Celebration of Life for University of Miami Coach Okie O’Connor
In late fall of 1986, Joseph “Okie” O’Connor accepted the position as Head Rowing Coach at the University of Miami, building the men’s and women’s rowing programs from scratch. He recruited athletes as walk-ons from flyers posted on bulletin boards, boat displays at the Student Union and scoping new students in class registration lines. He literally pulled students out of the crowd to tell them he thought they could be good rowers. Over the next 15 years of Okie’s coaching and leadership, UM crew teams won various national championships and regattas. He left the program in 2001, but remained a ‘Cane at heart.
Sadly on the morning of April 20, 2013, Okie accidentally fell in the water and drowned due to a suspected medical episode. It was a surprise to all those whose lives he touched.
As a University of Miami Alum, I have been a part of lots of UM themed events. So was touched when I was tapped to help plan a Celebration of Life for University of Miami Coach Okie O’Connor. The weekend brought together generations of UM rowers. We began with a cocktail reception in his honor at the Hecht Athletic Center on Friday evening, which included a visit from the UM Athletic Director Blake James and a program of tributes from Okie’s sisters and former rowers. After that, the group headed to the Miami Rowing Club – where the rowing program began – for a candlelit vigil where we toasted to his memory (with his favorite drink, no less) and honored his wishes to spread his ashes in the Atlantic.
The next day we gathered for a tailgate prior to the UM vs UF football game. We arranged for a block of seats to be available for the rowers and then surprised them during the 2nd Quarter with something special. Displayed on the jumbotron was Okie’s photo and the announcer told the sold-out crowd about Okie’s contribution to the University. We rounded out the weekend with an alumni row through Biscayne Bay.
Though I was never a rower, I was welcomed into the UM Crew Team family. It’s a weekend that will be engrained in my memory forever!
Event Coordinator: The Majestic Vision
Venue: University of Miami Hecht Athletic Center and Miami Rowing Club
Photography: Daniel Portnoy Photography and Emily Allongo Photography
Floral: Orange Blossoms Floral Design
Catering: The Big Cheese
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