My father had so many admirable qualities about him: humility, generosity, honesty, and constant gratitude, but the quality I admired most was his compassion toward people. He wasn’t just good to his family, he was gentle and kind to other people, especially strangers. He was a helper.
During my childhood, it was commonplace for him to stop and assist other motorists while they changed their flat tire. Once while he was driving my sister and me to Jones Beach in New York, we passed a man whose car had broken down along the side of the road on a major highway. My sister and I were probably eight and nine years old and we just wanted to get to the beach. My father exited the highway and turned around to head back to the man who was stranded. "He's having a really bad day so let's see if we can help him."
The man looked surprised as my father popped the hood of his car and took a look. After about an hour, my father was able to get his car started and the man was able to drive away. Before he did, he shook my father's hand and tried to thank him. My humble father wanted no part of being thanked. As he got back into our car and drove off, my father told us, "Everyone deserves a break in life. If you have the opportunity to help someone, you should."
He had such an easygoing temperament and he was happy every day. As a child when I woke up he always greeted me with a huge smile, “Hello Sunshine!” And as he ventured outside he maintained his pleasant disposition to all he encountered. He saw the bright side of every situation. As I got older and learned the story of his childhood and the adversities he'd faced, I was more impressed by his positive attitude.
Edwin Concannon was born in 1929 in the Bronx. He was the fourth child of Bessie Creegan Concannon and Frank Concannon. Bessie emigrated from County Leitrim, Ireland, in the early 1900s and she later died in a hospital in New York in 1933 while giving birth to her fifth child. Frank Concannon died the following year.
Bessie's brother, Matthew, also from County Leitrim, adopted the baby. But the other four children were separated and my father spent most of his childhood in Holy Angel's Orphanage in New York. Every so often, his teenage sister Catherine would take the train from Connecticut to see him. She was permitted to take him out for ice cream and she reminded him, "You're not alone Eddie. You have brothers and sisters." Catherine told him stories their mother told her about what life was like in County Leitrim and she reminded him how much their mother loved him. He was only five years old and her visits were such a comfort to him.
Once a week the nuns would dress him in his only suit, a sailor suit, and as he played alongside the other orphans, as couples hoping to adopt a child walked through to view the children.
Later that evening as the nuns changed him back into his play clothes they told him, "Not this week, Eddie, but maybe next week." He was never adopted and he never complained about it. In fact, he said he was so thankful for the nuns because they were so kind and loving toward him. He said they loved him as a mother would.
When he was a teen he was placed in a few different foster homes in the New York area. For many years he'd lost touch with his siblings. He married my mother and they had their first daughter, Eva, in 1960 and I followed in 1961.
He told me he was walking in Times Square one day when he passed a young man who seemed familiar to him. They both looked at each other and kept walking but turned toward each other a second time as my father said, "I think you may be my brother." And that's how he found his older brother, Connie. Connie then told my Dad where his sisters were living. From then on the brothers and sisters kept in touch and they always fondly remembered their mother, Bessie. His older sisters passed along Bessie's stories of Ireland to my father and he was sure to pass them on to me.
He wanted to be sure his mother was remembered. And, he loved to tell me when I was a child, "You never know, Kathleen, maybe someday you'll write about this."
My Dad was a maintenance worker for Western Electric in New Jersey for most of his adult life. On the weekends he loved to take my sister and me into New York to do something fun. He only had a grade school education, but he was such a smart man. He read several newspapers each day and he loved to share current events with me.
He was always teaching. He explained all about the Troubles in Northern Ireland along with current events happening in New York City. He loved to take us on the Circle Line Ferry around ManhattanIsland and he would point out each landmark and give us the full history behind it. "Do you see the building with the white dome on top? That's Grant's Tomb." And he would go on and on about General Grant and how he became our 18th president.
We often went to the Museum of Natural History and when he got tired of chasing two children around he'd remind us, "I'll be waiting for you both under the big blue whale. If you get lost just ask someone where the big blue whale is." Hours later my sister and I would make our way to the big blue whale and he'd smile and wave to us. He was always there, just like he said he would be.
