Richard O’Connor, the owner of a popular Rehoboth Beach bed and breakfast, died last month of liver failure. He was 55.
O’Connor was a native of Montgomery County, born July 9, 1954, in Darby. He grew up in Lansdale, graduating in 1972 from Lansdale Catholic High School before earning his bachelor’s degree in communications from Temple University in 1976.
After college, O’Connor worked at several area restaurants. Ed Gunts, his partner of 10 years, said O’Connor considered becoming a television weather reporter, but instead decided to use his exemplary communications skills to launch a successful sales career.
In the late 1980s, O’Connor moved to Cambridge, Mass., landing a job as a sales consultant for Designtext, where he provided textiles to architects and designers in the Boston area. In 1998, he moved back to the Philadelphia area to take care of his mother, who was battling breast cancer. While in the area, he was hired as a sales consultant for Steelcase Design Partnership, an office-furniture supplier.
Gunts said O’Connor, the youngest of four siblings, cared for his ailing mother until her death and also stepped in as caretaker for his father when he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease.
After his father died, O’Connor left the furniture industry and, in 2004, he and Gunts took over ownership of The Shore Inn in Rehoboth Beach, Del.
Gunts said he was living in Baltimore and O’Connor in Philadelphia at the time, and their involvement at The Shore Inn brought them closer together and fulfilled a longtime goal of O’Connor’s.
“Rehoboth was always somewhere equally distant from both of us where we could get away, and this was something that we were able to do together,” Gunts said. “He always loved the beach, so this was just a dream of his.”
Although going from a sales consultant to a bed-and-breakfast owner may seem like a big leap, Gunts said the transition was natural for O’Connor.
“It summed up all his talents. He was always very social, loved having parties and talking with people and showing them a good time. His whole life was about trying to make other people happy.”
O’Connor served as both a manager and innkeeper for The Shore Inn, which caters to gay male travelers, but Gunts said he always went above and beyond his job description for their guests.
“He was kind of a one-person clearinghouse for information,” he said. “He would be the one to tell them where to go in town, what restaurants, what was happening at the bars and nightspots, what was worth checking out.”
Gunts surmised that O’Connor may have picked up on the needs of his travelers through their own vacations, which took them to such locales as Palm Springs, Calif., Provincetown, R.I., and Key West, Fla.
“He always put himself in the place of his guest,” Gunts said. “He wanted to give them that extra thing they couldn’t get at a Holiday Inn.”
While many will remember O’Connor for his hospitality and generosity, his older brother, Gary, said few people know about what could be one of his most lasting legacies.
Gary said O’Connor was working as the food and beverage manager for a hotel in Center City during the 1980 World Series, when the Phillies faced the Kansas City Royals, led by their star player, George Brett.
“As luck would have it, the Royals were staying at Rick’s hotel,” Gary said. “On the eve of the first game, Rick arranged to send a case of beer to Brett’s room. I don’t know what effect it had, but Brett had a terrible series and the Phils went on to win their first-ever World Series.”
O’Connor first learned of his liver disease in mid-August and entered hospice in Delaware earlier last month.
Gunts and O’Connor’s other family members launched a Web page for friends to keep abreast of his condition, and in the past month, more than 1,000 visitors have viewed the site from throughout the country.
In addition to Gunts and brother Gary, O’Connor is survived by another brother, Tom; a sister, Suzy; nine nieces and nephews and many friends.
A memorial celebration will be held at 1 p.m. Oct. 3 at Rigby’s Bar & Grill, 404 Rehoboth Ave. in Rehoboth Beach.
To view the memorial Web site, visit www.caringbridge.org/visit/RickOConnor.
Jen Colletta can be reached at [email protected].