Irish American leader Joe Drotter (75) who passed away earlier this month made a mammoth contribution to building U.S. support for the Irish peace process.
For the last twenty years, Boston-born Drotter had focused his sharp mind and considerable resources on helping the children of Vietnam, recalls his friend and comrade John McNally of Ventura, CA.
"Joe participated in medical missions to Vietnam as an EMT and decided he needed to do something more to help the children who suffered from the effects of Agent Orange," he said.
"Seeing a desperate need, Joe founded a Vietnamese school, Tam Binh Center (which Means "peace of mind"), to care for children with these serious health issues. He bought an abandoned factory in Hue, renovated it, and worked with local caregivers and teachers to provide for disabled children.
"During my many phone conversations with Joe, discussions often turned to ways to provide the children with specialized wheelchairs, walkers, and a variety of medical devices, as well as methods to raise money to keep the project going."
Grateful users of the Tam Binh Centre made their appreciation for their American patron clear on their Facebook page.
McNally and Drotter first crossed paths in the Belfast Felons Club in 1990. "At that time, a growing number of Americans, the likes of Arlene Wege, Pete Foley, and Sandy Carlson, were visiting Belfast most summers for the West Belfast Festival and associated activities," explains McNally. "Joe wanted posters made of a photograph he took of Free Derry Corner painted with a rainbow, and as a printer, I assisted him."
According to McNally, Derry was Joe's favorite city in Ireland. "He attended the annual Bloody Sunday marches almost religiously since his first visit in 1972, shortly after the murderous rampage by the British Paras on January 30 of that year. He was attending Cork University then, and he and three friends hitch-hiked to Newry for a protest march (the Sunday after the Derry slaughter) and then to Derry to witness the aftermath of Bloody Sunday. Joe was a powerful advocate of the Irish Nationalists' cause and protested outside the British Consulate in Boston when Bobby Sands died on hunger strike."
When Gerry Adams first visited Boston, Drotter welcomed him with a sign advocating Gerry Adams for the Nobel Peace Prize for securing the IRA ceasefire in 1994.
He was also with the first August internment anniversary march to reach Belfast City Center in 1993 and and brought supplies to Garvaghy Road when the community was under siege from Unionists during the nineties.
Added McNally: "Although his focus shifted to the relief of the suffering children in Vietnam, he continued to make occasional trips to Ireland to visit friends and family and attend Féile an Phobail in West Belfast. Joe's life was primarily one of service and activism, helping many people and organizations in Ireland and Vietnam. He was an admirable example to us all."
Ciarán Cahill of the Springhill Community House in West Belfast praised Dotter for his support for the people of West Belfast during the worst of the conflict in the North.
"Joe had a long association with Springhill Community House and Fr Des Wilson," he said. "He was always interested in what was going on, always supportive, encouraging and helpful. When he was working with Cisco he used their matched gifting scheme, Cisco would match charitable donations by employees and Joe took great advantage of the scheme to generate even more income for Springhill Community House. He combined efforts with Cisco and Apple to have equipment donated to our project when it was setting up a new a computer suite in the 1990s."
Ar dheis Dé go raibh a anam.