Nov. 11, 1948 – Nov. 1, 2012
Joseph D. O’Connor of Clarence, a retired farmworkers’ advocate with the U.S. Department of Labor and substitute foreign language teacher, died Thursday in Roswell Park Cancer Institute. He was 63.
Born in Wilkes-Barre, Pa., Mr. O’Connor earned a bachelor’s degree in French from Cortland State College in 1970 and his master’s degree, also in French, from the same institution a year later. He also studied at the Universite de Neuchatel in Switzerland.
Mr. O’Connor began his professional career as a French language teacher at Boyton Middle School in Ithaca, where he taught for three years. He then joined the Department of Labor’s Wage and Hour Division, where he served locally as a farm labor specialist over the course of his 30-year career. Fluent in both Spanish and French, with a proficiency in Haitian Creole, Mr. O’Connor worked to protect the rights of migrant farmworkers who toiled in the field and orchards of Western New York. He was instrumental in translating federal labor laws and regulations into Spanish and Haitian Creole.
In 2004, he was inducted into the Rural Opportunities Advocate Hall of Fame, the only federal employee to hold that distinction to date.
Following his retirement in 2009, Mr. O’Connor returned to the classroom as a substitute language teacher at Clarence High School. Since 1989, he had been a practitioner of the martial art of Tai Chi and eight-step Preying Mantis Kung Fu, in which he had achieved several black belt degrees.
He is survived by his wife of 35 years, Beverly Dams-O’Connor; two daughters, Devon Karn and Kristen Balestra; and three sisters, Catherine Cronen, Mary Elizabeth and Margaret.
A celebration of Mr. O’Connor’s life will be held at 1 p.m. Nov. 11, his birthday, at Brennan’s Bowery Bar, 4401 Transit Road, Clarence.