Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
Week of March 26, 2007
Bill Connelly gave with both hands
Catholic funeral director served his faith and community generously
By BILL GLEN
"He worked with a passion at whatever he did."
- Mickey Casavant
The son of American pioneers who homesteaded in the Riviere Qui Barre area, Connelly leaves behind a legacy rich in private business and public office. He is also the man responsible for bringing harness racing to Western Canada.
"He was an incredibly generous man, who gave of himself unconditionally," said Mickey Casavant, former state deputy of the Knights of Columbus. Connelly was a member of the Knights' original Alberta council (Council 1184) for 70 years. He was state deputy from 1957-58.
"Bill will always be remembered as a great leader. He worked with a passion at whatever he did. His commitment was as big as his heart was and that made him a good role model for his Brother Knights and the community at large," Casavant said.
"He will be sadly missed by the Knights of Columbus family in Alberta, but especially in the Edmonton area."
Connelly served on numerous boards, in and out of the realm of the Church. He served as chairman of the rosary crusade, sat on the board of Assumption Convent and was a member of the Misericordia Hospital.
For more than 70 years, Connelly was involved in the family owned Connelly-McKinley Funeral Home. He was involved in the business's day-to-day decisions until about a year ago.
"Dad had a photographic memory. He probably knew the old streets and names of Edmonton more so than anybody. He had a collection of old photographs that is unreal," said Gerry Connelly, 58.
"He was very hard working. He wasn't home a lot because he was always at the funeral home. And when he was home, he always took calls. He was a very dedicated funeral director as was his late brother Tom. They worked side-by-side for many years. When dad was busy with harness racing, Tom did the day-to-day things."
A fourth generation of Connellys is on his way. Gerry's son Cameron, is currently attending St. John's Catholic University in Queens, NY, obtaining a degree in funeral home management.
The family business will celebrate its centennial anniversary next year.
"Dad used to attend Mass at St. Joseph's Basilica before he bought an acreage near Winterburn," Gerry said.
"Then we went to church at Enoch. In his later years, dad went to Mass at Good Shepherd when he was healthy."
Connelly was a city councillor from 1955-1959. He is the former director of the Edmonton Exhibition (now Edmonton Northlands) and the Edmonton Eskimo football club. He was inducted into the Edmonton Sports Hall of Fame.
Connelly's passion for standardbred horses led him to become director of the Canadian Trotting Association for eight years. He was influential in reviving harness racing in Alberta and in 1985, he was inducted into the Canadian Horse Racing Hall of Fame.
Former alderman Bill Henning met Connelly when they served together on city council. Although they favoured different shades of politics, they became close friends and business associates.
Connelly was instrumental in Henning's becoming Catholic five years ago.
"He lost his son Terry suddenly in 2002 and he was very affected by it. And he lost Phyllis in 2005. It was his faith that pulled him through. I was so impressed," said Henning, 79. "He did things for people that few others knew about."
Henning held his old friend's hand the day before he died.
"He said 'Thank you, thank you, thank you' and he nodded off to sleep. I'm not sure if he ever woke up."
Sr. Annata Brockman knew Connelly for at least 25 years. "He buried a number of our sisters; many of my friends."
Something that always impressed her was that he never heralded the fact that for more than 60 years, he provided a free service to families of deceased infant babies.
"He went to various hospitals when they called him, to pick up the little children who died at infancy. If the family wanted a funeral, he provided a casket and service for free," Brockman said.
"What the family had to pay for was the opening and closing of the grave. That was the cemetery which had nothing to do with the funeral director. I have been present for many of those funerals. It meant a great deal to the parents. It was a great consolation. He did it out of his big heart. He was most generous."
Connelly was well known among the Knights and the CWL for donating the funeral home's large buses if they needed to transport members to an out-of-town convention.
"The Connellys have always been very generous to the CWL with the use of their nice buses and printing services for conventions," said Mabel Solomon, archdiocesan CWL president.
Council 1184 was planning a large celebration March 23 to mark its centennial. When contacted immediately following news of Connelly's death, grand knight Joe Smith said Connelly's life would be remembered.
"Nothing is confirmed yet, but I'm certain we will have a special prayer service for him," he said.
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