A group of high school students thought they knew everything about their tough-as-nails bachelor teacher until they made a mind-boggling discovery that taught them a lesson in love and life.
Sometimes, we might be under the impression that we know everything about someone, but in reality, we don't have the slightest clue about them. Occasionally, the people who come off as strict might have the softest hearts.
We all have fond school memories, and many of those might include recurring flashbacks of stern teachers who had a no-nonsense policy and could never be messed with. But did we know everything about those teachers, or were we unaware of their secret side?
Jim O'Connor pictured while holding a baby at the hospital. | Source: facebook.com/ktla5
A TEACHER YOU CAN'T MESS WITH
Jim O'Connor taught algebra and calculus at St. Francis High School in La Cañada, California, a Catholic prep school for boys in suburban Los Angeles. He grew up in Brooklyn, New York, and became an engineer.
His career included three years in the U.S. Navy, during which time he served in Vietnam on the USS Enterprise. His stern demeanor and authoritative attitude blended well with his earnest approach to schooling 30-plus boys in the class. He told TODAY:
"If you have a class full of 32 teenage boys, you better have some discipline. If you don't have control of the class, you don't have a learning environment.”
Jim O'Connor. | Source: CBS Evening News
A STRICT LEARNING APPROACH
The St. Francis students were well aware that they couldn't stir up trouble in O'Connor's presence. Whenever the Vietnam vet walked into the class sporting his military-style haircut and commanding pair of eyes, his brisk tone was enough to put the students in line.
Meanwhile, the then-70-year-old O'Connor revealed he had no intentions of sharing his volunteering activity publicly but hoped it would serve as a catalyst and inspire his students.
As was evident, O'Connor didn't have a fun approach to learning, or at least, that was the impression he gave to his pupils. "It drives me crazy when people say school should be fun. I mean, it's nice if it could be, but you can't make school fun," admitted O'Connor.
Jim O'Connor pictured while teaching his class. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Evening News
A SHOCKING DISCOVERY
For years, the kids thought they knew everything about their strict math teacher — he had no family, never married, and had no children of his own. With his strong army background and over 38 years of teaching experience, O'Connor sometimes came off as a drudge.
But that changed when Pat McGoldrick, a senior at St. Francis, made an unexpected discovery in November 2013. The boy was in charge of a student blood drive and had just come to Children's Hospital Los Angeles for a meeting.
McGoldrick described he had a weird experience at the hospital; whenever he introduced himself as a St. Francis pupil, everyone at the hospital reacted with, "Oh, you must know Jim O'Connor. Isn't he wonderful?"
Jim O'Connor pictured holding a baby. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Evening News
MORE MIND-BOGGLING DETAILS
The boy recalled feeling utterly shocked and at a loss for words. Were the hospital staff referring to O'Connor, or did they mistake him for someone else? The confusion was real, and McGoldrick couldn't believe his stern teacher had a softer side. He recounted:
"It was disbelief, really. It was almost, like, kind of finding this alter ego that he has."
Then, out of sheer curiosity, McGoldrick toured the blood donor center and saw a plaque listing all the top blood donors at the hospital. Amongst the record-holders was a name he was all too familiar with — Jim O'Connor.
Jim O'Connor pictured cuddling a baby. | Source: youtube.com/CBS Evening News
O'CONNOR'S SECRET SIDE
But there was still more that he didn't know about his strict math teacher. On evenings and during weekends, O'Connor had an unusual moniker and a secret side none of his students knew about.
He remained busy cuddling sick babies when he wasn't teaching algebra and calculus. Three days a week for more than 20 years, O'Connor showed up at the hospital as a volunteer, steeping in when parents couldn't hold, feed, cuddle and calm their babies.
O'Connor's contributions as a TLC volunteer at CHLA were invaluable, and McGoldrick explained that his tough-looking math teacher was a celebrity at the hospital. Sherry Nolan, the clinical manager of the medical unit at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, shared:
“He [O'Connor] holds them, feeds them, walks around with them, gets to know them and he can always coax a smile out of them. They just stare at him adoringly and he can really just get the crabbiest baby to calm down. It's amazing… He's just a natural-born cuddler.”
THE FAMOUS "BABY CUDDLER"
When a CBS News video featuring O'Connor and his remarkable second job went viral, it garnered national attention and also warmed the hearts of his St. Francis pupils.
The students were amazed after learning that their stern math teacher had a big heart that felt and cared for babies deprived of parental love and attention. They were dumbfounded when they learned O'Connor's monikers, "baby cuddler" and "baby whisperer."
A TRULY SELFLESS MAN
Meanwhile, the then-70-year-old O'Connor revealed he had no intentions of sharing his volunteering activity publicly but hoped it would serve as a catalyst and inspire his students. His journey began when a friend asked him to participate in a blood drive.
With the rare Type O negative blood, he returned to give blood and had donated more than 72 gallons by 2014. He came across volunteers helping sick babies during his visits, so he decided to do the same. He revealed:
"I don't want to see them [the children] alone. You can't do that."
THE STRICT TEACHER WITH A BIG HEART
McGoldrick, who always knew about his teacher's authoritative side, had nothing but words of appreciation for O'Connor. He mentioned:
"I've always respected him, but now it's to an even different degree -- really to the point where I try to emulate him. He's the epitome of a man of service."
What do you think about this heartwarming story? Have you ever had a teacher who appeared tough on the surface like O'Connor but had a secret, tender side? Don't forget to share this incredibly heart-touching story with your loved ones.