From Dublin out in 7 generations Frank O'Connor comes from a family of 4. His early intermediate education was taken at Belvedere College. Subsequently, he graduated from the Dublin Institute of Technology.
It is to his role as international manager of education services within Enterprise Ireland that Frank O’Conor will be best known and enduringly remembered. He saw the opportunity to profile and promote Irish Higher Education provision coupled with its history of learning, teaching and scholarship. Very often these were characteristics which were admired by many but admired from a distance.
Frank O’Conor’s leadership changed all of that. He succeeded in opening the pathways for other international communities to come to Ireland to study here, to live here, to participate in our social systems. In this he saw the economic merit, but he also saw the educational merit. Ireland as an island needed a diversity of perspective. It needed the creative flint that is fired by diversity and differentiated perspectives.
The dynamics of the learning environment are all the more enriched now for this, and to state that here in the Institute there are twenty two different nationalities studying with us and participating in the social and scholastic environments at all levels - undergraduate, postgraduate and post doctoral.
They are in our awareness as we appreciate the many complementary differences – their languages, their customs, their rituals, their mores and folkways. We admire this international community for the way in which they struggle to understand us, just as we struggle to understand them. Frank O’Conor’s endeavour has been critical to all of this.
He was to bring more than a set of professional capabilities and competencies to this role. He brought himself. He gave of himself with great generosity of spirit and a remorseless sense of commitment.
Here at the Waterford Institute we saw his work close up. We saw him cut the deal and close the deal. We saw his great diplomatic skills at work as he managed to navigate the rapids and the eddies of international politics. More challenging, perhaps, was the management of the hubris of Irish higher education institutions and the vanity of their leaders and the affectation of their self opinion.
I saw him work this ground. I saw him marshal the various organisations for the signing of their contracts, for the designing of their memorandums of understanding and in the making of their strategic alliances. How well he knew the code. How even-handedly he promoted the interests of all. He did so, we think, while reserving that sense of objective sympathy for the interests of the Waterford Institute while in the finest tradition of Marco Polo he led the delegations to China, India, Japan, Korea, Brazil, Mexico, Malaysia, Thailand, Pakistan and many other places. That narrative and its many conquests accumulated to what might be described as the Irish crusade and mirrored in many ways the pilgrimages that were made by earlier explorers and earlier adventurers.
Historically and traditionally the Irish household gathered together in prayer. In this ritual each family had preferential and prioritized intentions to which special incantations were dedicated. In our house the grand eloquent preference was a prayer uttered in great devotion and piety for the success of what was called “the mission to China”, and of course it was in strange ways that these prayers were answered. The answer came in the form of Frank O’Connor.