Peace be with you
Article in the Belfast Telegraph
The description 'larger-than-life' could have been coined for Tom Tracy, the American multi-millionaire who became involved in a wide range of peace building projects in Northern Ireland. Tracy, who has died at his home in Los Angeles after a long illness, will be remembered fondly by many here for his legendary generosity, as Chris Ryder recalls
01 April 2006
Tom Tracy was the embodiment of the American dream. The grandson of Irish emigrants, he built up a multi-millionaire business and a lavish lifestyle to match. His hospitality was the stuff of legends. Vintage wines, aged whiskies and exotic liqueurs were showered on his guests. They dined on the freshest, seasonal delicacies: oysters, lobster, caviar, wild salmon.He also enjoyed a bit of mischief. Some years ago he brought a Pope John Paul look-a-like on one of his frequent visits to Ireland and revelled with glee at the sight of his many unionist friends shaking hands with the 'Pope'.
But he was also a man of exceptional generosity and he shared his wealth on an equally sumptuous scale with a range of deserving causes and individuals in both the US and Ireland.
One night, after donating £25,000 to the Newry Gateway Club, which looks after handicapped people, he hosted a dinner at a local golf club. At the end of the evening the staff were astounded to learn that he had added a tip of half the total bill for them to share.
In fact, the beneficiaries of his largesse are almost beyond tally. Over the years of conflict in Northern Ireland he supported a wide range of peace-building and community regeneration initiatives and was a frequent visitor to the projects he supported, cajoling and encouraging the participants towards cross-community reconciliation and tolerance in his own larger-than-life way.
"How will I know him?" asked one project manager when advised that Tracy would be coming. "Oh, you'll know him all right," replied Tracy's pointman, all too familiar with Tracy's quick-fire flamboyance.
Thomas J Tracy was a third generation Irish-American on both his father and mother's sides. Born in Detroit, Michigan in 1938, he graduated from Portsmouth Abbey School, Rhode Island and Regis University Denver in 1961 with a degree in economics before serving his country in the Wyoming and Michigan Air National Guard.
After a term with the Marketing and Sales departments at the Ford Motor Company he joined the family owned business, Tracy Industries Inc, ultimately rising to the position of president and CEO.
During that time he made a significant contribution to developing the multi-million dollar business into one of the leading Ford remanufacturing and authorised distributor dealerships in the United States. The company currently employs several hundred people in branches across the country, from Montana to Michigan and Arizona to Utah.
Tracy was highly respected in his business life and served both as President of the Production Remanufacturers' Association, winning that organisation's highest honour for his outstanding contribution to the industry, and President and Chief Executive Officer of Genuine Parts Distribution.
Tom Tracy was also a lifelong member of the Republican Party and served it with both generous contributions and active membership including several years on the Orange County Republican Party Finance Committee.
However, Tracy most cherished his Irish roots in counties Carlow and Mayo, and sought to use his affluence and influence to help 'the old country'. His attitude to Ireland was encapsulated in the words he had inscribed on a commemorative gift to the Taoiseach - 'From those who left to those who stayed'.
But Tracy's love for Ireland went well beyond sentimentality and fine words and he gave both his time and money in outstanding quantity to at least 25 Irish-related organisations in support of a vast raft of causes, campaigns and studies throughout the island. Among the beneficiaries were Co-Operation Ireland, the Irish American Cultural Institute, the Northern Ireland Development Board and the Northern Ireland Partnership. He also served as a Member of the Board of Directors for the American Ireland Fund and received their Distinguished Leadership Award in 1996 for being 'An American of Irish heritage whose accomplishments exemplify the spirit of Irish immigrants, who contributed so vitally to the development of the United States as a great nation'.
Although his pedigree was that of a 'green' Irish-American Catholic, Tracy demonstrated a remarkable understanding of the merits of both the nationalist and unionist cases which was reflected in his support for projects and charities on both sides of the political and sectarian divide. He was also outstandingly well-informed about events from the comprehensive network of contacts he developed through not only his financial generosity but often lavish hospitality. Nothing pleased him more than to bring a series of adversaries face to face, often for the first time, around a table where he would seek to show them that their differences were far exceeded by their common humanity.
Tracy's philanthropy was recognised by University College Cork in 1999 when he was awarded an honorary doctorate for his selfless personal dedication and philanthropic generosity in supporting Ireland and its heritage, as well as for his continued championship of studies in conflict resolution.
His generosity could also be personal and impulsive. Once, in Portadown, he saw a young girl, her face disfigured by a port wine stain. He halted his car and insisted upon the youngster taking him to her home. There he consulted her parents and soon afterwards arranged for flights to the US where he paid for the blemish which was removed in what was then ground-breaking surgery.
Having been educated by two renowned religious orders - the Benedictines and the Jesuits - Tracy developed and maintained a deep Catholic faith.
He was thus a strong supporter and generous contributor to many religious causes and donated his business acumen to the Church, serving on several key committees in the Diocese of Orange County. California, where he lived, and acting as a financial advisor to a number of religious orders.
His deep involvement in the Catholic Church was reflected in his elevation as a Knight of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre of Jerusalem.
Tracy was a larger-than-life character, loud and American, of course, but with a special twinkle and a wry smile. His great relaxation was shooting and fishing in Ireland and Scotland. Paraphrasing Abraham Lincoln, a friend said that Tom Tracy was a man who could walk with kings but never lost the common touch.
He is survived by his wife, Ermajean, their son and four daughters.
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