YORK HARBOR, Maine — Drinks in hand, a group of about 500 friends and family of the late Chris Connors gathered Monday night, told ribald stories and remembered a man whose zest for life was rivaled only by his heart of gold.
The entire York Harbor Inn was closed for the evening to accommodate the throngs of people who came to hoist one to their friend, who died on Dec. 9 after a battle with both ALS and pancreatic cancer.
His obituary, written by daughter Caitlin and headlined “Irishman Dies from Stubbornness, Whiskey,” went viral in the days after it appeared on seacoastonline last week — attracting tens of thousands of readers and reprinted on websites as far flung as in the United Kingdom and New Zealand.
Person after person Monday night talked about Connors as a true friend, even if they’d only known him briefly, especially if they’d known him their entire lives.
Younger brother Russell Connors was philosophical.
“He was reliable, strong and loyal,” said Connors, who lives in Kittery Point. “He had huge character. He would say, ‘You should be bold. You should be real.’ And that’s the way he lived his life.”
Russell Connors particularly mentioned his brother’s annual York River floating regattas to benefit the UDT-SEAL Association, a nonprofit group that helps Navy SEALS and their families. It was a connection he made after their brother died on Sept. 11, 2001, and he bonded with the SEALS he subsequently met.
“That relationship became cathartic for him. They become some of his dearest, most gentle friends. Their ministry for my brother when he was sick was beyond imagining,” he said.
York Selectman Todd Frederick coached one of Connors’ sons on a youth football team and York Police Lt. Owen Davis’ son played on the team.
“He was a friend. Sometimes he offered me counsel and sometimes I offered him counsel,” said Frederick with a smile. “After he was diagnosed, he said, ‘I just want to see my kids play football one more season.’ And he did. He was an amazing man. He gave in so many ways, and he didn’t want anyone to know.”
“He spoke his mind, and if he liked you, he made you feel like you were his best friend. He was a joy to be around,” said Davis.
York Senior Center Director Brenda Bracy said she met Connors when she and her husband, Police Chief Douglas Bracy, were invited to his birthday party.
“He was a wild man,” said Bracy with a laugh. Case in point: harkening to his brother’s death at the World Trade Center, in the bathroom of his house was a roll of Osama bin Laden toilet paper. “Osama bin Laden toilet paper! I just loved him. I felt we were kindred spirits. He used to say to me, ‘You get it.’ And I was proud to be one of those in his life who got it.”
Marti Timmons and her husband Paul moved to York at the same time as Connors and his wife Emily. Emily, she said, used those same words — kindred spirits — to describe Timmons and Connors.
“We both lived in New York City and we loved it. We both loved this community here and our friends,” she said. “He was somebody whose biggest concern at the end of the day was people’s well-being. But at the start of the day, it was about fun, mischief and living larger than life.”
Niece Elizabeth Connors, Russell Connor’s daughter, got a call one day after her uncle died from her cousin, Connors’ daughter Caitlin. Caitlin was writing the obituary read ’round the world, and she wanted Elizabeth’s help. “So we had some champagne, and she started writing.”
From this came the outrageously funny and occasionally poignant obituary: “As much as people knew hanging out with him would end in a night in jail or a killer screwdriver hangover, he was the type of man that people would drive 16 hours at the drop of a dime to come see,” Caitlin Connors would write. “He lived 1,000 years in the 67 calendar years we had with him because he attacked life; he grabbed it by the lapels, kissed it, and swung it back onto the dance floor.”
Elizabeth said the obituary exactly described the man she calls “my favorite uncle.”
“He wanted to make people laugh, and tell them not to take life too seriously,” said Elizabeth. “He lived his philosophy: ‘I want to make every single day feel like a day lived well.’”
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