10 January 2024

Yass community pays tribute to a local stalwart – Brian O'Connor

| Sally Hopman
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Group of four people under a tree

Daughter Cara Mayega, Brian O’Connor, son Patrick O’Connor and daughter Mollie O’Brien at the Yass family home. Photo: Supplied.

The Yass Valley has lost one of its stalwarts with the death of community man, storyteller and local legend Brian O’Connor. He was 92.

Mr O’Connor, a former Yass Valley councillor and businessman, died on 23 December in Canberra.

Born in Yass on 24 September, 1931, Mr O’Connor, who was of Irish descent, was well known for telling people he was born in Rossi Street, lived in Rossi Street and would die in Rossi Street. He didn’t move far in his life – from one end of Rossi Street to the other – the latter being the town’s former post office, circa 1854, which had been the family home. He ended up living there for more than 50 years.

“He was so proud of that house,” eldest daughter Mollie O’Brien said. “It was like a boarding house when they moved in but Mum made it into a home. The garden was his pride and joy and he loved how the house had such a strong historical connection to Yass.” He named the house Ronnoco, O’Connor spelled backwards.

He attended school in Yass, including at Mount Carmel, Yass Public as well as Holy Cross College and was a successful football player, including as part of the Yass Magpies premiership team of 1956.

After leaving school in the 1950s, he started work with his father, Joe, who ran the Yass Caltex distributorship, paving the way for a long-term career in the oil industry. It was in this field that he would receive the first of many awards – a Queen’s Commendation for brave conduct after he rescued an occupant of a car in the flooded Yass River.

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Named Yass Resident of the Year in 2009 for his services to the community, Mr O’Connor also served on the Yass Valley Council for 13 years, following a proud family tradition. His father was mayor of Yass three times during the 1970s, including as the youngest in its history when he was only 21.

Ms O’Brien described her father as “a very loving dad”.

“He always supported everything we did, he always sang our praises to others,” she said, speaking of her sister Cara and brother Patrick. The love of his life, his wife, Susan, died in 2017.

“Dad was always there for us, whatever we did, and he was always proud of us.”

The current Mayor of Yass, Allan McGrath, paid tribute to his “mate” this week, saying he would be remembered as a man of strength and passion.

As recently as a month ago, Mr O’Connor texted his friend with words to the effect: “Have a squiz at the long grass on the railway crossing. It’s a bloody disgrace – do something about it.”

Black and white photo of man

Yass Valley stalwart Brian O’Connor in younger days. At his funeral this week, the father-of-three was remembered as a great advocate for the town. Photo: Supplied.

“That was Brian,” Mr McGrath said with a laugh. “He was not the sort of bloke to pull any punches. But when it came to Yass, he couldn’t have been more passionate about his home town.”

That connection with the town was illustrated today (10 January), when a large crowd attended Mr O’Connor’s funeral at St Augustine’s Catholic Church, Yass.

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When it came to legacies, Ms O’Brien said she would like her father to be remembered as a man of integrity, a man who wanted everyone to do the right thing the right way and for everyone to be safe.

“You’d always know if he didn’t like something,” she said. “He’d just say, ‘Bugger it, that’s my opinion and I’m sticking to it’. At 92, he reckoned he could say what he wanted,” she laughed.

Mr O’Connor suffered ill-health in his later life, including being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 86. But rather than just take it lying down, he fought it vigorously and became a spokesperson, talking to other men about what was then a little-known cancer for men.

“We always used to talk about there being three things about Dad – community, sporting pride and business sense.

“I’d like to think that each of us, my sister, brother and I, have taken on those traits – along with the Irish background,” Ms O’Brien laughed.

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