Thursday, July 6, 2023

August O'Connor (1951 - 2023)

August O'Connor in meadow with big bodhran.

 AUGUST O'CONNOR (1951--2023)

Born in Southern California in 1951, the middle girl between two brothers, Raleigh and Greg, August O'Connor early experienced a love of animals, drama and mystery. She raised pet rats and played with snakes. And face-painted, dressed in leotard, rabbit skins, leather aviator helmet and shaking a coyote-skull rattle, she entertained her high school classmates as "Animal Woman: Protector of all speechless creatures." She starred in student plays, performed in an all-girl band and, starting as a freshman, she edited her high school's literary magazine.
After graduation, while living in Claremont, she met and married Bill O'Connor. Shortly afterwards they moved to Capitola where they attended St. John's Episcopal Church before moving to San Francisco to work at Grace Cathedral.

For eight years at the Cathedral, August O'Connor served as assistant verger, supporting Bishop Swing in ceremony, designing vestments and providing counseling, For six years she worked as chaplain at San Francisco General Hospital during the rise of the AIDS epidemic.

In recorded conversation with San Francisco social historian Lynne Gerber about her AIDS and other work, August recalled: "Lots of different lives but there is a chaplaincy thread running though it. The thread is love, I'd say, the thread is willingness to love. And to be loved, you know, because when you open your heart to someone, you might not be loved, you know." August's motto, painted on her gate post, is: "Every blessing on all beings."
August has worked in every aspect of the visual arts from large oil paintings to cartoons. In the 70s she was Art Director of Good Times, Santa Cruz's largest weekly newspaper. She designed logos for several businesses including Zoccoli's Deli and Pink Godzilla; producing signs, murals and window displays for numerous local shops. She also fashioned necklaces, earrings, bracelets, Celtic knot tattoo designs and unusual hand-hammered copper sculptures based on double spirals which she called "Buddha-mind roller coasters."
After leaving Grace Cathedral, August and her friend Nick Gardner began attending Native American sweat lodge ceremonies in Marin and Shasta counties under the direction of Karuk medicine man, Charlie "Red Hawk" Thom. When she moved back to Capitola, August mentored under medicine man Indio, eventually running her own sweat lodge events when Indio became ill. August's sweat ceremonies, carried out with Nick Gardner on the beach a few miles south of Pigeon Point lighthouse, drew a wide variety of attendees primarily from the nearby University in Santa Cruz. Also with Nick Gardner, she enjoyed many trips into the wilderness which she loved. 
In her home in Capitola, on one city lot, August put together a voluptuous Mediterranean garden crowned by an orchard of olive, apple, plum, lemon, loquat and persimmon trees. In addition to wild profusions of flowers, the garden produced food – lettuce, tomatoes, beans and potatoes as well as fruit from its trees. August's garden was a haven for bees, butterflies, bats and small mammals and had been officially certified as Wildlife Habitat #29951 by the National Wildlife Foundation.
August was a splendid chef, could create a tasty meal out of most anything. At San Francisco gatherings, she garnered admiration for her party specialty: chocolate truffles. Her turmeric toast made an unusual breakfast treat and August's mushroom omelettes were arguably the best in the known universe.
August sang and played guitar and bodhran (Irish frame drum). With flute-and-whistle player Kim Fulton-Bennett, they formed the Celtic duo Dobhran (Gaelic for "otter") which played at weddings, wineries, coffee shops and private parties and they also recorded a few instrumental CDs. Dobhran has performed at numerous Scottish and Irish festivals in Santa Cruz and Ben Lomond. A familiar presence at local Irish music sessions, August recently started a new group called Blarney with Kim, Nick Herbert and Matt Johnson, which has performed on stage, at private parties and most recently at an Irish wake in Boulder Creek.
Friends have described August's character variously as "playful dignity", as "innocent sophistication", as "kaleidoscopic life force",  as "remarkable, unique, eccentric",  and as "a tempestuous whirlwind." She herself explained "My life/is one kiss/with life."
She was hospitalized recently in Santa Cruz for a serious infection. And, on March 24, a week after St. Patrick's Day, early in the morning at age 72, this former chaplain, artist, musician, sweat lodge leader, gardener, beautiful and loving woman, August (Augie) O'Connor, passed away peacefully in her sleep.

Says Nick Herbert: "August came from a larger place and shared some of that with the rest of us."

Said one good friend: "August filled pages; she was a tome."

Added another: "August was an Irish rose."



Harald Striepe said...

Kind words well put.

valerie said...

She LIVED her life, with that Kiss and filled our lives with another
Beautifully captured, Nick. She remains forever

Anonymous said...

She was an inspiring person. Tamara & I were lucky to have attended one of her Celtic knot drawing sessions. Blessings on her light. 🕯

Anonymous said...

“Until Our Great Reunion on God’s Golden Shore!”
Love you August

Anonymous said...

I never knew all this about August. She was quite a woman!

Michael Grosso said...

Never met August, Nick, but thanks for the beautiful introduction.

Tané Tachyon said...

I'm so sorry for the loss to you and the world. I knew August through Celtic slow sessions, where she was always so full of life and music and fun, and made me feel appreciated - reading your memorial, her life was so much more amazing than I ever knew.

Laurie Hennig said...

Sad to hear that August has moved on - somehow so unexpectedly. Thanks for sharing all the ways that she enjoyed her life.
She will be missed by many.

Anonymous said...

August also decoded the pictographs in the Book of Kells, and had lots to say about what the Celtic priests had to say about the ruling Christian priests — including satire! And she could communicate with wild animals at a profound level.

Anonymous said...

Mark Roest wrote that; couldn’t log in.

nick herbert said...

Book of Kells was one of August's favorites, Mark, which she interpreted with her own eccentric scholarship.

nick herbert said...

And so says I to a passer by
Who was that maid
with the nut brown hair?"
He smiled at me and he said, said he
"That was a gem in Ireland's crown.
Of August O'Conner I speak,
Lived near Soquel Creek
She was the Star of Capitola town!"