WORCESTER, Mass. - The Worcester State University Department of Athletics is saddened to hear about the passing of Worcester State University's inaugural coach of the cross country, indoor and outdoor track programs, Richard A. "Okie" O'Connor, 81, of West Harwich, formally of Holden.
He was pre-deceased by his wife Geraldine in 2010 and his best friend, coach and mentor John Wallace in 1981. "Okie" was born in Worcester on February 7, 1936, son of Francis and Anna (Coyne) O'Connor. He graduated from Commerce High School in 1955, where he was an outstanding sprinter for the indoor and outdoor track teams. He was the City of Worcester Champion in the 300-yard run.
He earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology from Clark University in 1962, a Master of Arts degree in Psychology from Assumption College in 1966 followed by a C.A.G.S. in 1972. He began his career in Education in 1962 as a Social Studies teacher at Fitchburg High School. He then taught at West Boylston High School where he also coached Track & Field. From 1966-68 he was an instructor in the Psychology Department at Quinsigamond Community College. In 1968 he was hired by Worcester State College as an Associate Professor of Psychology where he remained until his retirement in 1994.
In 1969, "Okie" was the guiding force behind the implementation of the Worcester State College Indoor and Outdoor Track programs. He holds the distinction of being the first coach at Worcester State to have a student-athlete gain NCAA All-American status. Okie guided the Lancer Outdoor track team to two Massachusetts State Collegiate Athletic Conference (MASCAC) Championships in 1972 and 1976. He also coached cross country from 1970-75. He was inducted into the Worcester State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1996. Over his 17-year track career, Okie coached several NCAA Division III All-American and New England Champions. He was an exceptional motivator and his favorite saying was "All the way, all the way, all the way."
"If the college experience represents that unique transition between erstwhile youth and formidable adulthood, Coach O'Connor…"Okie", as he preferred… was for so many of his cross country and track & field athletes that iconic force who laid the foundation for our success as athletes and in life itself," commented Worcester State head women's cross country and assistant women's track & field coach, Gary Jusseaume.
Jusseaume, a Worcester State cross country and track & field alum had the pleasure of having Okie as a coach. "Okie invested all of himself, his coaching prowess, and mentoring energies in guiding his athletes. He was selflessly devoted to the academic and athletic success of all his charges, regardless of their athletic abilities. He was a true coach/mentor, both supportive and guiding, and, when necessary, quick to admonish behavior or attitudes unbecoming an athlete. For that, he earned the respect of his athletes."
"Okie will be missed," said Worcester State's head men's cross country and track & field coach, Al Halper. "When I first met him in 1976, he was an energetic and enthusiastic coach who was always actively engaged in his sport. His excitement had a strong impact on me. As a coach just starting out in college, he would offer me advice along the way.
"Over the years, the "Okie" stories have been memorable," said Halper. "He expected a lot from his athletes and his athletes responded. He had a great deal of responsibility for training some of the best athletes ever produced in the cross country/ track and field program here at Worcester State. I have often told my athletes that to be really successful, they would have to out-do the success that Okie brought to the program when it first began.
"A couple of years ago, Okie paid me the ultimate compliment when he told me that he was proud of what my teams have accomplished during my time here. I was humbled by his remarks and told him that he and his teams had set the bar for us to achieve. He will always remain within my thoughts as a dedicated and consummate coach," said Halper.
"Gifted coaches have a unique ability to cultivate a love for athletics and the quest for personal success," commented Jusseaume. "Okie was such a coach, a purist who set high standards for hard-work, dedication, perseverance in the face of adversity and an unflinching, stolid attitude toward competition and achieving personal goals. He invited true athletes into his world of XC and T&F. Those who crossed the threshold are forever fundamentally changed for the best."
Friends are invited to calling hours at Callahan, Fay & Caswell Funeral Home, 61 Myrtle St., Worcester on Monday (Apr. 17) from 4-7 p.m. A funeral mass will be held at Immaculate Conception Catholic Church, 353 Grove St., Worcester on Tuesday (Apr. 18) at 11 a.m. with burial to follow at St. John's Cemetery.
Portions of this Release Courtesy of Callahan Fay Brothers & Caswell Funeral Home