Caroline O'Connor, voice of Philadelphia river wards

Caroline O'Connor
Caroline O'Connor
Posted: October 12, 2013

Caroline O'Connor, 95, a civic leader in Fishtown who spoke up for the people of the river wards, died Saturday, Oct. 5, of complications from cancer at her son's home in Mayfair.

Born at home in Fishtown in the year of the great influenza pandemic, Mrs. O'Connor grew up during the 1920s and the Depression. When her father died early, she took care of her five siblings so her mother could work.

Her own husband, Frank, also died young, in 1962, and it was beginning in the late 1960s that Mrs. O'Connor found her voice as Fishtown's advocate. She saw things she didn't like, and detailed them in mailings to public officials and letters to the editor.

In one, published in The Inquirer in February 1990, she questioned why residents had been left out of a decision to rename a stretch of Delaware Avenue as Christopher Columbus Boulevard, part of the 500th anniversary of the explorer's arrival.

"We all want this celebration to happen. However, the people who live along Delaware Avenue had no input at all," she wrote. Politicians might think that residents didn't care, she wrote. "We do."

She began speaking on local issues at civic meetings, and people listened. They elected her president of the Fishtown Civic Association.

Mrs. O'Connor became a link between the neighborhood and city officials. Under her leadership, the group grew from a handful to 500 dues-paying members. Still in work clothes, they packed meetings in the 1970s and '80s to wrangle with city officials.

She liked to remind officials that "regular" people "too tired from work, family responsibility, and with no time to protest" deserved their attention - and representation.

Mrs. O'Connor worked for the Nicholson File Co., now gone, and met her husband there. After he died, she became office manager for Cigna Insurance in Center City. She retired at 75.

"She saw people come and go," said nephew Kenneth Loughlin. "She was this rock, and younger people depended on her to learn the trade."

In private life, he said, she was an engaging storyteller, describing a "world that has fallen by the wayside."

"She lived it," her nephew said.

Also surviving are a son, Frank "Butch"; two grandchildren; a great-grandson; a sister; and nieces and nephews.

A viewing will be from 9 to 10 a.m. Friday, Oct. 11, at Burns Funeral Home, 9708 Frankford Ave., followed by a Funeral Mass at 10:30 a.m. at St. Katherine of Siena Roman Catholic Church, 9700 Frankford Ave. Interment will be in St. Peter Redemptionist Cemetery, Port Richmond.



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