Herbert R. O'Conor Jr., 81, lawyer, humanitarian

December 10, 2003|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Herbert R. O'Conor Jr., a retired lawyer and son of a Maryland governor, who devoted his life to charitable and humanitarian endeavors, died of Parkinson's disease Monday at the Mercy Ridge retirement community in Timonium. He was 81.

"He followed in the tradition of his father in treating people with dignity and kindness. He was close to his family and church and contributed to his community in his own quiet way," said former Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro III.

"He never fed off his father, who was a pillar of the political community and believed helping others was a civic responsibility. He had his own agenda and followed it through," Mr. D'Alesandro said.

Mr. O'Conor was born in Baltimore and raised in Guilford and Annapolis, the son of Herbert Romulus and Eugenia Byrnes O'Conor. His father had been Maryland attorney general and was governor from 1939 to 1947, when he was elected to the U.S. Senate. His father, later a Baltimore lawyer, died in 1960.

Mr. O'Conor, the eldest of four children, graduated in 1939 from Loyola High School and earned his bachelor's degree in 1943 from Loyola College.

"Herb was a great role model for the rest of us. When we were growing up in Annapolis, he didn't get overwhelmed by it and was never affected by its aura. He was always interested in staying on the same level as everyone else," said a brother, James P. O'Conor of Timonium, a founder of the real estate firm O'Conor, Piper & Flynn.

During World War II, Mr. O'Conor enlisted in the Army and served in the adjutant general's department in Europe and the Pacific. He attained the rank of captain.

After returning to Baltimore, he graduated in 1949 from the University of Maryland School of Law. He began practicing with his father in the early 1950s, and specialized in hospital, banking and real estate law.

He had been an assistant city solicitor for Baltimore in the mid-1950s and was a state banking commissioner from 1963 to 1967.

He practiced law for years in the Fidelity Building with Casmir M. Zacharski Jr., and later joined the firm of Venable, Baetjer, Howard and Civiletti, from which he retired in 1995.

Active in politics, Mr. O'Conor had served as state Democratic chairman during the presidential campaigns of John F. Kennedy and Lyndon B. Johnson.

Appointed by the latter to the U.S. delegation to the United Nations in the mid-1960s, Mr. O'Conor became interested in world hunger. He later served for many years as director of the Maryland Committee for UNICEF and had been a member of the board of its U.S. committee.

He also wrote widely on world hunger, poverty and related politics.

"Millions of people die annually from sickness, and the World Health Organization attributes 80 percent of those deaths to inadequate water or sanitation. In the underprivileged world, half of the deaths occur to children under 5 years old," Mr. O'Conor wrote in a 1983 article in The Sun.

Mr. O'Conor was also active with Catholic Charities and Catholic Relief Services.

"He'd work 60- to 70-hour weeks on all of the things that he was involved with. He did not have an ego and never wanted the spotlight. He was a person who liked listening to others," said son Herbert R. O'Conor III, a lawyer and Towson resident.

"He was always trying to help others or someone he found on the street, and these were relationships that continued for years," said Mr. Zacharski, his former law partner. "He'd respond to the needs of people he simply met by chance. His charitable and humanitarian projects dominated his life both professional and otherwise, and he did all he could to further those goals."

"He was a gentle man and extremely gracious. I was always impressed with him. He always wanted to make life better for those who didn't have the advantages he had," said Maryland Attorney General J. Joseph Curran Jr.

In 1944, Mr. O'Conor married Ella Galvin, and for many years they lived in Homeland before moving to the retirement community in 2001.

He was a daily communicant of the Roman Catholic Cathedral of Mary Our Queen, 5200 N. Charles St., where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

In addition to his wife, son and brother, Mr. O'Conor is survived by three daughters, Mercedes O'C. Cathey of Fullerton, Lisa O'C. Banknell of Rodgers Forge and Mary Galvin O'C. Wilson of Baltimore; another brother, Eugene F. O'Conor of Towson; a sister, Patricia O'C. Farley of Baltimore; and eight grandchildren.

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