Senior UX Designer. 

Limerick is almost 1,100 years old. It’s been a Viking settlement, a medieval walled town and a Georgian city. It’s now Ireland’s third largest. John F. Kennedy’s grandfather, actor Richard Harris and author Frank McCourt were born there. So was Derek McMahon.

It’s funny how the most tenuous connections, easily missed but somehow not, often turn out to be the most important. At the center of Derek’s story is a man named Billy Higgins.

Community leader and philanthropist, Billy Higgins is a Boston icon. In 1985, Billy traveled to Southill in Limerick with his daughter, Denise, for a track competition. “It felt like I grew up there,” he would say, reflecting on his own childhood in the poorest part of South Boston. So, Billy established the Southill Children’s Fund. Derek was drawn to the personalities of the Fund’s Boston exchange students. He began to wonder what America was all about.    

In 1988, Derek flew to Boston on his own. “I just wanted to save a little money so I could return to school, maybe buy a car.” In Limerick, unemployment eclipsed 80%; in Boston, it was less than four. Derek learned to hang sheetrock and reunited with his American friends. Two months later, he met the love of his life, whose best friend is Denise. Yes, that Denise.

“It’s never too late to be what you might have been,” wrote the poet George Elliot. Derek wouldn’t work construction for long. “As a kid, I was always doodling and I was good at it,” Derek notes. “My aunt, a high school teacher, pushed me.” In Boston, Derek turned his attention back to design. He took classes at Clark, Boston and Harvard Universities. He learned HTML and then SQL and Client Server Development. It was 1997, perfect timing for a talented graphic artist with web design and development skills.

Over the next 20 years, Derek would design for global apparel and shoe brands like Sperry, Keds and Saucony. He returned to Limerick during the Celtic Tiger (Ireland’s economic rebirth). By the time we met Derek this summer, he was driving user experience (UX) design at a multinational office supply retailer.

In Derek’s home office, you’ll find that George Elliot quote framed and hung on the wall, a gift from his wife. It’s a precious reminder of paths well-chosen. Welcome to Laddawn, Derek.