There was a chance encounter for two Larne natives recently when they met at a political engagement in Washington DC.
PhD student Patricia O’Lynn and Director of the Northern Ireland Bureau, Norman Houston, experienced the unlikely encounter this summer.
During her time in DC, Patricia worked as a congressional intern for Senator John McCain at the United States Senate when she met Norman.
She said: “Mr Houston was a guest speaker on political and foreign affairs. He was discussing his role at the Bureau and telling us about his work with the President before he stated he was from Larne!
“I was really shocked, I couldn’t wait to speak to him personally, I never anticipated I would meet another person from Larne in such a prestigious leadership position so far from home.”
Patricia was in the United States as part of the Washington-Ireland Programme for Service and Leadership (WIP). This is a twelve-month scheme which aims to develop young people both personally and professionally. The initiative brings outstanding university students from Northern Ireland and Ireland to Washington, DC for summer work placements and leadership training.
Interested applicants must show demonstrable leadership potential as well as a long standing commitment to service. Originally from the Glenarm Road area of Larne, Patricia is one of only three Larne students over the previous twenty years who have been selected to participate. Competition is fierce as each year roughly 500 applicants pursue one of thirty places on the programme.
She attributes her time working in advocacy-related roles within the community and voluntary sector of NI as well as her management consultancy and international work experiences as the main reasons for her success. Patricia, who is in the first year of her PhD course at Queen’s University, Belfast explained: “I have always been fascinated by issues of social justice and believe strongly in charitable work that aims to address inequality, this is something I feel passionate about and will continue to pursue throughout my career.”
Norman has been director of the Northern Ireland Bureau since 2007, having previously served as assistant director from 1998 to 2002. He grew up in a council estate in Larne, in the tin cottages at Craigyhill. He was made the journey from Craigyhill to Capitol Hill. At the age of 17 he joined the Civil Service and later gained a first class honours degree in history through the Open University. He climbed the ranks quite rapidly, expecting to have a career in Northern Ireland, but instead spent a quarter of his career in Washington DC.
He first became involved in the Washington Ireland Programme when he was introduced to the outgoing class of 1998. He explained; “I was so inspired by their enthusiasm and the way they thought about things. I wanted to help build capacity in NI for young graduates who could become future leaders.”