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Tom Connor's mother instilled with him from a young age that you have to share what you have with the world around you.
It's a simple philosophy, but it's one that has stuck with him throughout his life, including the past 47 years living in Aurora.
They were words that echoed through his mind on Monday night as he was named Aurora's 2020 Citizen of the Year.
Mr. Connor received the honour at the Town's Community Recognition Awards hosted June 15 by Mayor Tom Mrakas – held virtually due to restrictions surrounding COVID-19.
Watching the ceremony virtually with his wife Barb while enjoying a meal at another couple's home, Mr. Connor says he was surprised as Mayor Mrakas read out the many accomplishments of the incumbent Citizen of the Year. As it slowly dawned on him that he was being recognized, he had no inkling friends and well-wishers were gathering outside for a socially distant celebration.
The Connors moved to Aurora in 1973. Almost straight from the outset, Mr. Connor set out to make a difference in the community he now called home.
A leader in local sports, a champion for the Aurora Public Library, and a passionate volunteer on behalf of residents in need, most recently with Martha's Table, a weekly meal program for vulnerable and isolated members of the community organized by Welcoming Arms and St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church, he has touched the lives of many over the decades.
“He is a devoted volunteer giving his time over the past four decades to various organizations in Aurora such as the Aurora Minor Hockey Association, Aurora Youth Soccer, the Optimist Club of Aurora, the Town's Committee of Adjustment, the Aurora Public Library Board, and Martha's Table to name a few,” said Mayor Mrakas before the big reveal.
After announcing this year's honouree, the Mayor continued: “Tom's compassion, dedication and commitment to our Town is inspiring. His lifelong goal of giving back to others shows us the importance of volunteering and the positive impact on our community. Over the years, Tom has built a network of volunteers, community connections and neighbourhood resources and, most of all, lifelong friends.
“Your drive to serve and better the lives of others gives us hope, especially in times like this, where hope and positive contributions to our fellow neighbours and friends will help us move forward through adversity and instill much needed change.”
One such member of Mr. Connor's network of lifelong friends is former Citizen of the Year Steve Hinder, who, along with wife Jane, invited the Connors over for a meal at the start of the week, subtly suggesting they sit down to watch the Community Recognition Awards together.
“To me, Tom exemplifies exactly what Citizen of the Year means,” said Mr. Hinder. “It is someone who has given a lifetime of volunteering and giving back to the Town. Tom has done it so quietly. He never talks about it. He even still has a flip phone, so he's not a social media guy! He's not about posting or boasting about anything that he does. It has never been his style.”
In fact, Mr. Hinder notes Tom and Barb Connor met while volunteering with a youth drop-in centre in Toronto, so volunteering is a cornerstone of his life.
“The things that a lot of parents do in terms of getting engaged in sports and leisure activities for the kids,” shared Mr. Hinder. “Tom was more than a coach; he became the President of Aurora Youth Soccer for a year. The boys were playing hockey and he recognized there was nothing around for them at a young age, so he approached then-Mayor Dick Illingworth and Dick said, ‘Yeah, I can support this, but you need to run it.' Tom said, ‘Okay,' and actually started the recreational hockey program that in 1988 the Optimists took over and it grew from there.
“Over the last few years, he has been involved with Martha's Table. He never told me any of this stuff. That is the thing about him. We saw each other at least every couple of weeks. He's not one to say, ‘Hey, here's what I'm doing,' but it would be Barb who would say something about Tom helping with this neat program every Thursday at St. Andrew's Presbyterian Church called Martha's Table and he helps organize the lunch there.' A couple of years ago at Neighbourhood Network, we were going around to visit different organizations during National Volunteer Week. We dropped off coffees to say thank you to volunteers. I really didn't know anything about that program, but I walked in and – boom, there he was. I know this guy really well and he didn't tell me anything about this.”
But, for Tom Connor, volunteering is just something one does – and, in his case, it is something he has always done.
“When I grew up, it was one of those things where you said, ‘Okay, who is going to organize it?' and people said, ‘Let Tom do it,' so, I have always done it,” Mr. Connor told the gathered crowd, which included Councillors Harold Kim, who formally presented Mr. Connor with his trophy on behalf of the self-isolating Mayor, Councillor Sandra Humfryes, Bruce Gorman, CEO of the Aurora Public Library, and former mayor Tim Jones. “For me, volunteering is a thing you should do. It is what you have to do to make your community strong and what you need to do to make your community great.
“My mother always used to say, ‘The one thing you need to do is make sure you share what you have.' Barb and I have always wanted to do stuff and both of us have worked on things and, to me, this is just a wonderful thing.”
By Brock Weir
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