James Zogby ’67 remembers vividly the first time he saw Eileen McMahon ’67. It was the fall of 1963, their second day as students at Le Moyne College. Jim caught a glimpse of Eileen walking down a flight of stairs and was immediately struck. “That’s the most beautiful person I’ve ever seen,” he recalls thinking. The pair had their first date the following spring and the rest, as they say, is history. With a shared passion for travel and social justice, the duo built not just a marriage that endured for 51 years, but a true partnership. They shared five children and 13 grandchildren, and a mutual love of adventure. The stamps on the couple’s passports alone tell a story: Lebanon, Jordan, Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, Saudi Arabi, the United Kingdom, Germany, France, Ireland.
Each of these locales held a special place in the Zogbys’ hearts. Early in their marriage, they traveled to the Middle East, where Jim conducted research for his doctoral dissertation. The young family visited refugee camps in Jordan and Jim’s ancestral home of Lebanon, with their first child, Joseph, then just 18 months old, in tow. They were struck by the region’s beauty and history, and on the flight back to the U.S. Jim found himself turning to his wife and saying, “Our lives will never be the same again.” He was absolutely right. Just a few years later, Jim founded the Palestinian Human Rights Campaign; he quickly earned a reputation as a highly respected scholar on the subject and began receiving invitations from around the world to speak about issues of war and peace. It was heady work. Yet no matter how many people were in the crowd he was addressing, Jim always zeroed in on “an audience of one” – Eileen. And he could always tell exactly how his remarks had gone by the expression on her face.
“I put it this way,” he says. “She tempered my soul and my speech and made me the person I am.”
Jim went on to found the Arab-American Institute and to become a highly respected voice in Democratic national politics. Naturally, when he was invited to give an address at Oxford University in the late 1980s, he invited Eileen to join him. She agreed, but had one request, that they make a stop in Ireland along the way. It would be her first trip to the nation from which her family hailed. Eileen researched her roots and carefully studied the nation’s history, particularly the Famine that struck the country in the 1860s, claiming an estimated one million lives and displacing two million more, including Eileen’s great-grandparents. Ireland would become part of her, and she would return almost annually for the rest of her life. Most significantly, in the summer of 2018, Jim and Eileen brought their entire family there in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary. His wife was “in her glory,” Jim recalls.
Eileen’s political acumen, way with words, intellect and curiosity, and values served as the foundation for her family. When she passed away in March of 2020, Jim knew that he wanted to honor her life. He could think of no better way to do so than by establishing the Eileen Patricia (McMahon) Zogby ’67 Fund at Le Moyne. The Fund will serve two purposes. First, it will enable the College to continue and enrich its efforts to bring high-profile speakers to campus to address Irish history, people and culture. Second, for the first time in Le Moyne’s history, it will provide the College with a specific means to provide financial support to students who want to study in Ireland.
“When I met Eileen Zogby, I was struck by her passion and interest in all things Irish – particularly about immigration, but also the Famine,” says Kate Costello-Sullivan, Ph.D., founding director of the College’s Irish Studies Program who has come to know the family through the years. “I am so grateful that we have the opportunity to share that passion with our students, in her memory, and with thanks to the Zogby family. It is a privilege that they have entrusted us to pass on her legacy in this way.”
For Jim, it is a way to pay tribute to the person with whom he built not just a family, but a true partnership. And he believes Eileen would approve.
“I think she’d be thrilled,” he says.
The inaugural Eileen Patricia McMahon Zogby '67 Memorial Lecture, “A Genius for Politics? Irish Immigrants and the Battle to Expand American Democracy, 1830-60,” will led by Sean Farrell, Ph.D., of Northern Illinois University. The lecture will be broadcast online at 3 p.m. on Thursday, Feb. 18. It will be held in partnership with the Irish Embassy and the American Conference for Irish Studies as part of their “Ambassador’s Hour” series.