John D. "Jack" O'Connell, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, the 2nd of January 2013. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on the 14th of November 1930, the first child to proud parents Daniel and Marie (Flannery) O'Connell. He was fortunate to be born into a blessed and loving Irish Catholic family. The family moved from Chicago's west side, where Jack had many close relatives, to Des Plaines, Illinois while Jack was still in the First Grade. Jack was a happy, industrious and hard working young entrepreneur even at an early age. He had multiple jobs even during his grade school years. He would shovel snow on the sidewalk that lead to the...
John D. "Jack" O'Connell, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, the 2nd of January 2013. He was born in Chicago, Illinois on the 14th of November 1930, the first child to proud parents Daniel and Marie (Flannery) O'Connell. He was fortunate to be born into a blessed and loving Irish Catholic family. The family moved from Chicago's west side, where Jack had many close relatives, to Des Plaines, Illinois while Jack was still in the First Grade.
Jack was a happy, industrious and hard working young entrepreneur even at an early age. He had multiple jobs even during his grade school years. He would shovel snow on the sidewalk that lead to the train station early in the morning then deliver the Chicago Daily News in his neighborhood all before school. After school he'd have some other job. As a youth Jack had many interesting jobs. He sold sweet corn and potatoes, that he personally picked at a nearby farm, door-to-door, ran a circus and at age 16 became a bartender in the Stable Kitchen at Arlington Park Race Track. He met some interesting characters in that job and got some great tips from some big winners.
In the days of Jack's youth it was not uncommon for the first born son in an Irish Catholic family to study for the priesthood. During Jack's Grammar School days he was taught almost exclusively by Irish priests and nuns, all of whom he liked very much and for whom he had a great deal of respect. Even as a young child Jack wanted to be a Priest, like his Uncle (Father) John O'Connell. After completing Grammar School, Jack began studies at the Holy Ghost Mission Seminary in East Troy, Wisconsin on Labor Day, 1944 at the age of 13. 44 kids started at Holy Ghost that day and 4 years later at graduation, only 11 kids, including Jack, remained. Jack hoped to eventually become a priest in the religious order called the Society of the Divine Word (SVD) which was a foreign missionary order. During Jack's second year at Holy Ghost, there was good news and bad news. The good news was the birth of Jack's youngest brother, Bob. The bad news was the sudden death of Jack's 39-year old father, who died of a cerebral hemorrhage. This was less than 36 hours after Jack's parents had visited him at Holy Ghost. Life went on and Jack studied in Seminary schools for a total of 8 years. During his eighth year of seminary studies Jack was directed away from SVD work and directed to pursue becoming a diocesan Priest. While Jack had pursued studies for the priesthood with great enthusiasm and vigor, he came to the conclusion that he could serve God in another endeavor. His seminary years left Jack well- educated, confident and especially self-disciplined. Though he already had enough college credits to obtain a degree, not all credits from the Seminary would be accepted at many colleges. As such, Jack entered Loyola University – Chicago, graduating cum laude in 1954. While Jack was attending Loyola Jack met the late Carolann E. "Carol" Weber. Jack and Carol fell in love and were married on the 29th of May 1954, one week before Jack's graduation from Loyola. Jack was the first in his family to have graduated from college.
Shortly after marriage and graduation, Jack received his draft notice from the Selective Service. Carol was already pregnant with Patrick and Jack's reporting day to the Selective Service Induction Center was very sad. However, upon reporting to the center, Jack was told he had received a medical deferment and his Army career was over before it started. The prayers of Jack's Mom had been answered again.
With the Army out of the way, Jack could look for a career type job. He had worked during college for Cartran Travel and Gray Line Sightseeing Company, primarily hosting cross-country train travel tours and tours of the Northeast. This work introduced Jack to the convention and trade show business and led to a job at the Chicago Convention Bureau. Jack went on to become a superstar in the convention/exposition industry. He left the Chicago convention Bureau to ultimately run McCormick Place in Chicago, which at the time was the foremost convention facility in the World. Jack was recruited by super salesman Judge Roy M. Hofheinz, builder of Houston's Astrodome, to move his young family to Houston, Texas in late 1964 and become Vice-President of the Houston Sports Association. Jack was initially responsible for booking events outside of baseball activities in the Astrodome. He would go on to help design and build the Houston Astrohall, Astroworld and Astroworld hotels under Hofheinz's tutelage. Jack took over the CEO duties of the Astrodomain Corporation for Judge Hofheinz after he suffered a debilitating stroke. Jack had many fascinating days during his tenure at The Astrodome, which at the time was known as "The Eighth Wonder of the World." Jack always enjoyed sports and enjoyed his affiliation with the Astros. Jack was responsible for getting the Houston Oilers to move indoors to the Astrodome. Jack also promoted all sorts of events at the Astrodome from
bullfights to prize fights. He had Evil Knievel jump his motorcycle in the Dome, brought Ringling Bros. Barnum & Bailey Circus to Houston, had destruction derby's and polo matches and even had University of Houston and UCLA play what many consider the best and most exciting college basketball game ever played. The game was the historic battle between Elvin "Big E" Hayes and Lew Alcindor, who later changed his name to Kareem Abdul-Jabbar. The game drew the World's largest basketball crowd ever, 52,693 people. This record stood for over 20 years until the Final Four was played in New Orleans' Superdome. Jack arranged for many entertainers to perform in the Dome and there were many other thrilling and fun events in the Dome. It was a fun and exciting place to work.
