Quincy native who ‘attacked life’ gets death notice for the ages
“Irishman dies from stubbornness, whiskey.”
That cheeky headline was the beginning of a family’s celebration of the life of a man who survived a boat sinking, made a career on Wall Street, and lived long enough despite tragic diagnoses to see his sons play football one more time.
Chris Connors knew his death was coming, his daughter, Caitlin Connors, said Thursday. He told his doctor recently he probably wouldn’t make it to Christmas amid battles with amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS) and pancreatic cancer.
He died last Friday at 67, and it was time for Caitlin and her cousin, Liz Connors, to fulfill his request that they write his death announcement, which was published this week on seacoastonline.com.
“We got together and we were, like, we have to do him justice,” Caitlin said.
They set about the task of writing “all the things we could remember at the moment, after a few drinks,” she said.
What they told were stories of a Quincy native who “lived 1000 years in the 67 calendar years we had with him,” tales of a “ladies man, game slayer, and outlaw” that have gained attention around the Internet.
The 40 hours he spent in a life raft after plans to sail around the world were foiled by a tropical storm. Starting a career in finance despite a lack of a financial background. Climbing to the base camp of Mount Everest at the age of 64.
There were “a million other stories I wish we could have put together, but the point was to get the stories out,” his 33-year-old daughter said.
“He had worked all his life to finally get out of the rat race . . . and make up for a life, and then he got sick,” Caitlin said.
But Chris didn’t let those illnesses stop him.
When his daughter arrived at his home in York, Maine, in September to help take care of him and his family, she said, she found her father standing with his arm around a bikini-clad friend who had a shotgun.
“This is the first night of hospice and I’m having a great time!” he told Caitlin.
According to the death notice, many people thought he was “crazy” for “swimming in the ocean in January,” or for “dressing up as a priest and then proceeding to get into a fight at a Jewish deli.”
He “attacked life; he grabbed it by the lapels, kissed it, and swung it back onto the dance floor,” the notice reads.
“The way he died is just like he lived: he wrote his own rules, he fought authority and he paved his own way. And if you said he couldn’t do it, he would make sure he could,” it said.
Colin Riley, executive director of media relations at Boston University, grew up with the Connors family down the street, and the two men lived in the same building for a time in Jersey City, N.J.
“He just enjoyed himself. He enjoyed helping others have a good time,” Riley said.
Mark Zarrilli, a former co-worker from Chris’s Wall Street days, described the beginnings of their friendship in a shared love of boxing, with Connors, then in his late 30s, asking Zarrilli, who was about 15 years younger, to spar.
Zarrilli recalled filling in at the last minute when a date canceled on Connors for a concert at Radio City Music Hall. At the end of the night, Connors answered the call for volunteers to go on stage.
“He was up onstage dancing with Toni Braxton and dancing to Motown music. That’s one of those memories that’ll never go away,” Zarrilli said.
“Because of who he was and the legacy he lived, he doesn’t go away because we’re going to be talking about this guy for years,” said Zarrilli, of Wall Township, N.J.
Connors, however, was not just about adventures and parties.
He reportedly bought and donated the York, Maine, fire department’s search-and-rescue boat in 2003, after his brother perished in the Sept. 11 terror attack.
In 2011, Connors also biked 530 miles, going to all three sites where the planes crashed in the Sept. 11 attacks.
Before his death, he and his family started The Chris Connors Fund with the fire department to educate children and families about water safety. An event is planned in July.
“He would be himself under any circumstances, which ruffled some people’s feathers, but he kind of enjoyed that,” Caitlin said. “Deep down . . . he was taking care of people and doing charity work.”
“That’s why on Monday there’s going to be so many people there,” she said referring to a planned celebration of Connors’s life.
“Great legacy. A Quincy legend. And he’d be embarrassed to have someone say that,” Riley said. He said Connors thought of himself as a “regular Irishman.”
In addition to Caitlin, Connors is survived by his second wife, Emily Ayer Connors, and sons Chris Connors, 11, and Liam Connors, 8.
The festivities Monday will also include a specific song list that Chris wanted: Laura Nyro’s “And When I Die,” “My Sweet Lord” by George Harrison, and Bob Seger’s “Roll Me Away.” In that order.
The plan includes asking attendees — up to 200 were initially expected — to bring a story about Chris that can be compiled in a book for his sons, Caitlin said.
“Every person he knows has another key to the puzzle,” she said.
The celebration will begin at 4 p.m. at York Harbor Inn.
The family has asked people, in lieu of flowers, to “please pay open bar tab” or donate to Connors’s water safety fund at www.thechrisconnorsfund.com.