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John Francis Connolly
John Francis Connolly

Lives Lived: John Francis Connolly, 63 Add to ...

Gifted therapist, family man, fun maker, listener. Born on Feb. 1, 1951, in Rochester, N.Y.; died on Feb. 28, 2014, in Barrie, Ont., of cardiac arrest, aged 63.

There was much John Connolly’s family admired and loved about him. After his sudden death, much more was learned.

John was the second youngest of six children, wedged between two brothers. Always competitive, he was skilled at basketball and was known for applying a fierce hand check. His favourite tactic, however, was to psych out a player. This facility continued throughout his life, as he gently poked and prodded those around him, often saying “but have you considered …” or deftly reframing an event to present a new perspective.

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The friends John made growing up were his friends for life, and they tell tales of his attempts to make a big financial killing. In the early days of the Internet, for example, he was sure that money could be made by snapping up domain names and selling them later. Because God.com was already taken, he decided to apply for Guardianangel.com (he had great affection for angels). But in his anxiety to spell “angel” correctly, he managed to purchase Gaurdianangel.com. Big surprise, no one offered to buy it!

There was a bit of the showman in John, who delighted children with his magic tricks. He joyfully invented things such as “spring flowers” (blossoms made from plastic spiral bindings) and figures made from nuts and bolts and other oddments from the hardware store that formed a very recognizable nativity scene. John’s capacity to amuse was endless; his pleasure in others was infectious.

John and Deb Woods each brought two children to their marriage in 1988. They lived for 14 years in Rochester before moving to Deb’s summer home in Shanty Bay, Ont., near Barrie, 12 years ago. John always had time for others and kept almost daily contact with his children and two grandchildren. He was sharing a FaceTime video call on his cellphone with his wife, daughter and infant grandson when he died.

But playful John was also a busy psychotherapist, in private practice as well as at Barrie’s Royal Victoria Regional Health Centre. Because of the confidential nature of his work, he never spoke about his clients. But in an age of casual informality, John ironed his shirt and pants and donned a tie each day as a show of respect for them.

After his death, John’s family learned more about his impact on others. Messages came in person, by e-mail, letter and card, from clients who spoke unabashedly about how he “saved my life,” “helped my family stay together,” “rescued my son.” He maintained contact with clients, often for several decades. The ripple effect of his work with people is immeasurable.

John possessed an uncommon quality: He was a listener – an active listener. He had the ability to “read” the people with whom he was engaged, use their language, meet them on their turf. This was as true of clients as it was of friends and family. As his son Graham said, John “talked a little, listened a lot.” And made the world a healthier, more joyful and loving place.

Susan Woods is the sister of John’s wife.

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