William Connor

Age 73 English teacher was credited by students for 'turning around their lives' and offering a trusting, encouraging ear.

July 15, 2008|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,Sun Reporter

William Campbell Connor, a Baltimore public school teacher English teacher dubbed "Uncle Bill" by students and colleagues, died of an aneurysm July 8 at St. Joseph Medical Center. The longtime Rodgers Forge resident was 73.

Mr. Connor was born in Baltimore and raised on Ellerslie Avenue. After graduating from Loyola High School in 1952, he enrolled at Loyola College, where he earned a bachelor's degree in English in 1956.

He also held a master's degree in education from Morgan State University, and served in the Army in the early 1960s.

In 1965, Mr. Connor began teaching at Edmondson High School, and three years later joined the faculty of Lake Clifton High School, where he remained for the next 27 years until retiring in 1995.

"He was a very compassionate person and loved the children," said Michael L. Harrell, also an English teacher, who first got to know Mr. Connor more than 30 years ago at Lake Clifton.

"His classroom style was very informal. He believed if a child felt a sense of self-confidence, they could achieve and be successful. This was his philosophy," said Mr. Harrell, now on the faculty of Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School.

"He encouraged and let them voice their opinions, and then he'd help adjust their thinking. ... They were very lively classes," he said.

Mr. Connor went out of his way to help kids that were troubled or had academic problems.

"He'd ask them, 'Are you doing all right?' They'd confide in him and come for counseling. They trusted him, and for some, he was a surrogate dad," Mr. Harrell said.

"There were kids who wanted to go the prom and didn't have the money, and he'd pay for them," he said. "He'd take kids who needed clothes to the store of their choice and tell them to pick out what they wanted, and he'd pay for it."

The Rev. James A. Johnson, a retired Maryland correctional officer who is now an associate minister at St. Paul Baptist Church on The Alameda, was a former student. "He was very popular and it was very apparent that he had a passion for teaching and kids. He had a profound effect on them," Mr. Johnson said.

"There were 14 children in my family, and I was on a work-study program while going to high school at Lake Clifton in the early 1970s. I needed money for my high school ring and I didn't have it," he said.

"The money was due on Wednesday, and I wasn't getting paid until Friday. I went to him and he gave me the $86 I needed to buy the ring. I told him I'd pay him on Friday, and he trusted me," he said.

"I really think that's when we bonded," he said. "While I wasn't a troubled student, he saw something in me and helped keep me focused on school and my education," he said.

After serving in the Army for eight years, Mr. Johnson was reunited with Mr. Connor.

"I was 26 when he formally adopted me in 1986," Mr. Johnson said.

Mr. Connor enjoyed traveling and often ran into former students.

"You couldn't go anywhere with Bill that he wasn't running into former students, many of whom he kept in touch with," Mr. Harrell said. "They were always coming up and crediting him with having turned around their lives."

Even though he had retired, Mr. Connor couldn't stay out of the classroom for long, and since 1995, had been a regular substitute teacher at Mervo.

"It'll be heart-wrenching to go back to Mervo and not find him there because he was such an integral part of the school," Mr. Harrell said.

The longtime Murdock Road resident enjoyed collecting duck decoys and antique clocks. He also was an avid reader of history.

Mr. Connor was an active member of St. Pius X and the University of Maryland chapter of Phi Delta Kappa.

"He made numerous friends wherever he went and touched the lives of so many young people. His gregarious personality, his participatory spirit, his compassion for others and his fervent zeal to extend a helping hand will be sorely missed," Mr. Johnson said.

A Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow at St. Pius X, 6432 York Road.

In addition to Mr. Johnson, Mr. Connor is survived by two granddaughters. An earlier marriage ended in divorce.

fred.rasmussen@baltsun.com

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