The middle daughter of Houston business icon George R. Brown, O'Connor was born into fortune. Her father's construction company, Brown & Root Inc., would become the fourth-largest in the world, making him one of the wealthiest men in the U.S. The company was later purchased by Halliburton and is now KBR Inc.
But Brown, who grew up in poverty in rural Texas, never forgot his roots, impressing upon his three daughters the necessity of giving back. It was a lesson O'Connor took to heart.
She gave philanthropically throughout her life. At 51, she decided to return to school, going on to obtain a doctorate in social work. She set up shop in one of Houston's toughest juvenile detention centers and left a deep footprint on practically every organization in the city that works with poor children. As past president of the Brown Foundation, founded by her father and uncle, she helped award $1.2 billion in grants, with 80 percent of them going to projects in Texas.
"There isn't a place to go to in this city where you can get help that she didn't help nurture," said Angela Blanchard, president and CEO of Neighborhood Centers Inc.
But O'Connor was a private person, not inclined to discuss her prominent stature, rarely giving interviews and preferring to make anonymous donations. Gretchen Walter knew her simply as "Maconda the Therapist" while the two worked in the detention center. Even after she began as O'Connor's personal assistant, her boss never let on about her influential ties. She was as comfortable in the detention center as playing bridge in a River Oaks mansion.more » « less