When George O’Connor ’70 drove onto campus for his fiftieth reunion in the spring of 2022, it was the first time he’d been back to Woodberry since his college days. While the facilities had expanded and improved, the atmosphere was much the same.

“Despite the physical differences, it felt very similar to when I was a student in the late sixties,” said George. “It was the same, nicely dressed young men. Boys who were getting educated not just in academics, but in something much deeper.”

Those deeper lessons George learned at Woodberry have stuck with him ever since. “When new employees come work for me and they get our manual, the very first section contains language that was instilled in me at Woodberry,” said George. “It talks about how our employees are ethical and honest, and our word is our bond. I have operated all of my companies based on that.”

George’s gratitude for the Woodberry experience translated into a significant gift in support of the Walker Building renovation, which was only the most recent in a long history of generosity George has shown the school.

“I give to Woodberry because I believe in Woodberry,” said George. “It’s a great school, and it had a great impact on me.”

Culture Shock

Lynn and George O’Connor ’70, Lee Carter ’70 and Greg Bradley

When he first came to Woodberry as a fourth former, George wasn’t fully prepared for just how much his life was about to change.

“Let’s just say that I was a little bit wild, and I was in need of more supervision,” George said with a laugh. “Getting to Woodberry, setting up to wear a jacket and tie every day . . . it was very different from what I was used to.”

Although he was born in Baltimore and remembers attending summer camp at Woodberry, George’s dad moved to Texas and got into the oil business when George was young. His dad knew former Headmaster Baker Duncan ’45, and it was that connection that led to George’s enrollment at Woodberry.

Lessons learned at Woodberry didn’t sink in right away. After he graduated, George spent a few semesters at the University of Texas.

“After three years at a very structured all-boys school, I very much enjoyed the freedom that came in college,” said George. “And as a result, I didn’t take my academics as seriously as I should have.”

George would leave college to run a small farm and also work as a room clerk at a marina hotel. It didn’t take long before he realized that maybe getting a college degree would help get him on a better path. He ended up driving into Houston each day to take classes at a community college, and then applied to Cornell University.

“During my interview at Cornell, the admission officer said, ‘You’re managing more cattle on your ranch than we have in all of upstate New York. So it looks like you’ve finally decided to work,’” George recalled. “He was right. I was ready to work.”

George earned a degree in animal science and agricultural economics at Cornell, and then a master’s degree in range management from the University of Wyoming. He was running a 20,000-acre ranch, which he went on to sell to a dairy farmer before he and his wife moved to Texas to work on his grandfather’s ranch. After that, they moved to Arkansas in the 1990s, where George worked at his family’s industrial park and then set off to forge a path as a consultant.

Buying into Beer

George was just getting started as a consultant when he was told about a Miller Beer distributor that was going bankrupt.

George and Fred Lummis '71
George and Fred Lummis ’71

“My dad owned a small Coors distributing company, and he recommended I talk to his operations guy, Tony Snow,” said George. “Well Tony came up and looked around. He told me that the distributor’s owner, Jan Bratcher, could sell beer but couldn’t count. And I can count, but I didn’t know how to sell beer. So he recommended I get Jan to teach me how to sell beer, but I shouldn’t teach him how to count. It was great advice. And that was how I came to own my first distributing company.”

The company would quickly expand over the years, and O’Connor Distributing now owns three companies: White River, Three Lakes, and Three Rivers. They distribute just about every major beer label other than Anheuser-Busch.

George’s son, Ryan, came on board as an employee, and he is now the president of O’Connor Distributing. But George hasn’t slowed down a bit. He is still leading sales meetings at 6:00 a.m. and staying at the office until 5:30 p.m.

“The difference is, these days I don’t feel guilty about leaving work early on a Friday,” said George. “Or taking a week off for vacation. The fact is, the guys who are running things now are probably doing a better job than I would anyway.”

Circling back to lessons he learned at Woodberry, George reflected for a minute and said, “I wasn’t much of a runner, but Coach Dick used to tell us to find our sweet spot when we are running, rather than trying to go all out all the time. He taught me how to pace myself, which is a pretty great lesson for how to think about life. Pace yourself.”