Margaret Rose Tilley O'Connor, 94, died peacefully in her sleep on February 11. She was married to Dr. Gerald O’Connor, AQHA past president and a member of the American Quarter Horse Hall of Fame.
Margaret had a rich full life as a wife, mother, grandmother, great-grandmother, nurse anesthetist, elected official and community volunteer. She was born (a twin) on March 16, 1926, in Omaha, Nebraska, the daughter of Harry and Jennie Tilley and one of nine siblings. She attended high school in Omaha where she excelled at swimming, earning a Nebraska state champion title, which marked a lifelong love of the sport. She earned a bachelor’s degree in nursing education from Creighton University, where she met her future husband, the late Dr. O'Connor. She also earned a certification as a nurse anesthetist from Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio.
The couple married June 5, 1953, and moved to Ann Arbor, Michigan, where Margaret continued to work in nursing at Mercywood Hospital and St Joseph Mercy Hospital. They soon started a family. In 1961, they bought Wenloch Farm, just outside of Ann Arbor, where they raised 10 children.
Slim and stylish, Margaret often took the role of a model at local fashion shows to raise money for charity. She also served on the St. Joseph Auxiliary and the local farm council during those early years at the farm. As she raised her children, Margaret became active in local politics and earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and public administration from Eastern Michigan University. She began her public service career in local government. She served on the Lodi Township Board for eight years, was secretary of the Lodi Township Planning Commission for two years and was a member of the Washtenaw County Board of Commissioners for six years before she was elected state representative from the 52nd District.
Margaret represented her mostly rural district in the Michigan state legislature for 10 years, serving from 1982 to 1992. While in the House, she served on many committees including the civil rights, labor, constitution and women's issues, and public health and state affairs committees. She also attended law school at Cooley College during this time.
In 1986, she was selected as the Legislator of the Year Conservative Caucus. A year later, she was awarded the position of House Minority Whip. While in the legislature, she became known for her "Pork Barrel List,” citing programs she believed exceeded the limits of state government. In 2004, Margaret became interested in restoring the Lodi Township Cemetery, where her husband was buried. She cofounded the Lodi Historic Preservation Group, which raised money to restore the cemetery fences and repair the fallen gravestones. Her efforts then turned to restoring the township hall, which was built in 1867.
Margaret immersed herself in researching the history of the township and published a book of Lodi Township history. Her pride and joy were her children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren who deeply appreciated her sense of humor, her spirit and fight, and her love of fashion. She was always happy with a good book, swimming, gardening and enjoying kitchen conversations with family and friends.
Margaret was preceded in death by her husband, Gerald; by a daughter, Mary Elizabeth; by her parents, Harry and Jennie; by her brothers, George, Martin, Thomas, Joseph and Edward; by sisters Dorothy and Martha; and by a grandson, William Warner. She is survived by her twin sister, Marie Tilley McClearnan; by her children Catherine (Jerry Eggleston) O'Connor, Maureen Hayden, Gerald O'Connor Jr., Ann (Tom) Warner, Patrick (Lisa) O'Connor, Kevin (Rhonda) O'Connor, Michael (Laurent Ferron) O'Connor, Karen (Patrick) Eisel and Margaret Ann (Graham Davis) O'Connor; grandchildren Emily, Elliot, John, Dylan, Megan, Casey, Madison, Cooper, Thorne, Mackenzie, Annalena, Zane, Finn and Desi; and great-grandchildren Grace Margaret and Cormick.
Memorial services will be announced this spring when weather and COVID-19 restrictions allow gatherings. In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations be made to the Hillside Terrace Retirement Community, Ann Arbor, Michigan, in honor of Margaret O'Connor.