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Editorial / Periscope - Niall O'Dowd
Stars of the South
October 22, 2008
Periscope by Niall O'Dowd
ATLANTA — Haley Kilpatrick is an exceptional young woman. When she was 15 years old she founded Girl Talk at her high school in Albany, Georgia.
“Girl Talk is an organization that develops leadership skills in high school girls by allowing them to mentor middle school girls,” says Kilpatrick.
Her organization is now in 24 states, with international chapters in Canada, the Virgin Islands and Africa, helping 30,000 young girls deal with the stress and strain of growing up.
Now 21, she was recently named by CNN as one of their Young People Who Rock. She has appeared on the Today show as well, and has received the President’s Volunteer Service Award.
Kilpatrick was honored by our sister publication Irish America magazine as one of their 2008 Stars of the South in Atlanta last Saturday night.
It was a wonderful gala occasion, with over 200 luminaries in attendance at the Commerce Club in downtown Atlanta. Don Keough, former president of Coca-Cola and now chairman of Allen and Company, was on hand to accept a well-deserved Lifetime Achievement Award, and many of those present traveled from all over the south to be at the party.
There were honorees from Atlanta, South Carolina, Virginia, Miami, Washington, D.C. and other points south, as well as representatives from the Irish and British government agencies.
James Hamilton, the Duke of Abercorn and now a member of Tourism Ireland, spoke movingly about the new Northern Ireland and the hopes and dreams of a new generation that the old battles, like the American Civil War, will soon fade.
Kilpatrick brought some in the crowd close to tears as she spoke about how the award brought her much closer to her grandfather, and how proud he was when he heard she had won the award as they traced her Irish heritage together.
The Stars of the South, brainchild of Don Keenan, a leading southern lawyer and philanthropist, and his hard working committee is an extraordinary event, perhaps the only one in America that makes a conscious effort to reach out to Scots Irish like Kilpatrick and include them in the ever-broadening definition of the Irish diaspora.
Another fascinating honoree was Mary King Rose Taylor, who has single-handedly restored the home of Margaret Mitchell, author of Gone with the Wind, and restored the many Irish artifacts and photographs that Mitchell, who was enormously proud of her Irish roots, gathered around her as she wrote her extraordinary tome of the south’s Civil War.
Taylor, formerly married to PBS host Charlie Rose, is a former 60 Minutes producer who has now made the restoration of Mitchell’s home her life’s work. Of Scots Irish heritage like Kilpatrick, she is contributing mightily to keeping a slice of Irish history in America alive.
Brian Moran is a name you will be hearing a lot about in the near future. The 48-year-old grandson of Mayo immigrants, he is the early favorite to become Virginia’s next governor when the commonwealth votes in 2009 for a new chief executive.
Moran is the kind of rising young politician who could go much further than just governor. He has a brother, Jim, who is already in Congress and is the youngest of seven kids. He regularly visits the Moran homestead in Carrowkeel, Co. Mayo.
D. Reece Williams, also of Scots Irish heritage, is one of South Carolina’s most famous lawyers and a winner of the Masters in Trial Award from the American Board of Trial Advocates in addition to being an outstanding humanitarian and supporter of the arts. His rendition of a Shakespearian sonnet, which capsulated the evening for him, was a real highlight.
Also present was Dr. Thomas Lawley, dean of Emory’s School of Medicine, who memorably quoted his Irish grandmother’s advice to him when he was leaving high school and preparing for the world. “Make sure you get an inside job,” she told him, an example of how back then, such concerns were uppermost in families’ minds.
Mike McGovern is an Irish-born humanitarian who has spent a lifetime trying to find ways to improve children’s health. A founder of the pharmaceutical company CPEX, he also serves on the Taoiseach’s (Prime Minister’s) Economic Advisory Board.
Other honorees included Kevin Conboy, head of the Irish Chamber of Commerce USA in Atlanta who has kept the Irish business flag flying in the south; James Kelly, the Miami-based master traditional fiddler; and Mary O’Connor, who heads the outreach for the Center for the Study of the Presidency in Washington, D.C.
It was wonderful evening, one that will long live in the memory of all those present. The Irish in the south are on the march again.
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