Carolyn Connor | July 2, 1940 – September 25, 2020
Carolyn Connor told her son Mike that she loved the sentiment, “There are no strangers, only friends you haven’t met yet.” Carolyn, a therapist and arts lover, friend and mom, lived her wide-ranging, adventurous, curious life with that belief etched on her soul.
After Carolyn Rose Connor was born in Davenport, Iowa, the youngest of four, she didn’t talk much for a few years. She told her children Suzi, Cathy, and Mike that she made up for those years later by singing in Methodist choirs, asking persistent questions of the pastor, and getting reprimanded for talking in class. She graduated from McAllen High School in Texas and the University of Texas at Austin, after which she worked as the manager of a drapery department in Corpus Christi. But she couldn’t see interior design as her purpose in life.
John F. Kennedy provided her with hope: The Peace Corps. She leapt at the chance to apply, and, after cramming years of Portuguese instruction into six weeks, she and her cohort set sail to Rio de Janeiro in 1963. They lived in the favelas, holding public health clinics for mothers and babies. She traveled to other South American countries and established a purse-making cooperative with and for the women in her favela.
When she returned to the States, she earned her master’s in social work at the University of Missouri-Kansas City and spent several years working at Menorah Medical Center before marrying and having children. She also served as the director of the senior adult unit at Research Psychiatric Center and worked as an LCSW in private practice, with Psychiatry Associates of Kansas City and later with Madison Avenue Psychological Services.
Thirty years after her return from Rio, she and her then-husband Joe welcomed a new son, exchange student Plinio Pinto, from Brazil. Carolyn enjoyed speaking Portuguese with the Pintos and any Portuguese speaker she met. She took Cathy and Mike to Brazil, where they stayed with the Pintos in Sao Paulo and traveled to Rio to visit the favela. She also much enjoyed attending reunions of Brazil IV, her Peace Corps cohort.
When she was 56, Carolyn survived a bout with cancer, and she decided to fulfill her dream of more world travel. She applied for a therapist job with a contractor for the U.S. military. She first worked at Andersen AFB on Guam, where she enjoyed the warm weather, palm trees, and ocean. Then Carolyn moved to Germany, where she worked at Landstuhl RMC. She was delighted to find she could “run over to France” to go shopping. “Running over” anyplace reachable was her motto. She would fly, take the USO bus, or drive (despite her legendary lack of sense of direction or knowledge of German). She also treasured being a member of and officer in the European Unitarian Universalists.
Carolyn’s Christmas letters were filled with accounts of the people, places, animals, and gardens she experienced. When she moved to Bury St. Edmunds, England, to work at Lakenheath AFB, she fell for all things British, including tea and the Royal Family.
Carolyn loved the arts. Whether listening to classical stations or single-handedly keeping frame shops afloat, she supported local artists of all kinds. When she returned to Kansas City to live near her children and grandchildren, she braved ice storms to see choral concerts and KC Rep’s “A Christmas Carol,” and heat, mosquitoes and even a tornado to hear the KC Symphony in the Flint Hills.
She adored music most, and from a young age sang in choirs until she found joy in directing, including in Germany, where her time directing an international choir culminated in a performance with the American Horn Quartet at the famed Abteikirche in Otterberg. In the States, she was president of the Friends of Lee’s Summit Symphony and volunteered at the Kauffman Center and many theaters. She enjoyed visiting the Oregon Shakespeare Festival with Suzi. The last play Carolyn saw was Hamilton, streaming, with a pod of good friends.
During quarantine, she spent time with her family and friends via technology, playing games on video with her grandchildren or looking at Suzi’s garden in Oregon. Her beloved friends organized to help her every day from early August until her death so that she could finish out her life in the sunroom she’d designed.
Carolyn loved the sun, summer colors, flowers, and birds. As the season turned to autumn, she spent time with her children and her friends. On her final day, she listened to KCUR, read the Star, and watched a backyard family of cardinals at her bird feeder. She saw three of her dear friends, lay in her perfect sunroom, and spoke with her children. As the sun went down, with Cathy holding her hand, she just ran over to her next adventure.
Carolyn is survived by Suzi (Lynn), Cathy (Kevin), Mike (Miranda), Plinio (Melissa); grandchildren Amy, Melody, Cameron, McKenna, Mae, and Owen; sister Nancy, and hundreds of dear friends.
The family suggests donations to the Peace Corps or Returned Peace Corps Volunteers, an arts organization, a classical music station, or a Unitarian Universalist fellowship.
A Zoom service will be held on November 1; details through All Souls KC Unitarian Universalist Church.
October 3rd: Carolyn’s ashes will be scattered in Simpson House garden in a small, family-only gathering.
November 1,All Saints Day, in the afternoon, we will gather on Zoom for a public service of memory.
If you would like to share a recollection of Carolyn, please record a brief video: Click here on the link to transmit video to be included in that event.
What a loving and compassionate friend to so many. I was privileged to work with her on establishing a grief support group and then the women’s Sacred Circle, where she led us in openly sharing our life experiences without judgment. Jim Mitchell and I were honored to meet with her a couple weeks ago (masked and sanitized, but holding her hands) to witness her sharing what she called her final spiritual journey. She was beaming and beautiful that day as her spirit shone through. And we we blessed in her presence. – Diane Salucci
2021 April 11 – Hi All! Anthony and I were at All Souls Weds morning re-setting & cleaning Bragg after the voting on Tuesday. I walked by the mail slots and saw a letter with Carolyn Connor’s writing on it. I opened it and felt her love in the card as I read it. By the date, it was probably one of the last items she mailed. I hope this brightens your day as it did mine. – Scott Henze