the Universities of Duquesne and Pittsburgh in the United States.

Dan Rooney and his wife Patricia travelled to Newry each year to present the Rooney Fellowship Scholarship.

Mr Jackson recalled his own memories of the man, who was also a member of the Pro Football Hall of Fame, and author of the Rooney Rule which promotes diversity in hiring NFL coaches.

“I knew him very well, I first met him way back in 1992," said Mr Jackson.

“He was vice-chairman of the Ireland-America fund. He also was on the board of the International Fund for Ireland, and when he heard about the dilemma that we had with our centre being burned down, and the views we had on starting up small businesses, he said: 'I'll be back to see you'.

“So them he came back the following year and we had a discussion with him and he said: 'I have a little bit of influence and I'll do my very, very best over in Pittsburgh to instil interest, and back up people like you.

“He was an extremely important man. Ever year since then, apart from one time, he came over. Back in 2000, he took his whole family around the whole area and he said: 'This is where my roots are. This is where I told you often about.'

“They were extremely Irish-minded people, with great views on homeland. He said that nobody should forget their roots, especially the Irish. We all came from humble beginnings. We should never forget our own.

“He was a man of great influence, but very humble. At the moment we feel we've lost a great friend."

Feargal McCormack of PKF-FPM accountants, who co-ordinated Mr Rooney's trips back to Newry for 25 years, also paid a warm tribute to the man, whom he pointed out is only the third ever person to be granted the freedom of Newry.

“He was an inspirational leader, and a friend for 25 years," said Mr McCormack.

“I had regular contact with him every year. What he did for American-Irish relationships was phenomenal, and obviously what he did for Newry - it was very appropriate in 2000 when he became only the third person in history to be presented with the charter of Newry, which was established by the King of Ireland in the 12th Century.

“People here never appreciate how big Dan Rooney was.

“He gave Newry the confidence to believe that the world was their oyster - there was nothing they could not achieve, to believe in themselves.

“He was a very caring man, very, very humble."

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