After many months of battling increasing disability of his adult-onset Muscular Dystrophy in the comfort of their home in Boothbay Harbor, M. John O’Connell gave in peacefully this past Sunday, February 16, 2020 at Sussman House in Pen Bay. He made the trip to the hospice house in Rockport knowingly, and even hopeful, on the Friday before—in a bittersweet nod to his favorite holiday and beloved wife Sandy, who had cared for her “Okee” in everlasting and loving attestation of their vows 51 years before. In his last weeks and days, his care was supplemented by his sister Clare and eldest child Doug, and eventually by the generous staff at Sussman. As word spread of his rapid decline over the weekend, he was responsive to the voices of those that surrounded him near and far, in the music he loved and calls from his “tids” and grandchildren—his pride and endless joy. He rested comfortably and passed slowly in a peaceful transition Sunday evening, surrounded by family, after nearly 80 extraordinary years.
John O’Connell was born in New York City on March 18, 1940 to Marian Grab O’Connell (the eldest of fourteen) and Maurice James O’Connell. He was the first of what would become a clan of more than 50 first cousins— only a few years separated him from his youngest aunt, Ellie Grab Fakoury, who survives him. As a child, he spent cherished summers adored on the family farm in Thornhurst, PA, where he made the annual pilgrimage to their “Circle G” reunion and where he will return to his roots when he is laid to rest with his parents, who preceded him on January 18, 1997 and 2011, among so many other loved ones.
Our John was a natural born leader and a larger than life presence—with a twinkle in his eye to the end and an endless capacity to love and grow people, always teaching and coaching. He was a Marist Brother until 1968, a basketball coach and teacher at Our Lady of Lourdes HS in Poughkeepsie, NY and where he married into the Smith family in 1969. With wife Sandy, he moved the growing family to Prince George’s County, MD and spent the next 30 years as an educator there—from the classroom, to the Principal’s office, to District and system-wide Superintendent and always, always, around the kitchen table.
John spent his remaining professional years in Baltimore City and Allegany County before accepting a position in Wiscasset in 2000—at the request of wife Sandy to be able to retire in Maine, where her parents had met on the beach in Lincolnville 80 years ago. He continued to nurture, with a love of flowers and birds and a presence that rivaled sunshine, and spread the importance of character—as recently as the last few years when he stopped by local Boothbay businesses to pass out flyers, with the help of his grandson.
He is immediately survived by three children and four grandchildren who have “adopted” Boothbay Harbor as home—son Doug (and his wife Fabiana Silva) of Sarasota, FL, daughters Kristin (Krissy) O’Connell of Denver, CO and Jaime Hilty of Las Cruces, NM along with grandchildren Ryan, Rebecca, Sophia and Jordan. Along with them, he and Sandy were surrounded this Christmas in celebration of their recent 50-year anniversary by sisters Clare O’Connell of Hopewell Junction, NY and Lynn Smith of Annapolis, MD. He is also survived by two brothers-in-law, Tom Smith of Indian Rocks Beach, FL and Steve Smith of Dade City, FL, abundant family in NY, PA, MD, FL, “brothers,” students, players and colleagues from well beyond.
There aren’t enough words to convey the impact this man had on us—arguably, on all—but we are comforted by knowing how much these words meant to him from Pat Conroy’s Prince of Tides, evidenced in a frame on his desk. “It is in the presence of my [wife] and children that I acknowledge my life, my destiny. I am a teacher, a coach, and a well-loved man. And it is more than enough.”
The family wishes to thank so many that cared for him in the last years, weeks and days and plans to host celebrations of his life this summer. If desired, donations to the BOOTHBAY REGION AMBULANCE SERVICE, PO Box 280, Boothbay ME 04537, would be so appreciated.
Hall’s of Boothbay has care of the arrangements. To extend online condolences, please visit hallfuneralhones.com