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Joseph O'Connor, Draper Lab leader, dies at 77

Joseph F. O'Connor, Draper Laboratory's retired vice president of human resources and administration (1981-1994) and secretary of the corporation (1994-2005), died June 11 of cancer at the age of 77.

For more than a dozen years, O'Connor was the face of Draper Laboratory in the Cambridge community. O'Connor presented Draper's viewpoint on topics of public interest, such as the Nuclear-free Cambridge Referendum of 1983, and he provided leadership for many civic organizations.

Draper Laboratory President James Shields said, "Joe O'Connor was a great champion of collaboration between the laboratory and the Cambridge community. He always saw the two as intertwined, and he cultivated a mutually beneficial relationship, notably through the intersection of the educational aspect of the laboratory's charter and opportunities to work with the Cambridge Public Schools. Just as Joe had foreseen, Draper employees have enjoyed working with the students and faculty."

O'Connor was a past president of the Cambridge Chamber of Commerce and vice president of its business education committee. For the Rotary Club of Cambridge, O'Connor performed the roles of president, director and vice president, as well as chairman of its vocational service committee. O'Connor also served Cambridgeport Savings Bank as a corporator and director, and later its parent company, Port Financial, as a director. He was a director for Junior Achievement of Eastern Mass. and a corporator of Mount Auburn Hospital.

For his service to the community, O'Connor was recognized by the Cambridge City Council and Mayor Sheila Russell in 1997.

Born June 15, 1929, in Brookline, Mass., O'Connor received an A.B. from Dartmouth College in 1951. He served in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1951 to 1953. During 1954 and 1955 O'Connor completed the requirements for a master's degree in business administration at Boston University. He joined the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Central Personnel Office in 1957.

O'Connor began his long association with Draper Laboratory in 1964, when he became the personnel director for its forerunner, the MIT Instrumentation Laboratory. He was deeply involved in the process of evaluating how to transition the laboratory from being a division of MIT to operating as an independent, private, not-for-profit organization.

Upon the laboratory's divestment from MIT in 1973, O'Connor became executive assistant to the president of Draper Lab. That year he also became assistant secretary of the corporation. In 1981, O'Connor was named vice president for human resources and administration. Upon his retirement in 1994, he was elected secretary of the corporation, a position he held through 2005.

O'Connor is survived by his wife, Patricia (Rowley), of Yarmouth Port, Mass.; a son, Michael O'Connor of Denver, Colo.; a daughter, Catherine Hartman of Hingham; and two grandsons.

A celebration of O'Connor's life was held Friday, June 15, at The Meeting House on King's Way, Yarmouth Port.

Donations may be made to the Jimmy Fund at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute or to a charity of one's choosing.

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