JIS News

Verona O’Connor has devoted her life to improving the condition of residents of the parish of St. Thomas.
As a community volunteer and parish organiser for the National Council for Senior Citizens (NCSC), until her retirement in 2007, the 62-year old willingly imparted her skills through workshops in culinary techniques, art and craft, floral arrangement and other life skills to benefit elderly residents and the young.
Her hard work has been duly noted and, over the years, she has received many honours, including the prestigious Governor-General’s Achievement Award (GGAA) for St. Thomas in 2008. The award recognises persons, who have emerged from modest circumstances and have attained success and are actively involved in community activities.
“I started crying because sometimes you do not realise that people will look on and see what you are doing but you just do it as part of your system. Something is there to be done, you have the motivation and you just do it,” Mrs. O’Connor tells JIS News of her reaction to the award. She says that she was not looking for an award and had to be reminded twice to send her profile to the GGAA’s Committee.
Mrs. O’Connor life is one of struggle and triumph, having overcome poverty to qualify as a teacher, nurse, social worker and gerontologist, who volunteers her time and talents to those less fortunate.
Born in Belfield, St. Catherine in 1942, she was raised by a single mother, whom she says was “poor, but determined and willing.”
She remembers that the meagre funds the family had were used up when her mother became sick but the community came to their aid with the church and school that she attended, offering support.
Determined to succeed despite her circumstances and with the assistance of positive role models, after successfully completing the First, Second and Third Jamaica Local Examinations at age 17, she started a class for basic school students while awaiting a teaching job.
She served as a pre-trained teacher from 1965 to 1969 at several all-age schools in St. Catherine and, later, attended nursing school. In 1969, she completed a midwifery course at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston, and was assigned to work at the then Isaac Barrant Hospital in St. Thomas.
Later, she was transferred to the Princess Margaret Hospital in the parish where she worked as a registered midwife. She also taught at the Trinity Ville Secondary School in the parish and was a Field Educator in the Child Services Division of the then Ministry of Youth.
Armed with qualifications in a variety of fields, Mrs. O’Connor, who married Kenneth in 1966, began working for the NCSC in 1988, where she remained until retirement. She says she enjoyed every minute of the experience.
“It was very rewarding in terms of the experience because I did educational programmes and dealt with people of different strata of life,” she tells JIS News, noting that “I have always had a passion for older persons because they were there for me when I was young.”
“From the moment I see that the seniors have the ability to go forward, I help to stimulate their interest. It is not just seniors coming to meetings and sitting down and you giving them information, you get them doing things that you know they can do,” she points out.
Executive Director of the NCSC, Beverly Taylor, tells JIS News that ‘Miss Ver’, as she is fondly known, was a “pleasant, energetic and co-operative team player” during her period with the NCSC. “She always maintained a good rapport with senior citizens and had the remarkable ability to bring out the best in those with whom she interacted,” she adds.
It was Mrs. O’Connor, she says, who introduced the senior citizens pageant, the senior citizens quiz and the senior computer training programme. “Miss Ver injected a lot of energy in the art, craft, culinary art and horticulture activities and took the skills training programmes to a higher level,” she also points out.
The former NCSC parish organiser, who has a bubbly personality and ready smile, also started an inter-generational programme in St. Thomas aimed at bridging the generation gap and to get more young persons interacting with senior citizens and to appreciate them.
To better serve the older residents of the parish, she gained a post graduate diploma in gerontology and completed courses, seminars and workshops on family life, health, skills training, public speaking, and home economics.
But Mrs. O’Connor’s work has not been limited to seniors, as while working in St. Thomas, she assisted a group of young men from Bamboo Lane in Duhaney Pen, who often sat on the corner, to start an agricultural project. She says that the family member of one of the young men donated a piece of land for the project.
“Within a week, they cleared the land and I got the agriculturalist to come in and we fenced it off, then started ploughing it up. They had water nearby and got seeds and they started,” she recalls.
Even though she is retired, Mrs. O’Conner continues to serve her community through the Senior Citizens Club of the Morant Bay Seventh-day Adventist Church. The members visit shut-ins, the sick and primary schools to have devotion with the students.
She also has a strong belief in lifelong learning and recently completed a three-week course in drug education, counselling and healthy lifestyle training with the National Council on Drug Abuse. She also spends a lot of time sewing. “God has given me the talent to use my hands. Right now I am crocheting. I crochet hats, bags, I am doing cosmetic holders, I am doing phone holders. I am just making them and may use them as gifts,” she says.
Mrs. O’Connor has influenced the lives of many persons including Bridgette Thompson, a member of the Seventh-day Adventist Senior Citizens’ Club, who says she was encouraged by the community stalwart to write down her thoughts to overcome her loneliness after her grandchildren had migrated.
“I have two books of poems, religious and secular poems, Mrs. Thompson says with pride. She says that Mrs. O’Connor “is a born leader,” who never accepts no for an answer.
“She is a person determined to achieve anything she set out for. Don’t tell her no, you can’t, because she doesn’t take no for an answer. No matter how the thing looks hard, Mrs. O’Connor will get it through,” she says, noting that some seniors are now earning a livelihood from the skills gained at workshops conducted by Mrs. O’Connor.
For her own part, Mrs. Thompson says that Mrs. O’Connor has helped her become more independent and confident in her abilities. “I have gained self-confidence. I am now preaching, writing my own sermons and doing them,” she boasts.
To demonstrate her writing skills, Mrs. Thompson summed up the many qualities of Mrs. O’Connor making an acronym of her first name, Verona.
“V- versatile, E- earnest worker, R- record breaker, O- organised individual, N- no-nonsense person, A- ability to lead effectively.”

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