Longtime SCCA supporter honored

Published 9:47 pm Monday, November 29, 2010

Tommy O’Connor recently was honored by the Cultural Alliance of Greater Hampton Roads with an ALLI Award. The award recognizes individuals, businesses, organizations and others who contribute to the arts in Hampton Roads.

Tommy O’Connor will do just about anything to see the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts succeed.

The Suffolk High School alumnus has worked on the arts center since before it was transformed from the old high school. He has served on the center’s Foundation Board, which raises money, and now serves as the treasurer of the LP board, which hires the executive director. He even comes to the center almost daily to pick up trash from the parking lot.

“I don’t want to see anything that I work on fail,” O’Connor said.

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For his efforts, O’Connor was honored earlier this month with a 2010 ALLI Award. Given by the Cultural Alliance of Greater Hampton Roads, the ALLI Awards honor professionals, educators, businesses, volunteers, media and others involved with the arts in Hampton Roads. O’Connor was nominated by Susan Babiy, development coordinator for the Suffolk Center.

“I thought it was a joke when Susan nominated me,” said O’Connor, who owns peanut consulting and seafood businesses. “I’m not in the artsy world. I’m about as far away from that as you can get.”

O’Connor first became involved with the center when it was simply the shell of an old school, inhabited by homeless people and wild animals. O’Connor, one of many in his family to graduate from Suffolk High School, was among those who advocated renovating it to become the arts center.

“I’m so happy to have my old school back,” O’Connor said. “There’s a lot of history here.”

O’Connor is in charge of the building and grounds, which drives him to help pick up trash. Hired staffers keep the grounds clean, he said, but “30 minutes later, the wind changes and there’s trash everywhere again.”

Despite his claim that he’s not part of the “artsy” world, O’Connor also is a board member with the Barrier Islands Center on the Eastern Shore, which showcases the culture, history, community and ecology of Virginia’s barrier islands. He also is a member of the Eastern Shore’s Own arts organization and a board member of the Arts Enter Cape Charles.

According to Babiy, O’Connor also collects duck decoys, Mr. Peanut memorabilia and other fine art and makes generous loans from his personal collection for gallery exhibits at the Suffolk Center. He’s also involved with Ducks Unlimited, and was honored with its Conservationist of the Year award in 2008. In addition, he recently received a conservationist award from the Eastern Shore of Virginia’s Audubon Society.

Despite all his involvement, O’Connor shrugs off recognition, instead giving credit for the Suffolk Center’s achievements to the staff and other volunteers.

“I’m so thankful that so many people are involved here,” O’Connor said. “I’m just one of many people that’s done a lot of work.”

For more information on the ALLI Awards, visit www.culturalli.org.