Greater Harrisburg's Community Magazine

Bob’s Art Blog: A Tribute to Joe O’Connor

Up until yesterday morning, statistics that scroll across the TV screen, the daily newspaper compilations and the topic of much anxiety were only that. All that changed when we got the call that a friend had succumbed to the coronavirus pandemic.

Then it really hit home with a pile-driving force. The local art community and community at large lost one of its own. Joe O’Connor, one of Harrisburg and Camp Hill’s favorite sons, was taken on April 13 after fighting the good fight for days.

Just a mere 17 weeks ago, we had the good fortune to hear Joe read to a standing-room-only crowd at One Good Woman in Camp Hill. During that evening, Joe unveiled words of great insight and depth but, most of all, heart. You see, he had years honing those feelings for the love of his wife in business and in life. Holly was a match anointed for Joe from another realm. In a lifetime, if we are so blessed to find our soulmate, then our time here is rich and full. So it was with Joe and Holly.

Brooklyn-born in October 1941, Joe O’Connor was a member of the class of 1965 at St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Pa. Drafted out of college, he served in the Vietnam War for his country. After that, his life followed its own course as he worked full time. However, once retired, he returned to his other love, poetry. Writing professor Michelle Gil-Montero, who is also the editor of Eulalia Books, encouraged Joe to pursue a series of chap books. These handmade books were planned to become an annual spring event. 

In 1947, Welsh poet Dylan Thomas wrote a poem in the style of a villanelle, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” which addresses death. Its words resonate even more meaningfully today in the shadow of the global pandemic. The lines, “Though wise men at their end know dark is right, because their words had forked no lightning…” can never be said of Joe O’Connor. Taken from Joe’s preface, “Why Poetry?” not in the rhetorical sense but with introspective investigation in mind, “We must allow poetry to place us in a state of affirmation and acceptance and permit our vital life to emerge at least for a single moment.”

Those words of Joe’s are truly words to live by, always to the fullest each and every day, for life is a gift to be shared with those you hold dear. Do that in your daily walk and there will never be any regrets. We miss you already, Joe. Thank you for the words you left behind as your gift to guide us all in the days ahead.

Pictured: Joe O’Connor, with wife Holly, signing books at One Good Woman in December.

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