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Trailblazing Irish American women honored at Queens Chamber’s annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon

Mar. 17, 2023 By Bill Parry

Mayor Eric Adams delivered remarks to hundreds of business and community leaders during the Queens Chamber of Commerce’s annual St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at Antun’s in Queens Village on March 15.

He set the tone for the occasion by speaking of the Irish immigrants who helped build New York City and continue to make “amazing contributions” to the business community every day.

“Many of the young people of Irish ancestry, they look at where we are now and believe this is what America has always been and I just really call on them to speak to some of their grandparents and hear real stories of what it means to be Irish in America,” Adams said. “America is like the soup guy on ‘Seinfeld.’ It insults you until you demand a seat at the table and that’s what you did. You became members of the FDNY, members of the law enforcement community. You became attorneys, engineers and you showed that you are very much a part of the American dream.”

Mayor Eric Adams and Queens Chamber of Commerce President Thomas Grech at the annual Queens Chamber of Commerce St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at Antun’s of Queens Village on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

Fire Commissioner Laura Kavanagh had reason to smile after weeks of turmoil during a mutiny of her top chiefs at the department. After the skirl from the FDNY Emerald Society Pipes and Drums echoed through the catering hall, Kavanagh was honored by the Chamber, and she noted that people often ask her if her job is difficult.

“It is probably no secret at this point that being a leader is difficult — you can just read the papers — but at the FDNY, where the loss of our members in the line of duty is a very heartbreaking and regular part of this job where life and death are an everyday part of the work that our members do,” Kavanagh said. “The days when someone is injured or hurt or lost are the difficult days, the other stuff is just part of being the boss.”

Days earlier, Kavanagh presided over a plaque dedication ceremony in honor of firefighter Jesse B. Gerhard at his old firehouse in Far Rockaway. Known as “The Big House,” it was where the firefighter suffered a medical episode while on duty, after battling a fire in Far Rockaway the day before. Gerhard died at St. John’s Episcopal Hospital on Feb. 16, 2022, just months after Kavanagh was sworn in as the city’s first female fire commissioner.

FDNY Commissioner Laura Kavanagh speaks at the annual Queens Chamber of Commerce St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at Antun’s of Queens Village on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

“When I accepted the appointment to commissioner late last year, I wasn’t doing those things to be a pioneer,” she said. “It was never my goal to be the first female commissioner but it is certainly my goal now not to be the last.”

Kavanagh was honored along with Jennifer O’Sullivan, the chief operating officer of the New York City Football Club, which will make its home at Willets Point, alongside Citi Field.

“I am humbled to be honored alongside the first female fire commissioner in the 157-year history of the New York City Fire Department. As a woman in the world of professional sports, her accomplishments resonate deeply with me,” O’Sullivan said. “I’m proud to say that New York City Football Club is thrilled to strengthen and further increase our investment in Queens with an almost $800 million privately funded, union-constructed project to build New York City’s first soccer-specific stadium.”

New York City Football Club COO Jennifer O’Sullivan speaks at the annual Queens Chamber of Commerce St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at Antun’s of Queens Village on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards touted all that’s going on in the borough from the NYCFC stadium project to the redevelopment at JFK Airport and Innovation QNS in Astoria.

“We are a borough of yes. We’re going to build more housing. We’re going to continue to focus on the things that are important,” Richards said. “The ‘World’s Borough’ would not be the special place it is today without the hard work and dedication of our Irish American residents. I wish them and everyone in Queens a happy St. Patrick’s Day and extend my heartfelt congratulations to the Chamber’s distinguished honorees.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards at the annual Queens Chamber of Commerce St. Patrick’s Day luncheon at Antun’s of Queens Village on Wednesday, March 15, 2023. (Photo by Paul Frangipane)

Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech thanked Kavanagh and O’Sullivan, two “extraordinary Irish American women,” for all they have done for Queens.

“Irish immigrants and Irish Americans helped build New York City from its start and continue to make amazing contributions to our business community every day,” Grech said. “These contributions ensure that Queens is a beautiful, thriving, safe place to live, work and play.”

Also in attendance were members of the Queens delegation to the City Council including Robert Holden, James Gennaro and Vickie Paladino. Councilwoman Joann Ariola, who is the first woman to represent the western half of the Rockaways — known as the Irish Riviera for generations — applauded the Chamber for honoring Kavanagh and O’Sullivan.

“Irish-Americans have made some truly incredible contributions to this country, and especially to this borough,” Ariola said. “Today, we have a chance to honor all those sons and daughters of the Emerald Isle who have made their mark on our communities, and we recognize two in particular for the work they’ve done to better New York City.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.

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