A Grand Plan in Action
The metamorphosis of Rob and Diane O’Connor from wide-eyed idealists to razor sharp, gimlet-eyed catalogers who are on top of every facet of a $17 million merchandising operation is as inspiring as it is fascinating.
Now in their early 60s, the O’Connors are at the top of their game and supremely fit. How fit? Rob O’Connor recently ran a 150-mile marathon across the Sahara in 100-degree heat carrying on his back bedding, an eight-day supply of food and a small stove. In the process, he raised $17,000 for cancer research at the Cleveland Clinic as a thank you for his successful prostate surgery.
Rob’s trek for charity is but the tip of the iceberg in this Ohio couple’s mission to make the world a better place. Their catalog, Creative Irish Gifts, was set up specifically to generate revenues meant to help bridge the gap between Christian and Protestant children in Northern Ireland.
Catalog Revenues Fund Charitable Program
Dublin-born Rob O’Connor came to New York after college to see the world. He met Diane on a blind date in 1965, and they married soon thereafter, making their home in a tiny rented flat over Gleason’s Bar in lower Manhattan.
With a merchandising degree from the renowned Fashion Institute of Technology, Diane was working as an assistant buyer for Sears, while Rob began to make his way up the ladder in corporate America. Diane became pregnant with their first child, and Rob got a job with a Chicago company, where they lived for the next 17 years.
It was while in Chicago that they read an article about an organization that made it possible for foreign children — many of them under-privileged — to come to the United States in the summer and live with host families. Being devout Christians with a deep sense that they were put on this earth to do something more than simply earn a living, the O’Connors started the Irish Children’s Fund, and later, the Northern Ireland Children’s Fund. They felt it was their calling to do something to ameliorate the cruel segregation between the Protestant and Catholic communities in Northern Ireland, specifically in the inner cities. There the neighborhoods are walled off with separate schools, shopping areas and parks.