After recuperating from a serious automobile accident sustained leaving the Dome late one evening in late 1971, Jack decided to go into business for himself and formed O'Connell & Company in November 1972. O'Connell & Co. had many great clients including Kenneth Schnitzer, Clint W. Murchison, Jr., Joe L. Allbritton, A.N. and Jack Pritzker, Irvin Caplan, John and John Jr. Mecom, etc. etc. Three of the above clients had homes on Lazy Lane in Houston's most exclusive subdivision, River Oaks. In 1976 one of Jack's biggest clients and close friend, Joe L. Allbritton, expanded his business interests significantly in Washington, D.C. with his purchase of Washington Star Communications, Inc. This entity owned one of the two daily newspapers in our Nation's Capital as well the Washington D. C. ABC – TV affiliate and numerous AM/FM radio stations. Jack put O'Connell & Co. on hold and became President of Allbritton's holding company, Perpetual Corporation. Jack was charged with nursing the newspaper back to financial health, selling the radio stations and the ABC TV Station within 3 years to comply with an FCC requirement. Jack did so with great results. Instead of selling the TV Station - WJLA, which Jack came within hours of selling for the record price of $100 million in 1978, Allbritton decided to sell the Washington Star Newspaper and keep WJLA. WJLA, which is still the ABC affiliate in D.C., is still held this day by the Allbritton Estate. Unfortunately, Joe L. Allbritton recently passed away. He was a class act.
After accomplishing the mission for Joe Allbritton, Jack was interested in less travel and other endeavors. Shortly thereafter, Jack accepted an invitation from Clint Murchison, Jr. to become President/CEO of Clint's new holding company, TCMI, Inc. – "The Clint Murchison Interests." Jack ran many of Clint's businesses. One business they acquired as partners was United Exposition Service Company, which Jack built it into the largest and first "Coast to Coast" convention contracting company in the United States. Jack eventually sold this company to The Dial Corporation and today it is owned by GES Exposition Services Co. where Jack served as Chairman of the Executive Advisory Board for 14 years. After Murchison's health and financial condition worsened, Jack, having been given Clint's perpetual power of attorney, wound up many of Clint's affairs, including the sale of the Dallas Cowboys Football Team for a then record high price paid for any sports franchise ever to Bum Bright. Clint was a special fellow who died to early.
Jack's business career was very busy and required much travel and time away from home. Unfortunately, Jack's 27 year marriage to Carol ended in divorce in 1981. Six years later, fortune smiled upon Jack again and after having obtained an annulment of his first marriage, he married Denise Michaels in December, 1987. They remained married until Jack's passing and she provided loving and constant care for Jack as his health declined.
Jack served on many Boards of Director over time. He was particularly fond of his 20 + years of service as a Board Member of the Quanex Corporation (NYSE- NX). Jack also advised The Methodist Hospital and great friend, Ted Bowen and served on the Board of the University of St. Thomas for many years. Jack served on the Board of the Greater Houston Convention & Visitors Bureau "GHCVB" and was its Chairman for a period. He was also presented a Lifetime Achievement Award by the GHVCB at the completion of his tenure as Chairman. Jack was also inducted to the Convention Liaison Council "CLC" Hall of Leaders. At the time, the CLC Hall of Leaders included 63 members, including Conrad N. Hilton and J. Willard Marriott Sr. and Jr. Jack was a longtime member of St. Michael's Parish and a member of River Oaks Country Club.
While Jack had a fabulous business career and enjoyed monumental success, there were always two things more important to Jack than his business. That was, God and family in that order. Jack was blessed with a lovely family and three children who survive him. Jack's main mission in life was always to lead a life that got him into Heaven. Jack certainly accomplished this mission, frankly, with ease. Jack was a great person who treated everyone with respect and treated everyone the same, whether shoe-shine boy, business magnate or diplomat. They don't make many like Jack O'Connell, he will be missed. Once, the late publisher of the Houston Chronicle, Richard J.V. Johnson stated, "I'd play poker with Jack O'Connell over the phone." That's the kind of guy he was.
Jack is survived by his loving wife of 25 years Denise, children, Patrick and wife Denise, Cathy Broussard, and Michael; brothers Bill, Dan and wife Margie, Bob and wife Laura; grandchildren, Ashley, Kelley and John "Jack II" O'Connell; and John and Robert Broussard; as well as many Flannery, Bidwill and Regan cousins in the Chicago area. Dad had a great nine innings and he will always be loved and never forgotten. He died peacefully shortly after visiting with his loving family. May God Bless him always!
A Mass of Christian Burial is to be offered at ten o'clock in the morning on Saturday, the 5th of January, at St. Michael's Catholic Church, 1801 Sage Road in Houston, where the Rev. Mgsr. Frank H. Rossi, S.T.L., Pastor, and the Rev. Sean P. Horrigan, Pastor of Christ the Redeemer Church in Houston, are to serve as the celebrants.
The Rite of Committal is to follow, via an escorted cortege, at Forest Park Westheimer Cemetery in Houston.
Immediately following, all are invited to greet the family during a reception at a venue to be announced at the service.
In lieu of customary remembrances, the family kindly suggests that memorial contributions be directed to St. Michael's Catholic Church, 1801 Sage Rd., Houston, TX, 77056; Carmelite Monastery, 949 N. River Rd., Des Plaines, IL, 60016; or to Loyola University, Gift Management, 820 N. Michigan Ave, Chicago, IL, 60611.