February 26, 1979
Steve Duggan settled into his seat on an Aer Lingus flight, sleep on his mind. Suddenly he heard a voice: "Good morning, Eamonn Coghlan here." Duggan immediately recognized Ireland's greatest track hero. "We had met only briefly before," says Duggan, whom Coghlan nevertheless remembered as owning a Manhattan pub. "He gave up his seat in first class and came back to sit down next to me, and before I knew it, we were talking like old friends." After Coghlan, who had retired from running three years earlier, explained that he was now working as a fundraiser, Duggan readily offered his bar for a charity event in conjunction with the New York City Marathon.
That was in 1993. Since then the numerous events—from dances and dinners to cycling races and golf tournaments—run by Coghlan and his staff have raised $5 million a year for Our Lady of Sick Children Hospital in Dublin, where Coghlan serves as the marketing and communications director.
In 1971 an 18-year-old Coghlan left Ireland for Villanova and quickly established himself as one of the best middle-distance runners in the world. His lasting legacy is in the indoor mile. The Chairman of the Boards, as he was known, set the world mark in that event in '79 with a 3:52.6 and bettered it in '83 with a 3:49.78, which stood for 14 years. In seven of his 14 appearances at the Millrose Games at Madison Square Garden he won the famed Wanamaker Mile, including a still-standing record of 3:53.0 in 1981. This month he was one of five inaugural inductees into the Millrose Hall of Fame.
Coghlan's current job seems perfect for his engaging personality—he thrives when constantly busy, on the phone, traveling, meeting people—but he turned the position down when it was first offered. "I said, 'No way,' " says Coghlan. "I saw how hard the fundraisers were working." Instead, he became chief executive of the Irish Track and Field Federation, a position his father, Bill, had held. Within six months, however, Coghlan found the politics at the federation suffocating and quit, and in 1992 began working at the hospital.
The job has grown on Coghlan, who lives in Dublin with his wife, Yvonne, and their four children, Suzanne, 20; Eamonn, 17; Michael, 11; and John, 10. "The name I made on the track really gave me a jump start in this career," he says. "I have been very lucky to have a job that lets me keep up with all my old friends."