- W. Brian O'Connor
A few years ago, W.
Brian O’Connor’s father was admitted to a hospital
in the family’s native Brattleboro. As he rushed to his father’s bedside,
O’Connor caught sight of four familiar faces—those of two nurses and
two physicians—and knew his father was in good hands and would make
a full recovery.
For four decades O’Connor has taught and advised students as well as
served on multiple committees at UMass Amherst. The nurses and doctors
at the Vermont hospital were former UMass Amherst students that he
had gotten to know in his role as director of premedical advising.
Since 1972, when he took over that post, O’Connor has written 10,000
letters of recommendation for students interested in careers in the
health professions. About 85 percent of Brian’s advisees are accepted
into graduate school, and many have warm praise for the help they received
from O’Connor and his wife, Karen, who serves as the assistant director
of the premedical advising program.
O’Connor is shy about naming the most famous
students he has counseled over the years or encouraged to “hang in
there, kid.” He said, “We don’t turn anybody away, and the bottom line
is we get to deal with the best and brightest at the university.”
O’Connor came to UMass Amherst in 1967 during one of the campus boom
periods. He was hired to teach human anatomy and physiology in what
was then the zoology department. Only six years after he joined the
faculty, O’Connor received a Distinguished Teaching Award. The award
confirmed his talent as an educator and also recognized his desire
to be of service to others. His record includes membership on 41 different
committees and task forces responsible for hiring deans, reviewing
policies, and advising on other major changes. As a faculty member
in the biology department, he still teaches a course each semester,
Introduction to Physiology. And at every last class he still says good-bye
to his students by reading Desiderata by Max Ehrmann, a poignant appeal
for peace and a rubric for determining life’s essentials.
O’Connor’s illustrious career will be celebrated on June 9, when alumni
and friends from around the world gather on campus for dinner and a
recognition ceremony. Jess Kane ’70, a member of the UMass
Amherst Foundation Board whom O’Connor advised for admission into
dental school, is co-chairing the event with Dr. Michael T. Foley ’72.
Foley is a former physician to the Boston
Red Sox, whose path to medical school was also paved
with help from O’Connor. Kane uses many superlatives to describe O’Connor.
He says the quality that stands out most is O’Connor’s focus on each
individual. “He took a very personal interest in every student. And
he didn’t use voice mail or e-mail. He was always available in person.”
The W. Brian O’Connor Celebration will feature a well-known
speaker at the dinner and recognition ceremony on June 9. It
will be an opportunity for alumni and the campus community honor
Brian by contributing to a classroom to be named for O’Connor
in the new Integrated
Science Building. Groundbreaking for the
million building was in September.