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'Fairy Godmother' of local charity dies

Mary Alice O'Connor: 1916 - 2010

June 12, 2010|By Christopher Cadelago

DOWNTOWN — Mary Alice O'Connor, the former school board member and volunteer whose service began during World War II and grew into leadership positions in the Tournament of Roses, Friends of the Burbank Library and the Burbank Historical Society, died early Saturday. She was 93.

Mary Alice O'Connor passed away peacefully at her home, according to her family. Dozens of well wishers visited in the days leading up to her passing, retelling stories about her life and the lessons they learned over the years.

"It made for an extraordinary surrounding. A wash of love, peacefulness and believing in yourself came over us all," said her daughter, Joan Patricia "J.P." O'Connor. "As much as we were there to comfort her in those days, we were also learning and comforting each other."

Mary Alice O'Connor served on the Burbank Unified School District Board of Education from 1961 to 1971, and later was instrumental in reopening the Starlight Bowl in 1992. Throughout that time she sold tickets to the Hollywood Bowl, introducing children and teens to classical music as the first chairwoman of the Children's Open House.

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For decades, it seemed, nothing happened to service organizations without the guiding hand of Mary Alice O'Connor, regarded as the matriarch of local nonprofits and social organizations. J.P. O'Connor said that while "volunteer" is listed in labor codes as a job category, it is defined as "uncompensated worker."

"Mom would disagree," said J.P O'Connor. "The compensation she's gotten through all the years are so many wonderful friends and experiences."

The mother and daughter duo were honored as Burbank's Women of the Year in 2002 by Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Burbank) along with eight other women from the district.

Mary Alice O'Connor continued to serve throughout the decade on boards of the Burbank Health Care Foundation and the Family Service Agency of Burbank, with memberships on the La Providencia Guild of Childrens Hospital, KCET Women's Council, Civic Pride Committee, National Charity League Burbank Chapter and the Burbank YWCA.

Born in Berkeley, Mary Alice O'Connor attended girls' schools in the Bay Area and Sacramento when her mother served as a special assistant to Gov. C. C. Young. Her interest in community involvement, education and business developed through conversations with friend Irving Martin, publisher of the Stockton Record.

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