A profile of Mary Davis - the new Chair of Special Olympics International

Mary Davis first burst into the public consciousness in 2003 as the Irish woman who spearheaded the Special Olympics moving out of the US for the first time.

A profile of Mary Davis - the new Chair of Special Olympics International

It was a logistical juggernaut that saw families across this country open up their homes to visiting athletes and their families, and an event which did more for advancing disability rights than years of campaigning.

And then there was that failed bid for the Áras in 2011. Her campaign never really took off. Running as an Independent, her past links with Fianna Fáil garnered much attention, particularly in terms of the numbers of state and commercial boards she sat on and earned fees from.

These included the beleaguered Campus and Stadium Ireland Development agency, to which she was appointed by Bertie Ahern in 2000 to help drive the ‘Bertie Bowl’ project, and later the re-named National Sports Campus Development Authority by former sports minister John O’Donoghue.

The Special Olympics opening ceremony at Croke Park, Dublin, on June 21, 2003. Picture: Dara Mac Donaill
The Special Olympics opening ceremony at Croke Park, Dublin, on June 21, 2003. Picture: Dara Mac Donaill

She was appointed a board member of the Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) by Séamus Brennan from 2004 to 2009 and director of the Broadcasting Commission of Ireland. She also sat on the board of the Bank of Ireland Mortgage Bank and the ICS Building Society between 2004 and 2010.

In the presidential election, she secured 2.7% of the first preference vote, coming last in the election. Undaunted, her focus once more returned to the Special Olympics as the managing director of Special Olympics Europe/Eurasia with the responsibility of overseeing the growth and development of Special Olympics across Western and Eastern Europe and Central Asia.

Ms Davis was awarded Irish Person of the Year in 2003 for her work on the world games, and in honour of her dedicated years of service to Special Olympics Ireland. In 2004, then-President of Ireland, Mary McAleese, appointed Ms Davis to the Council of State, where she remained until 2011.

But nowMs Davis has scored another international first, being announced as the new global CEO of Special Olympics International.

This is the first time that a non-American has held the role since the organisation was set up 50 years ago.

It’s been quite the career for a woman who first become involved in the Special Olympics as a volunteer when she got a job as a PE teacher at St Michael’s House in Ballymun in the late 1970s. It was there that she met her husband, Julian, also a PE teacher. He later moved on to RTÉ’s Sports Department before becoming a founder partner of PR firm Fleishman, Hilliard, Saunders with his former colleague John Saunders.

Both Davises are sports fanatics. She has run the New York Marathon, climbed Mount Kilmanjaro and Mount Blanc, and is a keen golfer.

Announcing her appointment, Chair of Special Olympics International, Tim P Shriver, described her as “a proven leader who knows how to envision a goal, craft a strategy for achieving it, and, most importantly, lead a team in reaching it”.

Fianna Fáil leader Micheál Martin also extended his congratulations to Ms Davis on her appointment.

“She will bring a wealth of experience, enthusiasm and passion to the role having dedicated almost 40 years to the Special Olympics movement,” he said.

Ms Davis is aged 62 and is the mother of two boys and two girls.

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