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All things Irish

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt, who died Sunday at age 78, spoke last year as part of the RMU Pittsburgh Speakers Series, but the first time I met him was 10 years ago when I was the vice president of institutional advancement for the Pittsburgh Cultural Trust. We hired Frank as the master of ceremonies for the opening night party of the O’Reilly Theater.

Frank had asked me to select a passage from one of his books to read at the event, and I selected a passage from “‘Tis”, his memoir about his life in America. In the passage I selected, Frank recalls how embarrassed he got in college when a professor, detecting his Irish brogue, would call on him to talk about all things Irish: beer, women, soda bread, carousing in bars. Well, here I was, bringing him to Pittsburgh to comment on all things Irish again. When I faxed him the passage, he wrote back “Perfect.” And I was so proud of myself for picking the right thing, and when he got up there on stage, he got a rousing welcome from the Pittsburgh Irish.

Of all the fancy people I met, I was most impressed with Frank, that he would speak to me in very friendly, non-ostentatious manner. We talked about movies and books over dinner. He was so relaxed and very much in the present tense. I was excited because I had read all of his books.

It’s worth noting that the speakers in the Pittsburgh Speakers Series are only under contract to speak at Heinz Hall for subscribers to the series. A few are gracious enough to speak on campus, for no charge, the afternoon before their Heinz Hall talk. Frank, ever the teacher, was kind of enough to do so as well. He gave a lively talk, and those of us who were there will not soon forget it.

Thank you, Frank.

— Jay Carson

Jay Carson is the vice president of institutional advancement at Robert Morris University.

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