May 21, 2007
By Alan Bisbort • 8:30 AM EST
Kathy O. loved the beaches at Vieques, PR.
Ed. note: Bisbort was concerned that no one else in the state would publish this. I have great respect for Kathy O'Connell's vast repertoire of knowledge, and long ago I adopted her motto of journalism in the headline. KK
The last time I saw her, three months ago, she was in despair, having been forced by a change of circumstances — a Jane Austen-like locution she'd have appreciated — to leave the state she loved, Connecticut.
It was obvious, at this coffee encounter, a semi-regular event since Kathy O'Connell left the Advocate more than six years ago, that more than just despair was at work. She was divesting herself of worldly goods, giving away 30+ years' worth of videos, books and albums that she'd accumulated, a mound of cultural diversion that would house a small library all by itself.
To me, she gave all of her lavishly inscribed copies of books by William Manchester, a friend of hers from her days at the Middletown Press. She knew I revered Manchester, believed him to be one of the few American giants of letters, up there with Edmund Wilson and Joseph Mitchell in my pantheon, and she had come close on a couple of occasions of convincing the stroke-addled but proud ex-Marine to give such a longtime fan an audience at his Middletown home.
I had this fantasy that we would instantly bond, this great man and I, and that he would then let me ghost-write the third volume of his Winston Churchill biography, a gig that went to some other lucky but (of course!) fully undeserving freelancer.
About the Manchester books, I told Kathy, "I can't keep these. I'll just hold them until you get settled," partly to play into the delusion that she was not as bad off as we were pretending. Only a year or two older than I, she was barely ambulatory without a cane, she had colds she couldn't shake, her body trembled and her mind wandered like an ancient aunt's.
Again forced by a change of circumstances, Kathy was having to drive all the way to Birmingham, Alabama from her longtime rented home in Portland, Ct., to live with her 92-year-old mother. As the joke goes, the mother had one foot in the grave and the other on a banana peel.
I didn't know it was Kathy who was about to step on that banana peel, but it did not exactly surprise me to learn that she did. Kathy O'Connell, longtime Connecticut journalism critic, columnist and writer, died this past Sunday, May 13. So sad, so much talent, so much more to give.
I prefer to remember the better angels of Kathy's complicated character, the person who energetically came to the Advocate after her beloved Press was bought by a newspaper chain. The one who, without complaining, took the job as a receptionist, what some of her stature might deem too far a fall from grace to accept.
The one who had lived and worked in a group home with Mitch Snyder in Washington, D.C., rubbed shoulders with the Berrigan brothers and did good deeds for the homeless masses, in the process probably saving a number of lives.
She eventually left the Advocate and took a job at the Meriden Record-Journal, where she won several awards for her semi-regular columns and reviews. She was kind to my son, who loved her stories about her youth in Philadelphia, and lavished him with little carefully chosen presents. She was a good person, deep inside all that lifetime's worth of hurt. She will be missed by her readers and her friends.