John O'Connor 1954-2001:

A voice in our ear, egging us on to knock on one more door, get one more person involved, try one more idea

Sandy Buchanan
December 5, 2001

Photo gallery

John O'Connor in motion: The good-neighbor campaign pioneer explains the ins-and-outs at an Ohio Citizen Action workshop, Cleveland State University, March 10, 2001.
John O'Connor
Johnny O'Connor made many trips to Ohio in the early 80ís with the National Toxics Campaign, doing organizing training, speaking at events, and driving the truck for the Superdrive for Superfund. We all have many wild and wonderful memories from those days -Ė especially of John cranking up Springsteenís Born in the USA full blast as he'd drive the rickety Superdrive truck, filled with toxic waste samples, picket signs, and petitions, with Carolyn's picture on the dashboard as he drove from California to Washington, D.C.

Johnís trip to Ohio in March marked his return to work with us for the first time in many years. The training was on a Saturday morning. John had been scheduled to fly to Cleveland from Boston on Friday night, but a huge snowstorm hit and Logan was closed. In classic John OíConnor style, he quickly scrambled to find alternate flights, and ended up leaving Boston at 5 a.m., changing planes in Philadelphia, and arriving in Cleveland the next morning Ė- just in time to do a great presentation.

John made two more trips to Ohio this year Ė one, for the national Hudson Bay Canvassers Conference at Ohio State in July. A whole new generation of canvassers, who had never heard John speak before, got to meet him and hear his rap on how door-knocking will solve every problem in your life. As always, he had them laughing, cheering, and revved up.

The other trip John made to Ohio was a more personal one. In April, Johnís dear friend Ed Kelly died of cancer in Boston. Ed and John worked together on all kinds of issues in Boston Ė from electric deregulation to the Irish famine memorial. Ed was one of the founders of Ohio Citizen Action, and had many close friends in Ohio from his years in Cleveland.

Since many people from Ohio werenít able to attend Edís funeral, John suggested that he bring a group of Bostonians to come to Cleveland later in the summer to gather in Edís memory. This idea was so typical of John -- compassionate, generous, and always organizing.

So in late August, Edís family and friends from Boston joined us in Cleveland for an Indians/Red Sox game and a gathering at my house. It was just the right thing to do Ė helping us all to cope with Edís death and honor his life.

That was the last time I ever saw John. How his thousands of friends across the country, and the world, will find a way to cope with his untimely death is unknown for now. I know John would not want to be seen as a tragic figure, but would want to be recognized for his incredible exuberance for life, his love and appreciation for humanity, and his drive to make the world a better place. Heíll be in our hearts forever, and maybe a voice in our ear, egging us on to knock on one more door, get one more person involved, try one more idea. We are all the better for having known him.

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- A full life cut short, Michael Jonas, Boston Globe, Dec 9, 2001.

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- "Environmentalist John O'Connor will be missed," Anthony Schinella, Common Dreams, Dec 5, 2001.

BOSTON, MA -- Friends say O'Connor worked to 'make world better place', Dave Wedge, Boston Herald, Dec 3, 2001.

BOSTON, MA -- John O'Connor, 46; Developer, environmental advocate, Tom Long, Boston Globe, Dec 1, 2001.

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- Environmentalist John O'Connor dies, Associated Press, Dec 1, 2001.

BOSTON, MA -- Environmental activist O'Connor dies, Doug Hanchett, Boston Herald, Dec 1, 2001.

CAMBRIDGE, MA -- "He got game; A hoops-playing, high-fiving environmentalist vies for Congress," Michael Crowley, Boston Phoenix, Jul 30, 1998.