All day long Thursday, January 5 the electric sign outside Community Blood Center (CBC) in Dayton flashed the message “Donations Today in Memory of Harold O’Connell, Friend of CBC and Blood Donor.” Try as it might, that sign’s voltage could imitate only a mere fraction of the high energy, and high ideals of Harold O’Connell and his well-lived life.
“He was definitely a lead-by-example guy,” said Harold’s brother William O’Connell who was part of the gathering of family, friends and supporters at the blood drive. “He would have been pleased by this. If he was still around today he’d probably be out there stopping cars!”
That’s quite an image – the lanky, 6-foot-5 Harold using his airplane-wing arms to flag motorists toward the blood drive. But family and friends know it was simply his style. His colleagues at Ohio EPA, who organized the blood drive in his honor, say he didn’t just advocate sustainability, he “walked the walk” by taking the bus to work instead of driving.
He wasn’t content to log miles on the running trails by himself. He was a Pied Piper of wellness, who recruited co-workers for lunch-time training runs or to compete in Ohio River Road Runners Club events.
And then there was his passion for sharing the gift of life, another area where he led by example. On the tribute table in the CBC waiting area, among Harold’s photo and running trophies, was his CBC “Five Gallon Donor” pin – one of his proudest achievements. He encouraged others to donate when he was alive, and through the memorial drive that encouragement continued.
The blood drive in his name comes nearly five months to the day that Harold collapsed and died of an apparent heart attack moments after finishing the Tadmor 10K Race at Taylorsville MetroPark.
Harold’s wife Lisa struggled with the sudden loss of her “life partner” and the sense that it was unfair. But she stood strongly in front of a TV news camera at the blood drive and said, “People don’t realize what they can do to help other people, and how easy it is to do. Harold really believed in that and he encouraged others to feel the same way.”
Joe Reynolds, one of Harold’s colleagues at EPA, made his 100th lifetime donation today, fittingly in Harold’s honor. Joby Jackson, another EPA colleague, made his first. “This was something the family thought was important to do to honor him” said Joby. “It was the least I could do to express my affection for him. It’s also a great thing to do for others. With him, he was not a co-worker, he was a friend.”
One person Harold could not encourage to give blood was his 28-year old daughter Leanna. She remembers nearly passing out the last time she tried. She came by the CBC today to support the drive and greet family members, but not to donate. Then she changed her mind.
“He encouraged me in everything,” she said during her blood donation, and then she paused. “It’s hard to talk about. He was so good. He was always trying to better himself, even though there was nothing to better. I really looked up to him.”
On the same day, across the ocean in Bern, Switzerland, Leanna’s sister Sarah donated as well, also in her father’s honor. It is the legacy of Harold O’Connell that he continues to change lives and save lives, even after his death.