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Homecoming

Kevin O’Connell

After 50 years, my recollections of the years at LFC have taken on the quality of a series of snapshots – some slightly out of focus, others bright and clear. I confess that there was little of the academics that made a lasting impression – other that the struggle to get through them and graduate. One episode in a senior history class comes to mind because it forecast the direction my career would take. We were studying the rise of labor unions in the early twentieth century and were assigned to argue positions for and against the right to strike and management’s use of “scabs”. To my chagrin I was assigned the management side. As the debate began, I found myself making a very spirited argument about the company’s obligations to it’s shareholders and investors and that the workers were free to go elsewhere if they didn’t like it. As I walked out of class, I realized that I had just defended a position with which I completely disagreed. A litigator was born!

What I do remember with great warmth is the friendships the were formed. I remember performing as the straight man in the comedy trio of O’Connell, Fetridge & Boardman at several campus events. A road trip to Montreal for EXPO ’67 with Steve Elprin and having to sleep in the car because, of course, we hadn’t thought to find a hotel. Another road trip right after graduation with John Kretchmar took us from Detroit to California and up the west coast from Tijuana to Seattle and was eye opening in many ways. In between, there were a lot of fraternity activities that seemed very important at the time, but were really just kids games.

So, as graduation approached, I applied to and was accepted at Boston University Law School. Another mediocre academic career ensued. I was not called to serve in the military because of a combination of a 4F classification and a high draft lottery number (who among us males can remember their number?). By the end of Law School, I had a poorly formed idea that I wanted to use my degree to “help individual clients”. I interviewed with a number of Legal Services offices and other public interest agencies. I was hired by the Criminal Defense Division of the Legal Aid Society of New York City.

I spent 25 years at Legal Aid representing indigent criminal defendants in Brooklyn. My clients were charged with everything from Murder to sleeping on the subway ( yes, that is an offense!) It turned out that I enjoyed standing up for people and got rather good at it. I also got to work with an extraordinarily talented and dedicated group of lawyers who believed in the work they did. In 1997 I was part of a group of five lawyers who left Legal Aid and formed a non-profit firm – New York County Defender Services. We got a contract with NYC to represent a portion of the indigent criminal cases in Manhattan. In the 21 years that followed we grew from twelve staff lawyers to over 65. During that period I also got to work on a number of legislative issues and trained many young lawyers in our office and law school Trial Advocacy programs. Throughout, I continued to try cases right up until my last day on the job – June 30, 2018.

In 1977 I decided that I needed to get in shape – a daunting task! I enrolled in a fitness class at the 23rd Street YMCA because it was convenient to my apartment. The class turned out to be taught by this wonderfully upbeat woman from outside Cleveland who had just taken the position as the first female Physical Director of any YMCA in New York. For some reason Sally Stewart began to take an interest in my workouts. One thing lead to another and a mere 4 years later we were married. We moved shortly thereafter to a house in Park Slope, Brooklyn. Two children followed – Elizabeth in ’83 and Daniel in’85. After taking some time to get the kids settled in school, Sally went to work for the NYC Board of Education and spent the next 20 years running day care centers for teen parents in some of the toughest high schools in Brooklyn.

So, we are retired. Daniel and his wife Kate live outside Chicago in Downers Grove with the two grandchildren -Paige and Gavin. Elizabeth lives in Raleigh, North Carolina and works as an event planner and fund raiser for a non-profit – The Foundation Fighting Blindness. We spend a great deal of our time traveling between the two. My wife Sally will probably forego the excitement of the reunion to spend time with the grandchildren, but I will be there!