July 12, 2016 - 4:38 PM
KELOWNA - Local media lost one of their own Friday with the death of Sean Connor.
The Capital News photographer, 59, died Friday from complications of clival chordoma, a type of brain tumour.
A veteran war zone photographer, Sean leaves behind his wife Sandra and son David.
“He was in his glory,” his wife Sandra recalls, of his stints in Bosnia and Somalia. “He was going through checkpoints and having guns pointed at him. Bombs were going off. He was so happy.”
While Sandra didn’t fully share his war zone enthusiasm, she says she didn’t event try to stand in the way.
“I had to let him go, it was what he wanted to do. He was a big supporter of the Canadian military," she says. "So I just helped him get all his equipment together.”
Just four years earlier, Sean had graduated from the photography program at the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology in Edmonton.
He turned his credential into freelancing gigs with the Canadian Armed Forces and both the Edmonton Sun and Edmonton Journal before signing on full time with the Sun.
An original Okanagan valley boy, Sean's stomping grounds spread from Lavington to Osoyoos, although Sandra says his heart has always been in Kelowna.
He met Sandra here in 1985 before moving to Edmonton in the fall of 1986 looking for work.
“I had just moved to Kelowna from California. I thought I hated Kelowna until I moved to Edmonton,” Sandra recalls. “I didn’t understand winter. I thought all the trees had died from the cold.”
She got over her wintershock long enough to find a great job in management while Sean retrained for a career in photography.
It was in Edmonton that Sean traded a car for his first Harley-Davidson motorbike.
“It was a 1948 panhead. He traded this beautiful Firebird for it. But it was just a bunch of boxes of parts. I said, you traded it for what? But he put it together himself.”
He rode that bike for nearly 20 years before upgrading to a 2004 Road King, Sandra says, keeping it in the same immaculate condition he kept his cameras and lenses.
The couple decided in 2005 to move back to Kelowna so they could be near Sandra’s large extended family. Their son David soon followed.
Sean was the only child of adoptive parents Gladys and Les Massey, now deceased, and Sandra says he was quite smitten with her many cousins, aunts and uncles.
With his impressive professional credits, it didn’t take Sean long to get picked up and he started working full-time for the Kelowna Capital News in 2006.
Besides his regular work, Sean quickly became known for his breath-taking shots of birds in and around the valley.
Life was unfolding as it should when in 2011, his complaints about persistent pain in his neck and shoulder became something more serious.
The diagnosis was clival chordoma, literally a one-in-a-million disease that causes tumours to grow in the delicate region around the top of the spine, near the brain stem.
Sean went under the knife within weeks, enduring not one but two brain surgeries followed quickly by three months photon radiation treatment in California.
“Right away, the fight was on,” Sandra says. “I had never heard of it, nor had Sean. He was Googling it, researching it. Overnight, everything changed.”
Bouts of drug therapy punctuated by countless MRI and CT scans dominated the couple's life for the last five years but he always stayed positive, Sandra says, even as the disease messed up his speech and played havoc with his memory.
Still determined to ride his beloved Harley, Sean struck a deal with Sandra only to ride on good days, when his head was clear. One of those days and one of his last rides, was in early June.
“It takes a lot to run one of those big bikes. But he still had good days and one day he called me from Beaverdell,” Sandra says. “I’m sure he heard the panic in my voice, but he said it was beautiful outside, there was no traffic and he was visiting with his buddy. What could I say?”
Sean made it home but it turned out to be one of his last rides before his already fragile health took a rapid turn for the worse. Sean died at home Friday, July 8 with his family by his side.
A celebration of life for Sean Connor will be held at 1 p.m. Monday, July 18 at Springfield Funeral Home, 2020 Springfield Road.
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