Not your typical ‘artsy’ guy

Published 10:43 pm Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Tommy O’Connor is proof that one need not be an especially artistic person to be a friend of the arts. O’Connor was honored in November with a 2010 ALLI Award, presented by the Cultural Alliance of Greater Hampton Roads.

Nobody was more surprised by the recognition than O’Connor himself.

“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.”

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Susan Babiy, development coordinator for the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts, nominated O’Connor for the award because of the commitment that he has shown to the arts venue since the time when it was still a deserted, run-down old school. As a graduate of the old Suffolk High School, O’Connor had a soft spot in his heart for the facility and was one of the folks who believed early on in its potential as a community arts facility.

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.

But many of those associated with the SCCA know O’Connor because of his frequent visits to the center, where he generally concerns himself with a project that is decidedly not “artsy.” O’Connor, who is in charge of the facility’s building and grounds, spends part of most every day cleaning trash from the SCCA parking lot. Paid staff members keep the grounds clean, but the parking lot quickly accumulates trash again, and O’Connor has a heart for keeping things looking good at the SCCA.

One of the lessons that can be learned from such a selfless person is the lesson of humility. No job should be too menial for someone who really cares about a cause. Another lesson is that there are many ways to support one’s community — and many reasons to do so.

Tommy O’Connor is quick to admit that he might not have been the first person folks would have expected to be such a committed supporter of the arts in Suffolk. But his contributions on behalf of the Suffolk Center for Cultural Arts — even though those contributions might have little direct connection with the arts — prove him to be one of the most important people in Suffolk’s arts community. Suffolk is better for O’Connor’s volunteer service, and it is appropriate that he has been recognized for it.