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From Long Island Wins: January 23, 2014

From Mud Floors To CEO  Of North Shore-LIJ

As executive director of Long Island Wins, I’ve had the pleasure of meeting immigrants from all backgrounds, each with a personal immigration story. One of our goals is to use those stories to highlight the contributions that immigrants make to our Long Island communities.

 

Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down with Michael Dowling, an Irish immigrant and the president and chief executive officer of the North Shore-LIJ Health System, the largest system in New York State and one of the largest in the country.

  

North Shore-LIJ has a service area that includes over seven million residents in downstate New York, and it’s the largest employer of immigrants on Long Island, from entry-level workers all the way up to the highest reaches of leadership.

 

Like all immigrants, including those he employs, Dowling has a very personal story of why he chose to come to the United States, and he agreed to share many details of his story for the first time with us.

 

Dowling first came to the U.S. in the 1960s, which was a time of great poverty in Ireland. He came from a very modest home, describing it as an “old-fashioned thatched house with mud floors and mud walls, no running water, no heat, no anything.”

 

His father suffered from arthritis, and by his early 40s, he was nearly incapacitated. As the oldest of his siblings, Dowling took on the responsibility of taking care of his family. But to find work, he knew that he would need to leave Ireland.

 

“Family circumstance determines an awful lot of what you do,” said Dowling. “It was very common back in the 1960s for a lot of people to emigrate from Ireland. The economy was poor.”

 

After a short time in England working in steel factories, he made the life-changing decision to cross the Atlantic. “New York was probably a better place if you wanted to get a job and make some money,” Dowling told me.

 

Upon arriving, he took on any job that needed doing. Whether it was in the docks, in construction, plumbing or as a janitor, he did what he needed to do to take care of his family.

 

“I worked all the time; I worked seven days a week,” Dowling said. “I had no social life. I didn’t know much about New York, other than how to go to work and come home seven days a week. And I was very happy then. I made enough money here to help out at home, and I made enough money to pay my tuition.”

 

For several years, he would work in New York and then return to Ireland to attend school at University College Cork. When he received his undergraduate degree, he came back to New York, where he stayed for good.

 

“It wasn’t planned,” he said. “It wasn’t like I said to myself I’m going to stay in America. For many, many years I thought I was going to go back. But you know what happens: You start here, you meet people, you begin to get different kinds of jobs, your life takes on a new meaning. I was still able to contribute and send money home. So, being able to help out at home was a major motivation.”

 

Dowling eventually saved up enough to attend Fordham for his master’s degree, and then Columbia for his doctorate. In the early ‘80s, he became a U.S. citizen. “It was about that time that I decided, ‘Well, this is where I’m going to be.’”

 

From Fordham, where he was teaching, he was recruited to serve under Gov. Mario M. Cuomo. That seemed at the time like a temporary, tentative choice. But it lasted for 12 years, including service as state director of health, education and human services, as deputy secretary to the governor, and as commissioner of the Department of Social Services. He was later a senior vice president at Empire Blue Cross/Blue Shield.

 

In the mid-’90s, Dowling joined North Shore-LIJ, at a time of transition, overseeing development, planning and operations, following the merger that created the health system. North Shore-LIJ has seen an unprecedented level of success during his tenure.

 

 “I refuse to accept that there is a limit to what you can get done, and I fail to accept the fact that you can’t do something,” Dowling told me. “The word ‘can’t’ shouldn’t be in the vocabulary.”

 

That determination and work ethic is how an immigrant from a poor village in Ireland became head of the largest employer of immigrants on Long Island.

 

Next month I’ll share more of Dowling’s thoughts on immigration issues.

 

Maryann Sinclair Slutsky is the executive director of Long Island Wins, a communications organization promoting commonsense immigration policy solutions that work for all Long Islanders. Email: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it


News

Local veterans groups and residents gathered at Hicksville Middle School Veterans Memorial Park recently to honor brave servicemen and woman, past and present. William M. Gouse Jr. Post 3211 hosted Hicksville’s annual Veterans Day ceremony on Nov. 11.

The ceremonies began with the pledge and national anthem sung by Hicksville High School student Cassie Pursoo, accompanied by trumpeter Conner Hoelzer. Monsignor Thomas Costa from Our Lady of Church in Hicksville gave the invocation.

On Nov. 10, a dedication ceremony was held to celebrate the completion of a beautiful new two-story house in Hicksville. However, while new dwellings are an ordinary occurrence on Long Island, this one was unique and special in a way that very few are.

The house at 77 Thorman Ave. was built in memory of Navy Lieutenant and posthumous Congressional Medal of Honor recipient Michael P. Murphy, a Long Island native who tragically died in combat while serving in Afghanistan in 2005. However, this house represents more than just the dedicated service of a man to his country; it represents the beginning of a new life full of hope for a brother-in-arms and his family as well.


Sports

Football was Mike Torrellas’ heart and soul. He also liked a good Turkey Bowl.  

Unfortunately, the Hicksville Crusaders co-founder wasn’t able to witness the program’s inaugural event, which took place Saturday, Nov. 8.

Torrellas passed away suddenly last December due to a blood clot, but the spirit and drive of the man who wore the number 53 and tragically passed at that age still surrounds the Crusaders football program.

The Long Island Fight for Charity will be hosting its 11th annual Charity Boxing Event on Nov. 24 at the Hilton in Melville. Among the 20 volunteers putting up their fists for funds will be Hicksville business owner Mell Goldman, who will be fighting under the nickname “The Kid.”  

Goldman is the President of All Boro Cleaning Services. He stated that he was enticed at the opportunity and wanted to contribute to charity.


Calendar

Fall Drama Production

November 20-22

Blood Drive

November 24

Christmas Holiday Fair

November 24



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