By Ann Marie Shambaugh
He was born in Zimbabwe to Irish parents and grew up in England, but Paul O’Connor knew from a young age that someday he’d end up calling the United States home.
That dream officially came true for O’Connor Feb. 4 when he became an American citizen at U.S. courthouse in downtown Indianapolis. The general manager at the Renaissance Indianapolis North Hotel in Carmel, O’Connor joined more than 70 other people in taking the naturalization oath.
“It feels fantastic to be an American citizen,” O’Connor said. “I have spent about half of my life in this country. My wife and two children were all born and raised in America. I have been promising to do this for well over a decade now. I am glad that I finally made the transition!”
After the ceremony, O’Connor, his family and some friends celebrated in the most American way they could imagine: lunch at Bub’s Burgers complete with a cheeseburger, fries and a Coke.
O’Connor, 52, first visited the U.S. in 1988 when he worked as a camp counselor in Pennsylvania. His brother and sister had previously been to the U.S. through the same program, and O’Connor was eager for his turn to travel abroad.
After teaching soccer at the camp for eight weeks, O’Connor bought a Greyhound bus ticket and spent the next two months touring the country. He visited many of the American counselors he had met at the camp, sleeping overnight on the bus as it traveled across state lines. He ended up visiting 23 states before returning to the University of Surrey in the U.K. to finish a degree in hotel management.
After graduating from college, Hyatt International hired him to work at a hotel in San Francisco, the city where he met his wife, Jennifer. Next, his career took him to hotels in Buenos Aires, Guam, Saipan and Kuala Lumpur.
When the couple became pregnant with their first child, they decided to move back to the U.S. O’Connor began working for Winegardner & Hammons Inc., which manages a variety of well-known hotels, first in Lansing, Mich., and later in southeast Ohio. In 2008, he helped open the Renaissance Indianapolis North, and he has called Carmel home ever since.
“I know the Midwestern belt, and it’s been very, very kind to my wife and my children and myself,” O’Connor said. “To end up in Carmel is almost like a mecca. What a fabulous city to live in.”
The next step
Back in the U.S. for nearly two decades, O’Connor decided in 2015 it was time to take the next step and become a citizen.
“One of the things that made me really want to drive this forward is I’ve got two teenage kids, my wife is American, we’ve been married 22 years, and it’s really about time that I’ve acknowledged that this is where I live, this is where my kids are from, this is where my family is,” O’Connor said.
It took only approximately six months to go through the process, O’Connor said, which was much faster than he expected. He believes some of his Irish friends may follow in his footsteps now that he’s done it.
O’Connor said his wife and kids have been extremely supportive of his decision, as well as his extended family. His parents and sister still live in Liverpool, and his brothers are in San Francisco and Hong Kong.
With an international family and work and travel experience across the globe, O’Connor has enjoyed learning from and living in vastly different countries. He enjoyed the culture while working in Argentina and said living in Saipan was “spectacular.”
But after decades of world travel, there are two places that remain especially dear to his heart.
“I loved being from Liverpool,” he said, “but right now I love even more being from America.”
MEET PAUL O’CONNOR
Family: Wife, Jennifer, daughter, Molly, 17, and son, Danny, 16
Favorite local restaurant: Kona Grill
Favorite vacation spot: Any sunny beach
Type of car you drive: Volkswagen Passat
Favorite movie: The Cannonball Run
Favorite book: “The Perfectionist: Life and Death in Haute Cuisine”
Favorite pastime: Watching Molly and Danny on stage in show choir performances
Favorite thing about living in Carmel: “It has absolutely everything we need.”
Life motto: “‘Give the people what they want.’ This was the motto of the legendary Liverpool FC Coach Bill Shankly.”