Valley Lives - Margaret O'Connor

The following article first appeared in "The Low Down to Hull and Back News" in the January 27, 2016 issue. Reprinted with permission.

A giving granny, right until her final moments

by Joel Balsam

Margaret O'Connor
Margaret O'Connor's kids say she was a giving and determined woman. Photo courtesy Gayle O'Connor.

When Margaret O'Connor went to the sun-kissed beaches of Jamaica last year, and the year before that, and many years before that, "everybody was happy to see their Granny," said Gayle O'Connor, who accompanied her mother on the annual trips. While Margaret O'Connor had five grandkids, the children of her four adult children - Gayle, Kathy, Pat, and Michael - those who were happy to see their granny in Jamaica weren't blood related. Rather, the Jamaican families she'd see year after year gained such a strong connection with O'Connor that they'd call her their 'granny' - O'Connor had that sort of affect on people.

Back home in Farrelton, where O'Connor was born in 1932 (then with the maiden name Plunkett) and spent her last five decades, her selflessness and caring nature also held her up in the eyes of many as a matriarch, right until the day she died of a recurrence of melanoma cancer at Wakefield Hospital on Jan. 13.

O'Connor's daughter Kathy recalled in her eulogy that her mother wanted her purse to make sure her kids wouldn't have to pay for parking and insisted her kids leave her and go for lunch. And the very day before she died, Margaret was talking business, signing cheques and advising her kids who'd taken over the family construction company.

"My mother cared about everybody else, she didn't care about herself," said Michael O'Connor, who took over the family business, Ronald O'Connor Construction Inc., with his brother, Pat, after their father Ronald died in 1995.

While Michael and Pat O'Connor handle the day-to-day affairs of the company, they'd be quick to tell you the real person in charge was their mother, who acted as cmpany president.

Since starting the business with her husband in Farrelton, Margaret held up high moral standards and imparted that to her kids. "Her attitude was when we take a job, we do quality work," said Michael. "Both of [my parents] believed in their reputation, that their word was their word. To be honest with you, we always believed in a handshake."

When it came to money earned from the business, Margaret was hesitant to spend on herself; she'd rather put it into the business or buy flowers for others. "We'd tell her, 'do what you want.' She'd always believed in putting money in the equipment," Michael said. "My dad said she should have been a florist."

For birthdays, illnesses, or celebrations, Margaret, a devout Sunday churchgoer, would send friends and family flowers or baked goods - she was known for her cinnamon buns, white buns, and bread. "Mom gave of herself," O'Connor's daughter Gayle said. "She just gave, and gave, and gave."

This giving was spoken about frequently during memorial services in Farrelton, Low, and Ottawa, which Michael says had line-ups nearly out the door. "The people that mom cared about, they all came out, it was vey nice," Michael said.

Since their mother didn't tend to spend on herself, her son Pat paid for her to fulfill one of her lifelong dreams and go to Las Vegas this past November. So off went "Granny and her angels," said Michael, which included Margaret's friends Sandra Carquez, Liz Hunter, and Joanie McCuaig.

And even though she'd recently been on a trip, her next vacation to Jamaica was slated for this March, when she would have cashed in on seven free nights from Sandals resort in honour of her seventieth stay. "We kept on telling her, you're going to get better and you're going to Jamaica," said Michael, who said his mother stayed determined to go on the trip right to the very end. After all, she needed to be there for her Jamaican grandkids.

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