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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

The Oyster Bay Charitable Fund and the Oyster Bay Rotary Club hosted the annual Oyster Festival “Kick-Off” press conference on Friday, Aug. 15 at the flagpole in Theodore Roosevelt Park.

In attendance were NY State Senator Carl Marcelino and Town of Oyster Bay Supervisor John Venditto, both Honorary Oyster Festival Chairmen; Oyster Bay Town Clerk James Altadonna Jr.; Oyster Bay Town Councilman Chris J. Coshignano; Oyster Bay Town Councilwoman Michelle Johnson; Oyster Bay Town Councilman Joseph Pinto; Oyster Bay Rotary President Judy Wasilchuk; Verizon Title Sponsor Representative, Director of Government Affairs Patrick Lespinasse; Executive Director, h2empower, African Studies Specialist Helen Boxwill; Oyster Festival Sports Representative James Werner; Long Island Rough Riders Representative Sarah Culmo and Emcee Harlan Friedman.

The 31st annual Oyster Festival will take place on Saturday, Oct. 18 and Sunday, Oct. 19, from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m. Admission is free.

A lot of people think that our world would be better off without all of the insects in it. Not so, according to Lois Lindberg, volunteer naturalist at the Sagamore Hill National Historic Site. Lindberg and fellow naturalist Wendy Albin gave a presentation about the importance of butterflies and insects in our ecosystem at the site of Theodore Roosevelt’s former home on Saturday, Aug. 23, from 1 to 2:30 p.m.

“Butterflies and other insects are very important in nature,” said Lindberg. “People see bees, wasps and ants and other insects as pests, but they actually contribute to our ecosystem by each doing their own unique job. They pollinate the flowers and fruits and without them we would not be able to eat a lot of the stuff we eat every day.”


Sports

Picture-perfect weather was on board for the Mill Neck Family of Organizations’ Third Annual Sail the Sound for Deafness Regatta on Thursday, Aug. 7. The event, featuring an evening race of yachts, followed by a cocktail party, was held to benefit the organization that serves individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing or have other special needs.

In this year’s race, fifteen sailors took to the waters of Oyster Bay Harbor; three aboard their own boats, others on several boats provided by Oakcliff Sailing Center. The WaterFront Center’s oyster sloop, Christeen and two vessels from Oyster Bay Marine Center, brought a total of 45 spectators out to watch the race.

Kevin Mercier, 39, of Oyster Bay, led a large contingent of local runners in the Lynne, Gartner, Dunne & Covello Sands Point Sprint 5 Kilometer Run, held on the grounds of Nassau County’s Sands Point Preserve on Saturday morning, Aug. 9. Mercier was the 18th finisher overall and third in the 35-39 age group with a time of  21 minutes, 7 seconds.

Other local runners winning awards at the Sands Point Preserve were Nicholas Cuddy of Oyster Bay, who earned first place honors in the Clydesdale Weight Division with a time of 25:53, Joanne Gallo of Oyster Bay, who  took home the first place award in the women’s 65-69 age group with a time of 28:11, and Anja Hermann of Oyster Bay, third place woman in the 20-24 age group, who finished in 28:47.


Calendar

Movie at the Library

Thursday, August 28

Sagamore Hill Walk

Saturday, August 30

Hooks and Needles

Tuesday, September 2



Columns

1959: The Year The Music Stopped Playing
Written by Michael A. Miller, mmillercolumn@gmail.com

The Eccentric Heiress Of ‘Empty Mansions’
Written by Mike Barry, MFBarry@optonline.net

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