LINGLE – Fun. Genuine. Patient. Humble. Intelligent. Personable. Charismatic. Friend. Teacher. Coach. Those are just a few of the words used to describe Pat O’Connor by his friends, former students and co-workers.
O’Connor passed away unexpectedly on Monday, Jan. 25 and leaves behind a legacy that will continue to be carried on in the lives he impacted.
“He could relate to any student from any background. He genuinely cared about the students. He was very charismatic,” Lingle-Fort Laramie Athletic Director and track coach Mike Lashley said. “People were drawn to Pat, to want to talk to Pat, and discuss things with Pat.”
He taught shop and coached at Lingle-Fort Laramie for 39 years before retiring in 2014.
“He loved working with kids,” Lashley said. “Whether it was a teacher or coach, he felt it was his calling. The impact he has had on so many kids at Lingle-Fort Laramie and other places in the district, he established relationships all over the county.”
As a shop teacher, O’Connor had taught many students a new and valuable trade.
“Patience is a good word for him in the wood shop,” former Lingle-Fort Laramie football coach and teacher Ron Halley said. “He knew everyone wasn’t really good at that kind of stuff. He’d work with the kids, and they would each put out some nice work.”
Away from the classroom, O’Connor was busy as an assistant football, assistant wrestling and throws coach at L-FL. O’Connor eventually became Dogger football head coach from 1999-2005 before deciding to take a step back and stick to being an assistant coach so he could focus on coaching the linemen.
“He paid attention to the smallest player on the field to the biggest player,” Halley said. “You didn’t have to be a star to get attention from Pat O’Connor.”
In his short stint at the helm of the Dogger football team, his teams reached the playoffs four times, with his best season coming in 2004 when the team finished the season with a 6-3 record.
During his tenure at L-FL, he coached 108 state placers in shotput and discus and had 22 state champions. He was also a part of 15 state championships, 18 conference championships and nine regional championships.
“He made everyday fun because he was kind of a goofball, and I mean that in a good way,” Halley said. “We had a lot of fun laughs, and he loved being crazy with the kids.”
He also earned many individual accolades, including two-time assistant track coach of the year, assistant wrestling coach of the year, assistant coach for two Shrine Bowls and was the 2005 Southeast Wyoming Coach of the Year.
“When he was coaching, he always enjoyed the process. He enjoyed the season. He enjoyed watching his athletes progress and improve over the course of the season,” Lashley said. “He recognized that not every kid, specifically track, wasn’t going to be a medalist, but to Pat, that didn’t matter. What he got joy in was seeing every one of his kids improving.”
“The success the throwers had wasn’t due to me or Ron Halley; it was due to Pat O’Connor, but he always deflected that success and gave the praise to others,” Lashley added.
O’Connor was later inducted into the Wyoming Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2011.
“He always had this unique ability to settle someone’s nerves. For me, personally, he always made me laugh because I tended to overthink things and be uptight, especially in track. He helped me clear my mind to just compete,” 2016 L-FL graduate KC Henry said. “In football, he was a motivator – not from a sense of let me get up in your face and yell at you with emotion – [he] just always had the right words of wisdom at the right time.”
Even after his retirement in 2014, he couldn’t stay away.
Whether it was as a substitute teacher, volunteer coach or lending a helping hand by assisting at the most recent home wrestling tournament in Lingle just two days prior to his passing, O’Connor remained actively involved in the Goshen County School District.
He was even signed up to help run the 2021 East Regional Track and Field Championships, which is scheduled to be held in Torrington in May.
“Pat loved teaching and coaching, but most importantly, he loved the students he worked with,” Lashley said. “He was always willing to step up, help out and do whatever he could. That was just the fabric he was made of.”
O’Connor even went out of his way to offer advice to students who didn’t wear the Dogger colors.
“He even came and helped Reece (Halley) with discus one day,” Torrington girls’ basketball coach Jeff Halley said. “He knows more about it than I ever did, and he was willing to share it with the next generation even though he wasn’t coaching.”
“He could talk to anyone. It was one of those things – you could take him serious when you had to, but most of the time, you just knew he was getting through to you in a way only he could,” Halley added, who played under O’Connor at L-FL. “He’d come to your level and make it fun and joke, and everybody loved his personality.”
Over his career, he impacted the lives of many, not only his students but his peers as well, that will continue to live on for years to come.
“I’m a better person for spending a better part of 30 years with him,” Lashley said. “The wisdom he imparted to me throughout the years was very valuable to me and my career.”
“The best aspect of him from being a player was his ability to correlate aspects of life to the sport or aspects of sport to life,” Henry said. “There was always some sort of wisdom he provided each day that will forever have an impact on me and those that were around him.”