Several years ago during my graduate student days, as part of hosting Dr. Avis Hewitt of Grand Valley State University and her students in their forays into the archives at Georgia College, I was fortunate enough to have lunch with the late Dr. William Sessions at the Brown-Stetson-Sanford House. He spoke briefly to the students of the role of Edward O’Connor in the development of his daughter’s literary talents. Dr Sessions’s looks into the written materials from Edward show a man with no small talent in the written word: apt turns of phrase and rhetorical devices abounded, he said, with a demonstrable desire to improve as well. I wonder, sometimes, had his talents blossomed, if Edward would have come to be another poetic voice describing the horrors of World War I. Living in the shadow of the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist in Savannah and growing up in the care of a man with literary aspirations, it is no surprise Flannery became the literary figure known to us now; Flannery confessed in a letter to Betty Hester that she carried a great deal of Edward within her sensibilities. (Indeed—I think Flannery, especially in her childhood, looks a great deal like him.)
Edward O’Connor’s life during Flannery’s childhood is a familiar one of the age. Finding sustainable work during the Depression frequently proved difficult, and traveling to and from jobs was part and parcel of Edward’s life. Such is the familiar story of the father whose role in providing for his family entails some time apart from his loved ones. He found himself working in Atlanta and came to Milledgeville to be with Regina and Flannery in his final months. Lupus claimed Edward’s life on February 1, 1941, not long after his 45th birthday. His grave sits in Milledgeville’s Memory Hill, alongside Regina’s and Flannery’s.
And thus on this hot, sunny Sunday at Andalusia we celebrate the life of a man who likely didn’t spend a great deal of time here outside of a few special occasions. What he did offer is the hope of every good father: a legacy. I think he’d be gratified beyond measure to know that it’s a literary giant. Those of us here can only offer our thanks and a Happy Fathers’ Day.
Daniel Wilkinson is Andalusia's Bon Vivant and Ricky Wilkinson's son.
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