By Jack Holland
On Monday, June 17, the Union Jack flew next to Old Glory outside the Park Avenue offices of Mutual of America, indicating that something unusual was going on inside. On the 35th floor, where since 1994 the company (under the auspices of the National Committee on American Foreign Policy) has played host to a wide range of Irish political figures, a party was going on to celebrate a very British event — the bestowing of a knighthood on Thomas Harris, the British consul general in New York.
One of the guests had herself just enjoyed another British honor — Loretta Brennan Glucksman, who had been awarded a CBE earlier that day at the British Embassy in Washington.
“It’s a symbol of the way in which relations have improved out of all recognition between the British and Irish Americans,” Harris, who’s 57, said. “It is, in fact, the extension of the effort that Bill Flynn and others have put into the peace process.”
Flynn, chairman of Mutual of America, has been active in promoting peace in Northern Ireland since the early 1990s.
The Gully Low jazz band played Dixieland music, appropriately mellow, perhaps, for the mellowing of relations between Irish America and the British government. Every one of the 70 or so guests spoken to agreed that such an occasion would have been unthinkable 10 years ago.
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The events of Sept. 11 definitely played a role in the new cordiality.
Introducing Harris, Tom Moran, the president and CEO of Mutual, said that “no ally was quicker to respond than the United Kingdom” when the U.S. was attacked. “New York City has adopted Sir Thomas and Lady Harris.”
The British consul general said he was “stunned” by this “generous” gesture.
Harris, a graduate of Cambridge University was formerly ambassador to Korea and director general for Export Promotion in the Department of Trade and Industry. He will be invested on July 12.
Loretta Brennan Glucksman, who received the second highest award in Britain, was being “recognized for her commitment to the people of Northern Ireland.” She is the U.S. national president of the American Ireland Fund. She and her husband, Lew, founded the Glucksman Ireland House at New York University and have “played a vital role in the cultural life of New York.”
Asked what she felt about the CBE, Glucksman thought that the design was beautiful, but wished that it had been somewhat smaller, so she could have worn it on her dress to the party.
“Like all these awards, it was made for a man’s lapel,” she said.
Meanwhile, the band played on.