George C. O'Connell Sr., 88, devotee of St. Paul's School

March 29, 2006|By FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN | FREDERICK N. RASMUSSEN,SUN REPORTER

George C. O'Connell Sr., a retired Baltimore businessman who was known as "Mr. St. Paul's" because of his association with the Brooklandville private school for more than seven decades, died of heart failure Thursday at Keswick Multi-Care Center. The former Ruxton resident was 88.

Mr. O'Connell was born in Rochester, N.Y., and moved to Baltimore in 1927 with his mother.

In 1930, he entered St. Paul's School - then located on Rogers Avenue in Mount Washington - as a boarder after being offered a scholarship because of his singing voice.

Upon graduating from St. Paul's in 1935, he worked at Savings Bank of Baltimore while attending the Baltimore College of Commerce at night. He earned a certificate in financial management from the school.

Mr. O'Connell enlisted in the Maryland National Guard in 1940 and served with the 110th Field Artillery until joining the Army Air Forces after the bombing of Pearl Harbor.

Trained as a B-25 pilot, Mr. O'Connell spent the war years training pilots at Moody Field in Valdosta, Ga., and later at an airfield in Greenville, S.C.

"He was such an exceptional pilot that they didn't send him overseas and needed him to train pilots," said a daughter, Cathryn O'Connell Lowe of Richmond, Va.

Discharged with the rank of lieutenant in 1945, he returned to Baltimore and rejoined his old National Guard unit, where he served until 1983.

In the late 1940s, he began his business career with John Duer & Sons, a family-owned wholesale hardware business that had been established in Baltimore in 1839.

In 1950, Mr. O'Connell joined the Baltimore Sales Book Co., which later became Baltimore Business Forms, and served as the company's secretary and treasurer for the next 22 years.

He went to work in 1972 as executive vice president and general manager for The Daily Record Co., publisher of The Daily Record. Even though he retired in 1982, he remained a consultant to the company for another decade.

His professional memberships included serving as president of the Maryland-Delaware-D.C. Press Association and the Charles Street Association.

His enduring affection for St. Paul's kept him going back to its campus, which by 1952 had relocated to Brooklandville.

When Mr. O'Connell joined the board in 1952, he was the first alumnus ever elected as a voting member and remained on the board for 36 years - 35 as secretary and 22 as treasurer.

Additional roles at St. Paul's included serving as alumni development liaison, historian, archivist and campus tour guide for prospective students and their parents from 1987 until 2002, when his health began to fail.

"He loved to regale them with St. Paul's history and lore - and especially about Annie the child ghost, who haunts the historic Brooklandwood mansion, the school's administrative building," his daughter said. "He also told them to learn the school prayer and live it."

"He charmed my wife when I interviewed at St. Paul's four years ago, and whenever I'm on the road at alumni gatherings, I'm always asked, `How's George?' He had made an impact on people at school," the school's headmaster, Thomas J. Reid, said yesterday.

"He was a unique combination of a sharp mind and an excellent memory, and because of his long affiliation with St. Paul's, he was an incredibly valuable historic resource. And he loved telling those tales," Mr. Reid said.

"He was a true St. Paul's gentleman and even after more than 70 years didn't forget a word of the school's history. He was committed to his family and the external family at St. Paul's. His death is quite a loss," said Angelo Otterbein, a 1991 graduate of St. Paul's and author of We Have Kept the Faith: The First 150 Years of the Boys School of St. Paul's Parish.

Mr. O'Connell's sartorial presence was such that he was seldom without a tie, jacket and tweed cap. Far from being a stuffy presence, he was gifted with a personable and congenial manner that put strangers at ease.

"If you walked into Brooklandwood when George was working, he'd go up to visitors, introduce himself, and make them instantly feel at home," Mr. Reid said.

Mr. O'Connell's hobbies were St. Paul's School and Old St. Paul's Episcopal Church, where he had been a member of the vestry, a senior warden and a member of the church's men and boy's choir for more than 50 years.

"When asked why he remained so dedicated to school and church, he was quick to say it was home to him," his daughter said.

A memorial service will be held at 11 a.m. Thursday at the church, Charles and Saratoga streets.

Also surviving are his wife of 64 years, the former Ethel Metz of Ruxton; two sons, George C. O'Connell Jr. of Lexington, Va., and Donald D. O'Connell of Springfield, Va.; three other daughters, Susan L. O'Connell of Ruxton, Martha O'Connell Stein of Towson and Anne O'Connell Knoch of New Freedom, Pa.; 11 grandchildren; and four great-grandchildren.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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