NEW York Times columnist and Pulitzer Prize winner, Maureen Dowd didn’t forget her strong North Clare roots when she was conferred with a Degree of Doctor of Literature by the National University of Galway, NUIG on Friday.
In her wide-ranging acceptance speech, Ms Dowd recalled how her father, Mike, from Fanore, used an eighth-grade education and titanic charm to rise to be a police inspector who guarded American presidents, including Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Her father’s older brother, John, a Fanore farmer, could barely read or write and signed documents with an ‘x’.
The 60-year-old followed in her father’s footsteps, watching over presidents, too. She just sometimes tweak them when they get out of line. Her weapon is different: a pen rather than a gun.
Her friend and fellow columnist, Mary McGrory, always quoted Yeats, saying that writing was so hard, you had to go down upon the marrow of your bones.
“I loved that, because I decided to become a writer at 20, when my cousin, Jimmy O’Connor, the postmaster of Galway, took me to Lady Coole’s Estate, Gort to see the old beech tree, the autograph tree, that all the famous Irish writers signed. Yeats, Shaw, Synge, O’Casey.
“That Yeats line was the best advice I got from Mary McGrory. That, and ‘when you go to a party with very important people and you feel intimidated, always approach the shrimp bowl like you own it’.
Despite her numerous achievements, the prolific columnist says the doctorate is the biggest thing to happen to her family since 1932, when her father left his “comely young fiancee”, Peggy Meenehan, behind in Washington and made a triumphant trip back to Fanore..
In order to make the maximum impression, Mike took the savings he had accrued in 40 years as an Irish bachelor and bought a brand new shiny red roadster, which he shipped over with him on the boat.
The North Clare village was agog at the magisterial return of its native son in his grand car.
“Ah, Mick,” they thrilled, “you’re a mill-un-aire”.
He took everyone in the village for rides to Kinvara and delayed returning to his fiancee for a month because he was having such a good time. When her sister came for her first visit 34 years later, the whole village was still talking about it.
“I want to thank you, because this is my Red roadster,” she said.
However, she still admits to being a bit nervous after a conversation with a chatty immigration official, while she was reporting on President Obama’s trip to Ireland last year.
“And what are you after doing here?” he asked her. “I’m here to report on President Obama discovering his Irish roots,’’ she said.
“And how would that be?” he asked.
“His people came from Moneygall,” she told him.
He stared at me for a moment. “I have me doubts,” he said.
Her great fear is that she will run into that same official the next time she comes to Ireland and when she give him her name, Doctor Dowd, he will stare at me and say
“I have me doubts”.
She believes her parents are looking down, from the Ballinrobe-Ballyvaughan neighbourhood of heaven. And her dad is putting his arm around her mom and murmuring, “not bad, Peg”.
Playwright and novelist, Sebastian Barry; executive vice-president, The Coca-Cola Company, Irial Finan and Canadian Finance Minister, Jim Flaherty MP were also conferred with honorary degrees.
NUI Galway president, Dr Jim Browne said the four graduates have made an outstanding and distinctive contribution to the diverse fields of literature, journalism, business, public administration and government.
Ms Dowd scooped a Pulitzer Prize in the commentary category in 1999, for her “unsparing columns on the hypocrisies involved in the Lewinsky affair and the effort to impeach President Clinton”. She was appointed a columnist of The New York Times Op-Ed page in January 1995, where she joined in 1983.
Previously, she served as a correspondent in its Washington bureau since August 1986. There, she covered two Presidential campaigns and served as White House correspondent, gaining a wide following of admirers and imitators for her witty, incisive and acerbic portraits of the powerful. She also wrote a column, On Washington, for The New York Times Magazine.
She began her career in 1974 as an editorial assistant for the Washington Star where she later became a sports columnist, metropolitan reporter, and feature writer. A Pulitzer Prize finalist for national reporting in 1992, Ms Dowd received the Breakthrough Award from ‘Women, Men and Media’ at Columbia University in 1991 and a Matrix Award from New York Women in Communications in 1994.
She was named one of Glamour’s Women of the Year for 1996 and won the Damon Runyon award in 2000 for outstanding contributions to journalism. She is the author of two bestselling books, Bushworld: Enter at Your Own Risk (2004) and Are Men Necessary? When Sexes Collide (2005).
Born in Washington, DC, on January 14, 1952, she received a BA degree in English from Catholic University (Washington) in 1973.