My dad would be pissed if I didn’t keep going. You have to keep going … His death a few weeks ago is a first for our family and we know we have been blessed in that way. We’re still adjusting to our loss of this ordinary and extraordinary man who immigrated from County Mayo, Ireland in 1948. I was lucky enough to slip into my Irish Catholic family as the fifth, and last, child of John Quinn, who has since served as my inspiration and role model, and Kay Quinn, my wonderful mother, whom he fell in love with at first sight 62 years ago.
Although my father’s traumatic early history is unfortunately not unusual even today, his strength and commitment are rare. They enabled him to arrive in this country at age 24 with $20 in his pocket, one change of clothes, and an 8th-grade education; and end his career managing the rotary print center at Travelers. “Shoot for the moon,” he always told me, “If you get halfway there, I’ll be proud of you.” And I fiercely wanted my dad to be proud of me. This is my opportunity to share why I’m so fiercely proud of him.
Dad was one of five boys, born into a poor Irish family. His mother died when he was ten, and finding his place in this new all-male family meant becoming responsible at a very young age. He took charge of the household, including the cooking. Around age 20, when the family needed money, he traveled to England to work in the fields. Because my father stood just five foot five, the farmers pegged him as a weakling. Little did they know how scrappy he was!
When he was finally hired, he worked as hard as his bigger buddies and slept alongside them on the hay in the barn, sending the money home. This was wartime, it was cold, and the food was scarce. But it was John Quinn who negotiated with the farmer for blankets for himself and his buddies. And it was John Quinn who was able to get leftover bones for everyone from the butcher, some with a little meat on them. He took care of his father, brothers, and buddies, and later his family and employees with the same selfless care.
Even though his brother said it was “daft” to move to America, when his American aunt said she had room for one more, my dad jumped at the chance. It took every ounce of courage to leave family, friends, community, and culture behind—especially when no one in the family supported his decision.
Despite never having seen printing equipment until he started his job at Travelers soon after arriving in Hartford, CT, Dad learned all he could on the job and worked his way up from apprentice to manager of the rotary printing operation. Not surprisingly, Dad said of his almost 40 years at Travelers, “The opportunities for advancement are there if you’re willing to work for them. I believed that then and I believe that now.” I believe it too, and so do the many employees my dad inspired through his story and told, “You can do it too.”
My dad instilled in our family a zero tolerance for not being real and admonished that “You can’t fake happy.” He encouraged us to be in the arena even if it means getting bloodied and battered—to take a chance and not let life go by. That’s probably why we’ve all built successful careers and have happy families. He told us often that, “If you can’t help someone, don’t hurt them.” Maybe that’s why we’re all so involved in our communities. It’s hard to express the depth of his gifts, and maybe that’s why all five of his children stood for him at his funeral and all 14 of his grandchildren were pallbearers.
My first mentor was my father. Because he believed in me, I believed in myself. Dad instilled my values and gave me confidence. His early and ongoing mentoring has made me a better person—a better wife, mother, and friend—as well as a better business leader. He is in large part why I became me.
In honor of both Father’s Day and Mother’s Day, my wish is that everyone has someone in their life as influential as my dad has been in my life. Even if you didn’t have someone, there’s still time to be someone like the man from Mayo.