Catching memories

Published 5:39 pm Saturday, July 13, 2013

What Thomas O’Connor’s family has planned for next weekend would bring a smile to his face.

O’Connor recently passed away at the age of 36, but his family intends to establish an annual community fishing opportunity to help keep his memory alive. Next Saturday, they will be holding the first Thomas J. O’Connor IV Memorial Fishing Tournament at Johnson’s Gardens on Holland Road.

O’Connor loved spending time with his family and friends, and as an avid outdoorsman, camping, hunting and fishing were among his preferred accompanying activities.

Thomas O'Connor

Thomas O’Connor


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His brother, Jamie Johnson said that one of his earliest memories of Thomas was him fishing on the bank of one of the ponds at Johnson’s Gardens. With his brothers, Jamie and Jett Johnson, O’Connor spent countless days doing this during the summer, with many close friends.

“He just loved it, and so we thought it would be a fitting tribute and something we could do every year,” Jett Johnson said.

O’Connor grew up in Suffolk and spent the majority of his life here, but most recently lived on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. There, he served as Vice President of Ocean Cove Seafood, the company owned by his birth father, Thomas J. O’Connor III.

The job, which involved raising clams and oysters, provided yet another opportunity to be outdoors.

While many of the people participating in Saturday’s tourney will know O’Connor, those that do not will be given the unique opportunity to become acquainted with him through the event.

The proceeds will go to a scholarship fund for the Boy Scouts of America, set up in O’Connor’s name. This is because he was an Eagle Scout, who hailed from a family with a long tradition of Scouting.

The ponds at Johnson’s Gardens held a special significance to him, as “some of his best times were going out there with him and his brothers,” Jett Johnson said.

While the ponds are large, boats are not practical, so from 7-11 a.m. on July 20, participants will fish from the shoreline, like O’Connor always did.

Before an awards presentation to the fishermen with the best hauls, lunch featuring grilled hot dogs and hamburgers will be served up by the Suffolk Lions Club, a service organization of which O’Connor was a member. The club’s main focus is on aiding those with hearing and vision impairment.

Between 11 a.m. and noon, awards will be handed out, including $150 to the fisherman with the top two bass, by weight, $75 for second place and $50 for third. Other prizes will be awarded to those with the top catfish or pickerel, as it applies. There will also be giveaways and raffles.

Jett Johnson said food and music will be provided, understanding that many would like to show their support by attending, while not planning to fish.

He fully intends to make this an annual event, already making plans for 2014.

“In the future, we kind of want to have it be a kickoff to the summer,” he said, and he would like it to be a field day-type of event.

Johnson said many people in Suffolk knew the O’Connor and Johnson families, forming a huge community that has served as a big support system during this time.

He said the community loved his brother because in O’Connor, they “never met a guy who wasn’t smiling, who wasn’t the bright side of your day.”

As people flocked to his memorial service and now have begun to register for the tournament, Johnson said, “It’s a constant reminder that he’s made a mark.”

Though he’s gone, Johnson said, “He still changed people’s lives and he made me a better person and everyone else around him.”

Interested participants are encouraged to go to Johnson’s Gardens or Mike Duman Auto Sales off of Godwin Blvd. to pre-register for $25. Online registration is possible at with a $35 payment on the day of the event. The same fee applies for those signing up at the event.