F is a very popular name in my family tree on my mom’s side. There are or were a whole bunch of men named Fergus and several Frances’ and Franks. I would love to write something about each of them. I have my mom to thank for the love I have for them. She was very good about talking about her family and her cousins. She did not have first cousins but did have a ton of second and third cousins many of whom she knew very well.
But I am going to write here about my grandfather – Fergus J O’Connor Sr. MD. He was not a man of large stature. He was probably about 5’4″ and very few of his children got to be much taller. But in character he was huge. He was born on April 1, 1879 at the Long Point farm of Charles and Emily O’Connor. He was an only child for about 11 years. There were children but they did not live long after birth if they made it that far.
He grew up living next door to his grandfather and several aunts who had not married. He also had cousins who lived down the road and neighbors who’s children became life long friends of his. He attended the Long Point School SS #5 across the road from the farm house. Often the teacher would live with his parents so he had access to many of them during the off hours. His parents did not want him to work on the farm so they made sure he went to High School – in Watertown NY and Athens Secondary School in Athens Ontario. When in Athens he boarded with his Stevens cousins which must have been grand fun since there were many children in that family.
After graduating from High School Fergus went to Ottawa Normal School to become a teacher. I have a diary from that year which I have not transcribed but he did well there and after graduating started teaching in Cornwall Ontario. At one point it is said that he taught at the Long Point School. But that was not his dream job. He wanted to become a physician.
When his parents finally agreed to it one day he took off on his bicycle and rode into Kingston Ontario, a distance of about 20 miles. As he came into town he missed his turn and ended up on the wrong street and approached a group of young girls who were out in a side yard, He asked them the directions to Queens University and they were happy to give them to him. They also asked him what he was doing and after chatting a bit they sent him on his way. One of those girls a few years later would become his wife.
He went to the University and spoke with the admissions folks and they agreed that he could enter into the Medical School. I am sure he brought with him a “resume’ of his course work and jobs etc. Fergus started at Queens University in 1902. He roomed with a Mrs Loque during the school sessions and went home to help on the farm in the summers. At one point the family sent for him to come home and he had to put his studies on hold since Charles was ill and needed help on the farm. He was able to return to college at a later point and finished his internship in 1907. He was the first intern at the Hotel Dieu Hospital and did a fine job there so that all the doctors on staff were impressed enough to give him responsibilities across the board so that he was able to learn about every aspect of medicine of that day. In looking at my Uncle Fergs book, “because you asked for it” which is a family history – it appears that there are letters from Grandfather to his parents that someone has in the family from all those years when he was away from home. I hope they will take them and transcribe them. What a wonderful gift it would be to have those to read.
Anyway, Fergus and Frances Keating were married on Sept 3, 1907 and moved to Gananoque Ontario where he opened his practice. Frances had been a teacher so when she started having children she did a lot of what would be called home schooling. My mother being the eldest child was left handed and Frances taught her to do everything with both hands so she would never be at a disadvantage. My mom was ready to enter grade 1 when she was 4 years old and did. I don’t know if the other followed suit but my mom graduated from High School at age 16 and went straight into college. Pretty good for the 1920’s.
Ferg and Frank, as Frances was called, had a good life in Gananoque, Ferg became Mayor in 1916 and was the first Catholic elected official. When the day came for the Orangeman’s day parade his Catholic friends suggested that he not lead the parade, he told them that when he was mayor religious affiliation did not exist. As the mayor it was his job to lead the parade and he did. That was a first in that area.
In 1918 they decided to move to Kingston as their children were getting older and he wanted them all to be able to attend University if they wanted without going through the issues he faced each year of finances, renting rooms etc. So they purchased 193 Earl Street several blocks from the University and two blocks from the Cathedral and a short walk to the Notre Dame Convent. Ferg was able to join the staff of the Hotel Dieu Hospital and build a practice as an obstetrician in Kingston and surrounding areas. My mom remembers going out on his rounds with him as he visited various families. They would chat the whole time and she learned a great deal as they went around. Eventually he was delivering about 1/3 of the babies in the Kingston area according to my Uncle who was a Pediatrician.
Fergus was active in the community in many ways and looked up to by many. Recently I heard from a letter my uncle Maurice wrote to his girlfriend Jean who later became his wife about what happened when my parents wanted to get married. The Bishop summoned my grandfather and told him that he had to stop the marriage of his daughter Norah to that son of a protestant minister. That is was not a good thing to have happen. My Grandfather did not back down in his belief that this was a good marriage and that his daughter was set on raising the children catholic so that would be no issue. And if the bishop would not allow the marriage then they would just get married somewhere else and my grandfather probably also told him his support would no longer be there or some such thing. After much going around over the weeks the Bishop sort of gave in. My parents could be married but only in the chapel, early in the morning and there would be no flowers or music. I am so proud that my grandfather stood up to this man who felt his authority gave him such rights. That is good role modeling that I believe we all received from my mom’s family as we grew up and has been passed on to the next generations – acceptance of all no matter what their flaws and doing the right thing.
So, that is probably too many words but this was a wonderful man who gave his children wonderful opportunities and his grandchildren much love.
Picture of Ferg Sr, with his sons Maurice and Fergus, and his friend Joe Bevins. Picture of Ferg on his front porch, picture of article when he received a medal from the Pope.