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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

Snouder’s Corner Drugstore is up for sale by Laffey Fine Homes. Patrick J. Valente, licensed associate broker said, “I just showed it yesterday morning to an interested buyer.” He said the asking price is $995,000, “just short of a million” and added, “everything’s negotiable today.”

Valente said, “It’s a great building, a town landmark and it does need work. It would be great for retail and maybe offices are a possibility. The heating plant is working and the taxes are a little under $40,000.”

On Saturday, April 5, Bayville Mayor Douglas G. Watson stood at the clock tower on Bayville Road and Ludlum Avenue to announce his bid for re-election, and introduced three trustees running for open spots on the Village Board.

Running along the Taxpayers Party of Bayville, Inc. line, the slate of candidates for trustee includes Kathryn Caulfield, Joseph Peniagua and Gregory Reisiger; each are seeking a four-year term. Watson is seeking re-election to a second four-year term.


Sports

Take nine Friends Academy faculty, almost 250 Upper School students and add in a bunch of criss-crossing yellow and orange dodgeballs and you have the makings of one of the largest Friends Academy fundraisers for the North Shore Sheltering Program in Glen Cove.

On Friday, March 28, the Upper School club W.A.T.C.H. (We Are The Community Helpers) sponsored one of the school’s largest dodgeball tournament ever. Reams of students paid $5 each for the potential honor of taking on the Faculty Team.

“All of the student teams wanted to play the faculty,” said WATCH advisor Judy James. “The event would not have been the same without the teachers. They really motivated the kids to come.”

COPE (Connecting Our Paths Eternally), a grief support organization for parents and families living with the loss of a child, will hold its eighth annual golf outing on May 19, at the Muttontown Club in East Norwich. More than 200 golfers and supporters are expected to attend COPE’s biggest event of the year, which raises 75 percent of the organization’s annual budget. The event brings together individuals, families and organizations to pay tribute to loved ones and honor supporters, and has raised more than $1 million from generous corporate and individual sponsors over the past seven years. For more information about the 2014 COPE Golf Outing, visit www.copefoundation.org.

This year’s COPE event will honor Michael Corpuel and the Corpuel and Brown families from Camp Wayne, the site of COPE-Camp Erin New York City, a free weekend bereavement camp for children and teens ages 6-17. Michael Corpuel is also being honored separately for his unwavering dedication to COPE as a board member and adviser since the non-profit’s inception in 1999.


Calendar

LI Sound Vocal Jazz Ensemble

Saturday, April 19

Annual Egg-stravaganza

Saturday, April 19

Palliative Care

Wednesday, April 23 



Columns

Yellow Margarine And A Pitch For The Ages
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

Sustainable LI: Getting Good Things Done
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

LI’s ‘Most Prominent Lady In Politics’
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com