John O’Connor

Steel of West Va and MarshallContributed by John O’Connor

In the middle of Huntington, West Virginia, there is a river. Next to this river, there is a steel mill. And next to the steel mill, there is a school. In the middle of this school, there is a fountain. Each year, on the exact same day, at the exact same hour……the water to this fountain is turned off. And in this moment, once every year……throughout the town, throughout the school……time stands still.

These are the opening lines to the movie We Are Marshall. The movie tells the story of the rebirth of Marshall University and my current town of Huntington, West Virginia in the aftermath of the tragic 1970 plane crash which took the lives of 37 members of the Marshall University football team.  This story is very much alive in Huntington as I am reminded anytime my undergrad alma mater plays Marshall.  Miami is still hated here because it is accused of running up the score to 66-6 against the highly overmatched Marshall team (the “Young Thundering Herd”) which played the 1971 season without those lost in the plane crash.  This was also reinforced when a student reporter for the Marshall University paper suggested the town should get past the crash and end the annual ceremonial shutting down of the fountain on the anniversary of the crash.  I believe the student was run out of town.

The opening lines of the movie also relate to my life since graduation from law school as I have followed the Ohio River to do work for various steel mills.  First, I spent half a decade at the Pittsburgh law firm of Buchanan Ingersoll, where I practiced Labor and Employment law for companies such as US Steel and Allegheny Ludlum.  I then returned to Cincinnati where I recruited AK Steel as a client while at Dinsmore & Shohl, before going in-house at AK for a decade.  At AK, I spent time as Labor Counsel and in Human Resources.  After a brief stint as a Labor and Employment law partner at Taft Stettinius & Hollister, I returned to the world of steel as Vice President of Administration for Steel Dynamics’ wholly owned subsidiary Steel of West Virginia, Inc.  This job, which I have had for the last six years, combines many of my former roles as I am responsible for Safety, Environmental, Labor Relations, and Human Resources.  Notably, SWVA’s Huntington steel mill is the very mill mentioned in the opening narration of We Are Marshall, and it has a prominent role in the movie.

O'Connor o'raftingI have two children –  16 year old son Luke and 15 year old daughter Clare.  Luke is into anything car related and Clare is my budding young artist.  The three of us will spend the week prior to our re-union in New York City for our city summer vacation.  We just returned  from our country vacation whitewater rafting, rock climbing, zip lining and rappelling from West Virginia’s New River gorge.


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