KINGSTON — Retired midwife, youth organizer and infirmary worker, Verona Blair O’Connor’s life has been primarily about discipline, determination, dedication and devotion to people.
As a community volunteer, she has devoted herself to improving the conditions of residents of St. Thomas, her adopted parish, and she has been anything, from midwife to parish organizer for the National Council for Senior Citizens, tasks which have benefited greatly from her discipline, determination and dedication.
In recognition of her invaluable contribution to her community, she has received a number of parish and national awards, the most recent being the Badge of Honour for Long and Faithful Service for her contribution to community development, which she received from the Government at the 2011 Honours and Awards Ceremony at King’s House, on National Heroes Day (October 17).
Born in Belfield, St. Catherine, Mrs. O’Connor, who “just loves helping people,” started out as a teacher at the age of 17. She started O’Connor’s Basic School in St. Catherine in 1965, after completing her Third Jamaica Local Examinations. She also taught as a pre-trained teacher at several all-age schools in the parish, including St. Faith’s, Boise Content, Bellas Gate and Marlie Hill.
“I wanted to pursue a career in teaching, but I was too young,” she explained, noting that the basic school she started was “very small” and was established “voluntarily”.
“I have a special place in my heart for children, and I loved teaching, so that was my way of reaching out to the community,” she says.
Three years after she married Kenneth Lloyd O’Connor in 1966, she stopped teaching and started pursuing her dream of becoming a midwife. She enrolled at the Victoria Jubilee Hospital in Kingston in 1969, and ended up working as a midwife for nine years.
She moved to St. Thomas after graduating, as she was assigned to the Isaac Barrant Hospital and, later, the Princess Margaret Hospital. After she was joined by her family, she decided to settle in the parish. She worked as a special education teacher at Trinityville Secondary School, and joined the Ministry of Youth Sports and Culture in 1988 as a field educator with day care units.
Mrs. O’Connor worked with the Ministry of Labour and Social Security and as a Parish Organizer for the National Council for Senior Citizens in St. Thomas, from 1996 to 2007.
“I worked with seniors from the grassroots level, focusing on art, craft and culinary. We recreated old things that people normally threw away,” she recalls.
She also organized seminars and workshops on Health, Education, Food and Nutrition, Stress Management, Retirement Planning, Family Life and Horticulture, which have benefitted both adults and children.
She launched several projects aimed at improving the lives of senior citizens, including a computer course recently introduced in partnership with the University of the West Indies (UWI), and a farming project involving 15 young drug abusers which started in 2004.
Mrs. O’Connor has also worked as an Officer for the Children’s Services, now known as the Child Development Agency (CDA) in the 1980s.
“I worked with parents who had small children, enabling projects such as animal rearing, backyard gardening and food preparation for younger children,” she reflects.
She is also a Family Life Director, providing services to both the church and the community. In her role as Family Life Director and counsellor, Mrs. O’Connor embarked on several outreach programmes for adults and children.
“Often times, children’s feelings are ignored. I find time to listen to them, as well as the adults, to find out what is happening to them,” she says.
She adds that if assistance cannot not be provided at the parish level, referrals are made to the Ministry of Labour and Social Security for support from the National Insurance Scheme (NIS) and the Programme for Advancement Through Health and Education (PATH).
Mrs. O’Connoris deeply involved with the molding of children, and has offered mentorship to kindergarten, preparatory, primary and high schools in the parish. She is also a past member of the Lyssons Primary School’s Parent Teachers Association.
As she looks forward to the future, she wants to pursue a Masters degree in Gerontology- the study of aging- and a course in writing to enable her to publish her experiences.
She remains an ardent Christian, serving church and community. She encourages youth to move ahead, despite the obstacles they face, and give God thanks because with “Christ in the vessel, we can smile at the storm".
She was a recipient of the Governor General's Award in 2008, for contribution to community development, and the Jamaica Civil Service Long Service Award, in 2003, for community involvement.
Mrs. O’Connor is still married to Kenneth O’Connot after 45 years, and they have two children.
By Jeneva Gordon, JIS PRO