Splitting her residencies between West Palm Beach and Rochester, Marilyn Hoffman O’Connor never thought she would one day find herself a retired woman, having worked most of her life as a local judge all the while a single mother of four children.
“I started out in a time when women were school teachers or nurses,” recollects O’Connor of a time not so distant. O’Conner explained her transition into the working world and thereafter in the maternity realm.
For O’Connor, the decision to delve into continuing education was a profound process. She turned within before settling on law as a potential vocation.
“If I could be anything in the world without worrying about the obstacles, what would I be?” she asked herself. “The answer in my head was law. I don’t know why.”
O’Connor was content to sit with her answer and consequently returned to teaching. After a year, she went back to the same question… only to find the same answer. “I took a non-traditional path,” states O’Connor. “We don’t
have to follow any limits we put on ourselves. I took the limits away. People always say ‘you can’t have it all’ and I ask, ‘why not?”
Putting one foot in front of the other, O’Connor started taking the necessary steps enrolling in the New York State School of Law at the University at Buffalo. Upon completing her studies, she was hired as a public defender and then a law clerk, soon running for Monroe County Family Court Judge.
Even after her time as a Public Defender, she found the people she advocated in court still remembered her. “They never forgot me,” remembers O’Connor fondly. “It was a very rewarding experience.”
As the people in the area will never forget the commendable and tireless way she fought for them, so will world the world indefinitely remember O’Connor as being the first woman to ban a couple from procreating in 2004. Facing one of the greatest challenges of a lifetime, she decided that after one couple was unable, in more than one capacity, to care for their four children, (three of them testing positive for cocaine as newborns) they should no longer able to bear any more offspring. This came to a surprise to everyone, including Bill O’Reilly, who publicly sided with the judge’s decision.
A prominent and highly revered figure in the community, O’Connor never neglected to make motherhood her first priority. “It was hard, but being a woman or a parent, single or not, it’s hard,” she says.
“Life is not easy. You’re going to be disappointed if you’re looking for it to be easy. You need to be optimistic and look forward. You wait for the magic to happen, which comes in strange and magical ways.”
As previously mentioned, O’Connor is a mother to four remarkable individuals: Jill, Gordon, Philip and Emily, respectively.
Jill Hoffman DelVecchio lives in the Rochester area, has three children and is described as “a true joy,” according to O’Connor. “She is a fun, amazing person.” Gordy Hoffman, a successful screenwriter, currently resides in Los Angeles, California. Of Gordy, his mother proudly states, “Gordy is fun, creative, smart and the all the children love to be around him.” Phillip (perhaps you recognize him by the moniker ‘Philip Seymour Hoffman’) lives in New York City and is an Academy Award winning actor, as well as a distinguished director, producer and father to three children. Living in Denver, Colorado, Emily Hoffman Barr is a nurse practitioner who specializes in treating women and children who have been diagnosed with AIDS in South Africa.
When probed on her secret for successful parenting, O’Connor says, “just to love them. They can’t know it because you put breakfast on the table or wash and dry their clothes. You need to look them in the eye and tell them. They will behave and do the right thing, make mistakes and fall, but they’ll get back up again. I made a million mistakes but my children always knew I loved them.”
Even though her children are scattered throughout the country, everyone manages to stay in close touch. “ I can travel and get around. There’s so much new technology. We get together when we can. We don’t talk on a daily basis, but we communicate in different ways. We stay connected, but it’s not ritual or habitual.”
While all of her children chose different career paths, she made sure that they were able to decide for themselves. “I never told them that they can’t,” she said. “I never limited them and never said it’s not the right choice.”
“She always wanted us to follow those things that we were passionate about, whatever they were,” says Jill. “We knew she would support our choices.”
When sons Gordy and Philip initially aspired to make their mark in the entertainment industry, not once did O’Connor discourage them. Rather, she cheered them on… “I was not supposed to tell them odds are against them, so don’t do it,” she explains.
