The death of James "Big Jim" Hayes, president of the New York State Ancient Order of Hibernians, was widely and deeply mourned by Hibernians and Irish Americans throughout New York State and beyond.
Hayes died on May 28 of colon cancer in Calvary Hospital in the Bronx. He was 60.
Hibernians said of him that he would sing Irish songs "at the drop of a hat." Some even said, unkindly, that "he often dropped the hat himself."
His wife, Anne Marie Hayes, admitted that Jim "didn’t need much cajoling to break into song. He had a singing voice that was as powerful as it was beautiful, with no need for a microphone to carry it across a room."
Hayes had beat cancer in 1986, but it returned more virulent, more vicious. For a time, he seemed to hold the cancer scourge off, lessen its destructiveness while undergoing weeks of tests and chemotherapy treatments at Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan.
Even when all treatments proved futile, he carried on, stayed active, keeping all-important AOH engagements, conducting the necessary Order business as best he could, right up to the end. Indeed, in his leaving, Hayes showed a rare grace.
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Taking over for the AOH leader is the vice president, Timothy Comerford of Oswego, who is expected to run for a full two-year term as president at the upcoming State AOH Convention (July 21-24, 1999) in Albany.
Jim Hayes was born in Woodside, Queens, to James and Beatrice Hayes, a native of Tubbercurry, Co. Sligo. At a party in Manhattan in 1962, James Hayes met his future wife. The couple were married in June 1963 and moved to North Babylon, Suffolk County, in 1966, residing there since.
Besides his wife, he is survived by two daughters and two sons, Anne Marie Stevenson of Fairfax, Va., and Eileen Gribben of Orange, Conn.; James F. III of Centereach, N.Y. and John Patrick of Cazenevia, N.Y. He is also survived by a brother, Frank, of Bayside, Queens; a sister, Beatrice Hayes, of Levittown; and four grandchildren.
He graduated from St. Francis in Brooklyn, joined the Milton Paper Co. in Long Island City as a sales executive, selling everything from television time to paper.
He became a member of Div. 2, Suffolk County AOH in Babylon, N.Y., in 1970. He rose through the chair" to higher offices at each AOH level — division, county and state.
After serving the New York State AOH, successively and successfully as regional director, secretary, treasurer and vice president, Hayes came to the presidency of the AOH of New York State, the largest state body of Hibernians in the Order, while serving as vice president, he became state president on July 27, 1976 at the death of the incumbent president, John Burns of Auburn. Hayes was elected without opposition to his own two-year term as president at the next State AOH Convention in Niagara Falls, one year later in July 1997.