In Memoriam: Thomas H. O'Connor
The Extension School community is saddened to learn of the passing of longtime and popular faculty member Thomas H. O’Connor, who over the course of more than 35 years, taught American history and the history of Boston to thousands of Extension School students. Professor O’Connor died Sunday in his Milton home at the age of 89.
Professor O’Connor was University Historian and emeritus professor of history at Boston College, as well as the author of a number of books on Boston and Massachusetts history. He retired from Harvard Extension School teaching in spring of 2004. On his final day, O’Connor, who prided himself in the fact that he never once missed a class, received a rousing send-off, complete with fife and drum band, and a distinguished service award presented by Dean Michael Shinagel. Commented O’Connor, “Now, how do you top that!”
In 2001, Thomas O’Connor was the School's distinguished Lowell Lecturer, delivering that year’s address, “Highlights of Boston History: A Personal Perspective,” most appropriate as O’Connor was widely acknowledged as the unofficial “dean” of Boston historians. At Commencement in 1990, O’Connor received the Petra T. Shattuck Award for Excellence in Teaching, and at the Extension School Alumni Banquet in 1995, O’Connor was honored for 25 years of service to Harvard Extension School when he also delivered an address to alumni, “The Excitement of Discovery.”
Upon hearing of his passing, former student Jane Weingarten felt moved to express how much she liked Professor O’Connor as a teacher. O’Connor, she explained, was like a walking textbook from whom she learned an enormous amount. “He would start the class by asking the 100 or more students in the room, ‘Where did I leave off last time?’ Then he would take about ten seconds to get into position, and was off and running for two hours. I often compared him to a music box, just one winding and he would use no script, show no hesitation, just present straightforward history, responding to many question from the class along the way. The Professor kept his rhythm, his composure, and his natural manner throughout, adding occasional wry comments and posing unanswerable questions for us to ponder.”
Says Dean Michael Shinagel, “Thomas O’Connor epitomized the ideal Harvard Extension School faculty member: an inspiring teacher, a distinguished scholar, and a warm human being dedicated to his evening students. He became a legend in his 35 years of teaching here, and he will be missed.”
Read the Boston Globe obituary.
Read “O’Connor enjoys musical send-off” in the Harvard Gazette.
Read Thomas O’Connor’s Lowell Lecture transcript.