John Joseph Connor was described by his family as a man emblematic of his era — hardworking, humble and tirelessly dedicated to his wife and nine children.
The World War II veteran, retired high school teacher and one-time semiprofessional basketball player rarely spoke about all he’d accomplished in his 95 years. He kept his head down and “did what had to be done,” his daughter Maureen Flynn said, until his death of heart failure at Long Island State Veterans Home in Stony Brook on July 26.
“He wasn’t a man of many words, but he led by example,” Flynn said.
Connor was born on Dec. 8, 1923, in Queens. He was a graduate of Newtown High School and attended St. Francis College on a basketball scholarship; but after his first semester he was drafted into the Army and served as a sergeant in the 7th armored division in Europe that was assigned to General George Patton during the Battle of the Bulge.
When he returned stateside, Connor re-enrolled at St. Francis, where he earned a Bachelor’s in chemistry while playing semiprofessional basketball. After graduating, he started working for a company that manufactured iodine and soon met his wife.
He was staring at the rusty undercarriage of a friend’s car when he slid out from underneath and caught sight of Gloria Mallon’s blue eyes and strawberry blonde hair as she was walking down the street in Jackson Heights.
He’d retell that story for the next 60 years, because people enjoyed hearing the recollection and seeing how it still stirred the normally quiet man.
“He always said that at the moment, he was taken with her,” said Flynn, 63, of Bayport.
The couple was married a year later on Nov. 3, 1950, settling first in Queens and later in a four-bedroom house in East Islip after Connor earned a master’s degree in education from Hofstra University and started teaching science in the Half Hollow Hills school district.
It wasn’t easy raising nine children on a single teacher’s salary, and Connor would supplement his income by refereeing soccer games or working a 3 a.m. shift at Entenmann’s bakery. He was thrifty, too and, in his basement workshop, he’d build lamps and desks for his children to work on.
Flynn recalled finding him down there one day gluing the letters of her mother’s name onto a heart-shaped box he’d made. Connor saw his wife admiring a manicure kit while they were shopping and figured he’d make her one for Valentine’s Day.
“He wanted her and all of us to have everything we needed, and he tried his best,” Flynn said.
Connor remained active throughout his life. He took up running in his retirement and completed the Newsday Long Island Marathon when he was 65, his son Michael Connor said.
Michael Connor, of Fairfield, Connecticut, would run with his father in Heckscher State Park until his father's hip couldn’t hold up.
A doctor showed him an X-ray of the joint and how the cartilage had worn so thin, bone rubbed on bone. Connor chronicled it in a running diary, which Michael Connor found while cleaning out his parents’ home, in an entry titled “D Day.”
But his father didn’t complain; he kept looking ahead and replaced his running habit with swimming, his son said. He became a lifeguard at a club in East Islip, where he swam 80 laps each morning.
“He kept going forward,” Michael Connor said.
In addition to his wife, son and daughter, survivors include sons John Connor of East Hartford, Connecticut, Joseph Connor of Charlottesville, Virginia, and Kevin Connor of Fairfield, Connecticut; daughters Teresa Hardin of Springfield, Missouri, Kathleen Levelle of Beaverton, Oregon; Mary Ann Connor of New Hope, Pennsylvania; Christina Tellekamp of Hauppauge; 21 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
A service for Connor was held at St. Mary R.C. Church in East Islip on July 31. He was interred at Calverton National Cemetery.