My father was a healer, too. He had an intuitive sense about people and was able to identify when they needed help. The day after I gave birth to my daughter Kelly, my husband and I watched with such amusement as my father took several roses from the many bouquets around my hospital room, "Kathleen, what will you do with all of these roses? You don't need them all." He would take a handful of roses and disappear for a half hour only to return and take more roses. I couldn't imagine what he was doing with my roses and I became fascinated watching him. I asked the nurse if she knew what he was up to. "He's taking them down to the 5th floor." I asked, "What's on the 5th floor?" She said, "The cancer ward." My dear father was going in each room handing a rose to each cancer patient and giving them words of encouragement.
I took him to Disney World with my family before he died in 2001 and on the day we were returning home he purchased so many stuffed animals and Mickey Mouse toys at the airport our flight was held up as the stewardesses tried to stuff the toys into the overhead bins. My husband and I wondered who he was buying all of the toys for. My father wasn't a wealthy man and he'd spent a small fortune on the toys. After we returned home, I happen to see him from our living room window as he handed out the toys to the children on our block. Many of them were poor and some spoke little or no English. He told me, "They may never get to Disney World."
My father was so proud of his Irish heritage. He died several years before I took my first trip to Ireland in 2012. He kept an old tin fireproof box under his bed with his important papers in it. One day he showed me his Aunt Anne's birth record from Cloone, County Leitrim. He looked at it often and was so proud of it. It was proof of his Irish heritage and his connection to Ireland. It was bittersweet for me to take my first trip to Ireland without him and I brought his picture and Aunt Anne's birth record with me to honor him.
On my last day in Ireland, I took a ride from Galway to Cloone in County Leitrim, where my grandmother was born. It never occurred to me I could still have relatives there. I just wanted to see the village when my grandmother lived and played as a child. As I was walking through the church cemetery, I came upon a familiar name on a headstone and realized it was my great grandmother's grave. I was mesmerized seeing the Creegan name on so many headstones in the cemetery.
As I was getting into my car to head back to Galway, I saw a pub across the street and was surprised when I read the sign which said, "Creegan's." I walked in and introduced myself and joked that we may be related. The bartender and owner Tommy Creegan asked, "Do you have any money?" I told him, "I'm dirt poor. Do you have any money?" He said, "No, we're dirt poor too." We laughed about it and we were both astonished a few hours later after going through paperwork to learn we are cousins. I thought a lot about my father's chance encounter in Times Square with his brother Connie that day. What are the chances I would walk into a bar in another country and meet a cousin?
When my daughter was young, I took a part-time job answering phones for a newspaper in New Jersey. When my father heard I was answering phones he asked, "Why aren't you in the newsroom writing stories? I bet one day you will be."
He inspired me throughout my life by his example and I still treasure the lessons he taught me. I'm so proud to be his daughter. On a recent trip to cousin Tommy's pub in Cloone, I showed Tommy a picture of my father with his two sisters. I was so touched when he took the picture and hung it in his pub. My father would be over the moon about that. As I shared a story about my Dad with another cousin from Cloone, she proudly said, "He was one of ours."
I used to think I was lucky to have him as a father but now I know it wasn't luck at all. It was a blessing.
Recently on a rainy day, I went to the Museum of Natural History in Manhattan. It had been years since I'd been there and I wasn't as familiar as I once was with the layout of the museum. I'd forgotten all about her but as I turned a corner hoping to find an exhibit I wanted to see, I found myself standing before the 94-feet long, 21,000-pound fiberglass model of the female blue whale suspended from the ceiling. The same whale my father sat under as he waited for his two young daughters during our many visits to the museum years ago. I lingered there awhile filled with emotion and as I looked under the whale I fondly remembered the selfless man I was blessed to have for a father. I would have given anything to see him sitting under the whale that rainy day.
*Originally published in 2017, updated in October 2020.