Patrick Anthony Lawlor

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You don`t have to be world leader to be a famous person from County Kerry, just a decent law-abiding person who made a difference in the world. Patrick Lawler was one such man, an Irish immigrant who helped build community

Irish immigrant Patrick Anthony Lawlor helped build  a community. He helped spin a simple dance gathering into an entire Irish community.

Patrick Anthony Lawlor, the last of the original group that worked to build a place for Irish families to gather in Arizona, died of natural causes Aug. 19 in his Phoenix home of 59 years. He was 94.

"He was basically the patriarch of the Irish community," said Mary Moriarty, operations manager for the Irish Cultural Center in Phoenix. "He had been involved in forming the Irish community in Phoenix for 60 years. Plus he was the gentlest and nicest little man you would ever want to meet."

Lawlor was born May 9, 1920, on a large dairy farm in County Kerry, Ireland. He was the fourth of seven children. The farm was promised to Lawlor, but his father changed his mind and it went to his younger brother. A situation that could have caused bitterness only bolstered Lawlor's belief that he should better his life in America.

At age 27, Lawlor got on a converted warship with one cousin and, after a rough voyage, arrived in New York. He went through Ellis Island and then headed to Chicago, where a large group of Irish immigrants had settled. There he got a job with the fleet service for American Airlines.

"He left everything behind and built a whole new life," said daughter Mary Pat Lawlor, 54, of Seattle. "It was the classic immigrant story."

Patrick Lawlor loved music and met his future wife, Nora, at an Irish dance in Chicago. She, too, was an Irish immigrant. The couple married and Lawlor was offered a job in Phoenix.

Having little knowledge of Arizona but little love for Chicago's cold winters, he took the job on a Friday and on Monday started working in Phoenix.

His wife followed and the family settled near the Arcadia area, where they raised four children: Linda, Bill, Noreen and Mary Pat.

"They didn't know anything about the West," Mary Pat said. "They just moved out on blind faith."

The family attended St. Theresa Catholic Church and soon found other Irish immigrants to socialize with — the Cunninghams, the Sullivans, and the Mullens. What started as a small group for storytelling, socializing and Irish dances evolved into a large monthly social held at the Phoenix Firefighter Union Hall. In the '70s, when a large migration of Irish took place, they had a place to go.

"The whole spirit was the enjoyment and love of Irish culture and my dad was a big steward of that," said Noreen Lawlor, 56, of Tucson.

Patrick Lawlor loved a good story and a good laugh. He went bald early and would often say "grass doesn't grow on busy streets."

He always had holy water and if anyone was travelling, he would bless them with it. The children grew up learning Irish jigs and reels and, because Lawlor worked for the airlines, the family made regular trips to Ireland to see their extended family.

Lawlor helped with the first Irish parade and later was the grand marshal. He was honored frequently for his contributions to the Irish community. He was part of the group that established the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick. When he became president, he changed the name to the Irish American Social Club because most of the people doing all the work for the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick were the women and daughters.

Lawlor contributed to the formation of the Irish Cultural Center in downtown Phoenix. When the adjacent McClelland Irish Library opened in 2012, he sang the national anthemat the gala event.

"He was proud to be Irish but prouder to be American," Noreen said.

Noreen, Bill and Linda took care of Patrick toward the end of his life. In April, Lawlor's family figured out how to stream the Gaelic Athletic Association soccer game into their failing father's Phoenix home. He sat up in his bed and joyfully watched the game that featured one team from County Kerry (which won), and the other from the county where his wife had been born.

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