Joseph W. O’Connor, 70, of North Palm Beach, Florida, passed away at home in February surrounded by family and friends following a courageous ten-month battle with cancer.
O’Connor founded Copley Real Estate Advisors, one of the largest and most successful real estate investment firms in the United States. He was cochair of AEW Capital Management and chairman of the Urban Land Institute from 2001 to 2003, in addition to being a ULI Foundation governor and trustee.
Speaking at the 2002 ULI Fall Meeting in Las Vegas, O’Conner said, “Unless [the real estate industry] attract[s] the talent required in an increasingly complex world, unless we recognize the need to invest in the human capital, we will squander any gains we have made in closing the gap between potential and performance.”
“I was blessed to have a relationship with Joe O’Connor that spanned over 40 years,” said Wayne Ratkovich, president and CEO of the Ratkovich Companies and a fellow ULI trustee. “It started with his role as a financial partner and blossomed into a personal relationship that I will forever cherish. Once you earned Joe’s loyalty, it was unconditional and permanent. Once you earned his friendship, he believed that his role was to contribute to your fulfillment and your happiness. Joe O’Connor was unique in his ability to combine his gifted professional skills with a measure of humanity in a manner that few have achieved. Those of us fortunate enough to have known him will treasure our memories.”
O’Connor was a graduate of Boston College High School, the College of the Holy Cross, and Harvard Business School. He served on the board of Harvard Management Company and was chairman of the Harvard Real Estate Initiative. He was a board member of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Center for Real Estate Studies, the New England Aquarium, the Pension Real Estate Association, Boston Children’s Medical Center, and the advisory board to the New England Jesuit Province. Most recently, he was board chairman of A.D. Makepeace Company and past chairman and current board member of the Benjamin School in North Palm Beach, Florida.
“Joe O’Connor was the ‘real deal’—smart, creative, thoughtful, caring, committed,” said Cheryl Cummins, executive officer of ULI. “He was a leader. And, of course, he was completely engaging and funny as can be. It was an honor to work with him—and learn from him—when he was ULI chairman, 2001–2003. Two things about this time are telling about who Joe O’Connor was. First, he became chairman in July 2001, and soon after the 9/11 attacks occurred—just weeks before the ULI Fall Meeting that year in Boston. Joe committed to holding the meeting, and supporting the city of Boston, when most other groups were canceling their meetings. And, he committed to ULI members as well—offering refunds to anyone who didn’t feel comfortable traveling and offering an amazing, updated program for those who wanted to come, talk about the issues, and be with their ULI family. He was calm and gracious and careful; members today still remember his leadership at this low point in time. Second, Joe stated just one priority for his term as ULI chairman: human capital. He was totally committed to people—and for ULI this meant our leadership, our members, our staff. He created an inclusivity task force at the very start of his chairmanship, to ensure all parts of ULI were taking seriously the need to support and grow and diversify our most precious resource—people. This, his legacy, lives on today at ULI. Joe was a truly amazing person.”
Donations can be made to the Joseph W. O’Connor Memorial Fund at the Benjamin School, 11000 Ellison Wilson Road, North Palm Beach, Florida 33408 or to the Jeremiah W. O’Connor Scholarship Fund at Boston College High School, 150 William T. Morrissey Boulevard, Boston, Massachusetts 02125.