A stately painting of William Ott Connor holds center stage in Judy and Tommy Neuhoff’s Armstrong Avenue dining room. The piece of property has been in Judy’s family since the town’s incorporation, when Connor, Judy’s great-grandfather, set his sights on Highland Park.
But there’s a cloud of confusion surrounding the exact role Connor played in the town’s early days.
Connor’s obituary in The Dallas Morning News cited him as the town’s first mayor, but Highland Park records indicate that W. A. Fraser preceded him, albeit briefly. Fraser served as leader of the town from December 1913 to April 1914.
But details about how Fraser obtained office are murky. The first recorded meeting of the mayor and aldermen was held at Fraser’s house on Dec. 22, 1913, but things quickly changed. Connor, who took office as mayor pro tem in January 1914, was elected into the mayor’s seat the following April.
Connor may not have been the first mayor, but he was the first person elected by the people to serve as mayor of Highland Park for an entire year.
And it’s a gene that seemed to run in the family. His brother, Winship C. Connor served as mayor of Dallas from 1887 to 1894, and his father, William J. Connor, was once the mayor of Corinth, Miss.
Although leadership was one of Connor’s passions, business was his forté. He passed away before Judy was born, but she has family mementos that give a glimpse into the personality of the prominent businessman.
One of these heirlooms is a collection of letters titled “Memoirs of Mrs. W. O. Connor.” The recollections were written by Judy’s great-grandmother, Lula Mays Connor, in 1942, and contain anecdotes about a warm, approachable man.
“Mr. Connor used to sit at his desk where all of his employees could speak to him,” Connor’s widow wrote. “He liked to know them all and talk with all of them. Everyone could speak to him at anytime.”
But it seems that he had personality and brains. His obituary touts the one-time treasurer of the State Fair of Texas as “one of the best known bankers and businessmen of the south.”
Connor served as a salesman for Sanger Brothers, a dry goods wholesale and retail firm, before being promoted to financial manager. He stayed with the company for 42 years before setting his sights on the banking business. In 1920, he became chairman of the board of Republic National Bank, a title he held until 10 days before his death.
Connor’s 1934 obituary said he died “after an illness of 10 days” on the property that the Neuhoffs still retain.
Although the exact details are muddled, Connor’s stint as mayor left a lasting legacy on the town. Connor Park, an oasis behind the property he purchased in 1913, bears his name. He may not hold the title of first mayor of Highland Park, but he was the people’s mayor.
Or as his widow wrote, he was “the right man in the job at the right time.”