I never met Frank O’Connell, though I spent hours and hours on the phone with him a few years ago, when I was researching A Gift of Freedom, my book on the John M. Olin Foundation. He was always generous with his time and told great stories from the 1970s, when the infrastructure of the conservative movement was really taking shape. He played a big part in its development. All of us on the Right are in his debt.
Here’s a paragraph about Frank from A Gift of Freedom:
O’Connell was an unlikely choice for the job [as the foundation’s first executive director]. Benefactors who want to hire foundation directors usually seek people with a professional background in philanthropy. Yet Olin deliberately passed over one likely candidate, the fellow who was then in charge of the Olin Corporation’s charitable activities, and instead recruited this feisty labor lawyer. A native New Yorker, born on April 4, 1914, O’Connell had come of age during the New Deal, “when everything was stacked against business.” By the 1960s, he had developed a national reputation as a resilient negotiator during difficult union talks. “I became a big spokesman for management rights,” said O’Connell. “I think Olin saw me as tough. He wanted his foundation’s philanthropy to be tough as well.”
Yes, a tough guy. But also a good guy–and our guy. I can still hear his voice–he had a distinctive, sharp, and powerful voice. I miss him already, and regret that I never shook his hand.