By Mary Pritchard, Contributing Writer
Shrewsbury – Thanksgiving morning at the O”Connor home always began with time outdoors, according to Jane O”Connor Lizotte.
“Dad would get up on Thanksgiving Day and say “Who wants to join me for fresh air?”” Jane said. “We's play football and games with the family, and attend football games at St. John's and Shrewsbury High School.”
Jane's father, the late Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Francis P. O”Connor, and her mother, Ann O”Connor, instilled in their 10 children the value of being active and being outdoors.
“Being outdoors was critically important to mom and dad,” she said. “Dad was a mover. Tennis was his main love, but he also loved to run and golf, and swim in the ocean in Ogunquit, Maine. Mom was a runner too, and they played tennis and golf together. Dad used to begin each day by taking a four-mile jog or walk to clear his head before heading to the courthouse.”
Years ago the O”Connor family began their tradition of a Thanksgiving morning “Turkey Trot,” which allowed the family, now grown and with families of their own, and friends to spend some time together on Thanksgiving morning before they all went off for various plans. The trot, hosted by Jane's sister and brother-in-law, Fran and Ann (O”Connor) Iaccarino, had something for everyone with neighborhood routes for a run or a walk, refreshments and visiting. This was a perfect way for the growing family to continue their tradition of beginning their day with outdoor activity and family time.
“Dad was diagnosed with Alzheimer's Disease on a beautiful summer's day in 1999, just two years after retiring from the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court,” Jane said. “When Dad was diagnosed, he could only share his gratitude to God for “a life filled with blessings.” He questioned how he could possibly be anything but grateful for a life well lived and well loved. It was Dad who consoled each of us throughout his illness. The road was sad and challenging for those who loved and cared for Dad, but he was never, ever difficult, angry, upset or anything other than appreciative, happy and loving to everyone around him.”
Justice O”Connor passed away in August of 2007. Last year, the annual family Turkey Trot was transformed into a community event honoring his memory and taking action against the disease that took his life and robbed his family and friends of their beloved “Frank,” “Dad” and “Papa.”
The Turkey Trot for the Memory course is particularly meaningful as it takes runners and walkers past the former O”Connor family home, through their neighborhood, and the center of town. The course begins at Heald & Chiampa Funeral Home at the Sumner House on Shrewsbury Common and ends at Mount Olivet Church, which is a few doors away from the home in which the O”Connors raised their family.
“Dad loved the town common, town center and the churches,” Jane said. “Much of this course is where Dad would run or walk. He used to say “If you really want to clear your head and stay as healthy as you can, go out and move – do anything – just do something to move.”
Organizers of the five-mile run and two-mile fun run/walk, include Jane and her husband, David; Jim Heald; Dana Canzano; Glen Lucchese; Amy Kotsopoulos; and Liam Davidson.
“People are so generous with their time,” Jane said. “We are so grateful for everyone involved and for our generous sponsors who will be recognized at the event. It takes 50 to 60 volunteers to put on the run. We had 512 participants last year. We'sl have live music provided by The Sage Project before the race.”
Many people have their own reasons for participating, but for the O”Connor family; Ann O”Connor, her 10 children, their spouses, 33 grandchildren, one great-grandchild, and extended family, the day is a tribute to the man who is described as someone who had “so much fun living and brought so much joy to his family.” He was the man who had a “positive attitude always,” was “most happy when his family was happy,” and “enjoyed few things more than putting his face up to the sun,” the man who will forever be deeply loved and profoundly missed.
“We hold this event because we want to share Dad's love of and appreciation for his family, his friends, his faith, and his community on a holiday that celebrates togetherness – all while doing what he loved to do so much – enjoy and appreciate the outdoors with others.”
According to their website, Turkey Trot for the Memory “began when a group of friends, family and neighbors came together to brainstorm ways to honor our loved ones memories” who suffered with Alzheimer's Disease, and raise money to benefit research for a disease that currently effects 5.4 million Americans nationwide.” Organizers want to “send the message of hope and action to those suffering from Alzheimer's Disease, as well as to those caring for them. All proceeds will go directly to the Alzheimer's Association Massachusetts/New Hampshire chapter.”
The second annual Turkey Trot for the Memory will be held Thanksgiving, Nov. 22, at 8 a.m. on Shrewsbury Common. For information or to register, visit www.turkeytrotforthememory.org.