Fishing tourney honors lost friend

Published 6:57 pm Saturday, June 3, 2017

The weather was warm, and the skies were clear for an annual day of fishing with friends and family in Suffolk in honor of a loved one.

The 2017 Thomas J. O’Connor IV Memorial Fishing Tournament and Silent Auction was held on Saturday at Johnson’s Gardens in Suffolk. About 200 community members enjoyed the weather with friends and family, including more than 80 competitors in the bass fishing tournament.

The family organizes the event annually to memorialize O’Connor, who died in May 2013 at the age of 36. Family members have seen more attendance at the event each year, and Saturday was no exception.

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“We’ve had more new people out today than we’ve ever had in years past,” said his brother Jett Johnson, president of the Broken Oar Foundation and co-organizer for the event.

Competitors in the catch-and-release bass tournament were judged based on the cumulative weight of their two heaviest fish caught. Suffolk resident Robert Land won first place with a cumulative weight of 8.14 pounds, in his third year competing.

“I’m just glad to be out here supporting the charity,” Land said.

The silent auction offered helicopter rides, fresh ham, local restaurant gift cards and other wares. Attendees browsed their options while enjoying free hamburgers and hot dogs grilled by the Suffolk Lions Club.

“I think it’s cool to see the community show up and support the cause,” said Ethan Smith, a Yorktown resident and friend of Jett’s.

The Broken Oar Foundation helps families afford the hundreds of dollars it costs to send Boy Scouts in the community to summer camp. O’Connor had been an Eagle Scout in Suffolk’s Boy Scout Troop 1, as he followed the tradition of his father, brothers and many other men in his family.

“With summer camp getting more expensive, there’s a growing need to help these get funding,” said Tim Johnson, O’Connor’s stepfather.

The event has raised about $50,000 during the past four years. Last year, the Broken Oar Foundation sent four Scouts in need to summer camp.

Tim said the hope is to raise $6,000 to $8,000 this year. The long-term goal is to have $1 million in the foundation to help local Boy Scouts and other youth in the community.

Tim Johnson said hosting the event in honor of his stepson is emotionally difficult, but also very gratifying.

“It’s a way we can give back to the community and keep him present,” he said.

O’Connor loved the outdoors and was the first in his house to take to fishing. He could always be found down by the pond on the family property, Tim Johnson said.

“He would have loved to see all these kids out here fishing, and enjoy it the same way he did,” said Aaron Duman, a lifelong friend of O’Connor’s.

Sadie O’Connor said no matter what her half-brother was doing, he enjoyed the experience. For Thomas, it was more about the company he had.

“It’s just really cool to see everyone out here to honor him,” she said. “It just speaks volumes to the impact he had and the lives he touched.”