As a former adviser to Barack Obama, she is used to top-secret operations and tight security.
And so 'mum was the word' on Friday as Professor Samantha Power, the former US ambassador to the UN, slipped quietly into University College Cork (UCC) to surprise her mother, Dr Veronica Delaney, who was about to be conferred with an honorary degree in medicine from the university, as part of the graduation ceremony for some 200 other graduates of medicine.
Dr Delaney, who graduated from UCC in 1964, is professor of medicine and a nephrologist at Mount Sinai Hospital, New York.
Prof Power, who was herself conferred with an honorary degree of law by UCC in 2008, said she really wanted to be in Cork for the ceremony as they became the first mother-daughter combination to be conferred with honorary degrees by UCC.
“Everything started here on this campus — a lifetime of learning and discovery,” Prof Power said.
“She’s the most curious person I’ve ever known. I can imagine her as a scrawny little Cork girl, stepping onto campus and eating it all up, and that love of learning she instilled in me.”
She said her mother, 78, practised medicine right through the Covid pandemic and never thought about stopping because her patients needed her.
“And that all started here, where she was exposed to science and learning, and where she was made feel that she could be what she wanted to be even if there was a lot of signalling at the time that she couldn’t. Something happened here that made her feel that she could.
"A lot of that was in her to begin with, but for the professors who took that extra minute with her, or who made her believe in herself, you just can’t say thank you enough.”
A delighted Dr Delaney said her daughter’s arrival at the ceremony was a huge surprise.
“It’s memorial day weekend in the US and she had sent me a picture of her daughter playing hockey so I was very happy that she was happy and everything was well so it was extra joy that she was here,” she said.
Dr Delaney grew up in Cork City and graduated with a BSc honours majoring in biochemistry from UCC in 1964. She was the first member of her family to go to university.
While in UCC, she excelled in tennis, hockey and squash, captaining in both tennis and hockey and playing for Munster.
She recalled her many wonderful years at UCC, including suffering a broken jaw in sport, how she was one of the few female students in her class, and at the progress that has been made in so many areas since.
She said she felt both proud and nostalgic as she considers the “trajectory and great joy” of her life’s journey and said the conferring of the honorary degree has made her very proud.
Prof Power, who was chosen by President Biden last year to run the US Agency for International Development, has often credited her mother’s closeness to her patients for her empathy and ability to connect with others.
UCC President Prof John O’Halloran said Dr Delaney has been a tremendous ambassador for UCC for over 50 years, and continues to work as a consultant nephrologist, teacher and role model.
“For years she worked as a widow and single mother, with great challenges which she faced head on. She will always remain a role model for current and future generations,” he said.