HomeCollege NewsPeter O’Connor (1943-2019) Deep Springs architect with Bob Gatje DS44 and friend

Peter O’Connor (1943-2019) Deep Springs architect with Bob Gatje DS44 and friend

Peter O’Connor served as Deep Springs’ architect from 1995 to 2001, working closely with the Student Body, the Trustees, President Jack Newell, and Building Committee chair Bob Gatje to design the Student Residence, the new Museum, and the Pihos Greenhouse, and completely renovate and seismically refit the Main Building, Ranch House, Duplex, Upfac, Midfac, and every other dwelling at Deep Springs.  

Beloved husband, father, grandfather, brother, friend and mentor, Peter O’Connor took his last, peaceful breath surrounded by his family.  He died at Virginia Mason Hospital, Seattle, from complications associated with Parkinson’s on April 11th, which was World Parkinson’s Day.  Always a gentleman and a gentle man, Peter thought noble thoughts, spoke kind words and did good deeds.  He was born on July 12, 1943 to Molly Meyer O’Connor and Cathal Wainwright O’Connor.  Peter spent his early years in Cold Spring Harbor on the North Shore of Long Island, with grandparents and many cousins nearby.   He later moved to Hanover, NH.  As a young teenager, his summers were spent working on his grandparent’s farm in Sutton, VT.  There he learned a strong work ethic that he carried with him throughout his life:  accept responsibility, exceed expectation and be a man of your word.  While working one summer at Dartmouth College, he met his truest love, Wendy Louise Falion.  They were married three years later on June 19, 1965, after Peter had graduated with a B.A. from Yale. 

The married couple left the East Coast and moved to Boulder, where Peter attended the University of Colorado, graduating with a B. Arch.  Architecture was his passion.  He knew from an early age that he wanted to be an architect.  An often-told family story centered on his kindergarten teacher’s comment, “Peter spends a great deal of time playing with blocks, and becomes quite upset when the other children knock down his structures.”  Peter’s first architectural position was as the Staff Architect for Vail Associates.  He then went on to establish his own firm in Denver in the mid-70’s.  Ever curious and eager to learn more, he and his family moved to Seattle in 1978 where he received a M. Arch. from the University of Washington.  Several years later he founded his Bainbridge Island firm, O’Connor Architects.  While listening to Pearl Jam or a Mariners game, Peter managed diverse projects ranging from commercial, academic, municipal, religious and community agency facilities to multi- and single-family residences.  He was licensed in Washington, Oregon, California, Montana, Idaho, Hawaii, and Colorado.  The varied projects he completed throughout those states will serve as his legacy and include a Russian Orthodox church in San Diego, a residence hall at Deep Springs College in the High Sierras, a restaurant in Vail, a veterinary clinic in Denver, an award-winning solar home in Montana, and a family retreat in Priest Lake, Idaho.  Local Bainbridge projects include Bainbridge Performing Arts, Vineyard Lane, Yonder, the Historic Lynwood Center Building remodel, the education center at Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church, Helpline House, Island Fitness, numerous projects for the Bainbridge Island School District and many, many residences.   He was a humble man and a humble architect, mentoring the young architects in his office and always giving full credit to them.  Peter believed strongly in using “we,” not “I” and always said he worked “with” his clients not “for” them. 

Peter’s Bainbridge Island Community was important to him.  He chaired the Bainbridge Island Planning Advisory Commission, was a housing committee member for the Bainbridge Island Comprehensive Plan, and co-chaired the Winslow Master Plan Steering Committee.  He was very concerned about affordable housing and was a member of the Housing Resources Board, the Mayor’s Task Force on Affordable Housing, and the Community Housing Coalition Task Force.  Arts and education were also important to Peter.  He served on the Board of Bainbridge Performing Arts as Vice-President, and the City’s Committee for Public Art.  For two years he was a guest instructor at West Sound Academy and also served on the school’s Planning Committee.

Peter also really, really loved skiing.  He became a ski instructor at Arapahoe Basin in 1965 and taught in a number of ski schools:  Vail, Loveland Basin, Winter Park, Stevens Pass and finally Crystal Mountain.  He was very proud to receive his 50-year pin from the Professional Ski Instructors of America in 2015.  Peter also coached ski racing (downhill was his favorite) and several of his ski racers made the U.S. National Team.  He thoroughly enjoyed working with those athletes, helping them to be better ski racers, but more importantly, how to be better young men and women.  He worked on two Olympics, Salt Lake and Whistler, as a member of the Course Setting Crew for the Men’s and Women’s Downhill and the Super-G and was the Assistant Chief Gate Judge for the World Alpine Championships in Vail in 1998 and 1999.  He served as the President of the Rocky Mountain Division Ski Coaches Association and on the Board of Directors of the US Ski Coaches Association.

Family, first and foremost, was Peter’s greatest joy. He adored his wife, Wendy; was a loving and endearing husband as well as a nurturing, gentle, and humorous father and grandfather.  Peter lived with a twinkle in his eye; this allowed him to observe people and situations, causing him to tell an ancillary joke or wink at a witty comment that he or someone else had made.   There is a story of Erin, his daughter, who at around eight or nine, brought a friend home. It was summertime, and her friend, who came from a rather serious family, was barefoot. When Peter mentioned off-handedly, “I like your shoes,” the girl was truly and utterly baffled.  We laughed about that for years and, as an essential component of Peter’s life, we are forever lifted by his humor and love.  You leaned into his personality because he had an ability to keep you off guard in a humorous, but, tender way.  His love was defined by laughter and hugs, and that was contagious because it was endless.  He was a man of few words, but his emotional presence was something spectacular. Rarely did he need to tell you his opinion, you just kind of felt it.

“What we once enjoyed and deeply loved we can never lose, for all that we love deeply becomes a part of us.”  Helen Keller.  Peter is survived by his wife Wendy of 53 years, daughter Erin Meyer ‘O’Connor (Chuck Gawarkiewicz), son Peter Dylan O’Connor (Betsy Schwartz), brother David O’Connor (Premla O’Connor), grandchildren Ruby, Sophie and Nicholas Gawarkiewicz, nephews, a niece and several cousins.

In accordance with Peter’s wishes, an intimate family celebration of his life will be held at the O’Connor home at a later date when Bainbridge Island is blessed with warmth and all is in full bloom.  Donations in his memory may be made to the Michael J. Fox Foundation and Bainbridge Performing Arts.  Arrangements by Cook Family Funeral Home, www.cookfamilyfuneralhome.com.