O’Connor briefly describes how her daughter Emily has three children and wanted to adopt two more. Though initially, a hesitant O’Connor weighed out her pros and cons to her daughter, but did not tell her the right answer. “Their family has grown and it is amazing now. They made the right decision for themselves,” gushes O’Connor
Of his mother, Love Liza screenwriter Gordy Hoffman says, “She’s always made it clear through her actions that we must pursue what makes us happy and always show up for life; Don’t say ‘no’ to what life brings.”
“When I was a little girl I wanted to play t-ball and back then it was a very big deal to be a girl on a t-ball team,” remembers Jill. “I was the only one in the whole league. My mom not only advocated for me to play t-ball but she decided to also coach the team. I can honestly say I would not be working in the field of HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention if it weren’t for her influence. She encouraged me to travel and experience other cultures when I was a student and that changed how I saw the world. I wouldn’t be the full time working mother I am today with five children, including two adopted from Ethiopia, without having my mom as a role model.”
O’ Connor went on to recollect her son Phillip as a prominent athlete at Fairport High School. He was seriously injured during his sophomore year and was told it wasn’t safe to play anymore. “His whole identity was gone,” says O’Connor. “So, he ended up acting in the school play. He played Corporal Radar O’Reilly in the play M*A*S*H. After his first night, he made a comment to me… ‘Out of all the home runs I hit, touch downs I’ve made and bases I stole, it never added up to the moment on that stage.’”
Philip says his mother impacted him “by encouraging me to play sports and also to not only be a patron of the arts, but to create it myself. I learned that you could be all things and that you should and never restrict who you are or what you’d like to do.”
When Hoffman won the Academy Award for ‘Best Actor in a Leading Rold,’ for playing the title character in Capote (2005), he honored his mother in his speech that was selected among one of the 100 Greatest Oscar moments. “It was pretty neat,” recalls O’Connor. “I was there in the audience and when I realized, I got nervous. I could see him shaking and he had a quivery voice. I looked at him and thought ‘That’s enough! Stop talking about me!’ I knew he was going to break down, but he finished and it was quite beautiful. I wasn’t seated next to Phil, so he gave Meryl Streep a kiss to give to me because he couldn’t reach me. She said, ‘I feel like I’m the real mother,’ and I said, ‘No you’re the friend.’”
O’Connor explains that during her son’s teary-eyed acceptance speech, he told the audience to congratulate her. During the after party, an obedient George Clooney went up to her, congratulated her and kissed her on the cheek. “It was a surreal time and moment; they’re people just like us” says O’Connor.
Now that O’Connor is retired, she is making it a point to not fill any of her time. “I want to see what happens and see what is out there,” she said. “I truly believe things happen to you for a reason, but you need to be open to it.”
Besides being an avid reader and stellar grandmother, she remains a civil rights activist, participating in judicial groups involving women and children.
“My mother has always had a passion for those who are marginalized,” says Emily. “She has always stood up and spoke for those who have no voice. She was a strong supporter of civil rights and equal rights for women during our childhood and has moved towards advocating for human rights, the rights of parents and children whom have been treated unfairly, and the rights of the GLBTQ community.”
“I always like talking politics and social issues with my mother because it is so clearly a passion of hers and she inspired me to care and that it was important to have different points of view,” says Philip. “And that it could be satisfying and maybe even fun to fight for what you believe.”
“I always enjoy asking my mother for advice on how to handle professional confrontations,” states Gordy. “She has plenty of experience in bringing up tough subjects with people, so I look for her input on these types of situations.”
“My mom always loves holidays and family gatherings,” says Jill. “She is the consummate ‘party animal,’ actually. I enjoy seeing her at these events soaking in everyone she loves. Having her family around makes her so happy.”
She has not only touched the lives of her children and grandchildren, but the lives of many throughout Rochester. For that, we will proudly join in following Philip Seymour Hoffman’s request to congratulate her.