Claire Merrill O’Connell
13 April 1931 – 24 July 2016
Claire Merrill O’Connell was a founding member of JASNA-SW and an early officer of the group. Born in Utah in 1931, she was raised in Phoenix, the daughter of a prominent surgeon. She met her husband and love of her life, Richard “ROC” O’Connell, in 1950, at Stanford, where he studied psychology and she history. Her husband taught psychology at CSUN (Cal State Northridge) and Claire taught English at Santa Monica College. ROC predeceased Claire by 20 years. They are survived by their children, Caroline, Dan and Katie, son-in-law Bill, grandchildren Josh, Tim and Ben, as well as other beloved relations and cats.
Claire was a true Janeite, an active member of JASNA, and passed her love of Jane Austen on to her daughter Katie. She attended many meetings of JASNA-SW, and volunteered in many ways, including always taking Anita Fielding, our first Newsletter Editor, to meetings in Anita’s older years. It was Claire who first warmly welcomed me to JASNA-SW and took my membership check when I first joined, around 1980. Through the years she was always an exceptionally supportive friend and wise adviser, but also with a great sense of fun. One of my own happiest memories of Claire was of going up to the top of Pike’s Peak with her and her son, at the JASNA-AGM in Colorado Springs in 1999. Her delight was infectious and it was indeed a peak moment.
Claire had a wide-ranging intellect with many interests. She enjoyed following politics (was an enthusiastic Obama supporter), had an interest in Antarctic explorers (favoring Amundsen) and, after her husband died, she joined the CSUN Arts Council, served as president and received an Honorary Life Award. From 1976 to 2014 she traveled yearly to the Oregon Shakespeare festival with friends.
Claire was known for her love and generosity, and will be warmly remembered by her friends in JASNA. Two Jane Austen quotes were most aptly mentioned in her memorial. The first describes her marriage:
“There could have been no two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison.” – Jane Austen, Persuasion
And this quote about friendship, which sums up her character well:
“There is nothing I would not do for those who are really my friends. I have no notion of loving people by halves, it is not my nature.”
—Jane Austen, Northanger Abbey