ROBERT A. O'HARA
A handful of old campaign ribbons, a ticket - No.
1 - to the first Ravalli County Fair of 1895, a picture of Robert O'Hara as
a young man, a frayed volume of the Missoulan Souvenir Edition of 1899 -
These mementos were saved from oblivion and are all the Historical Society
received from the effects of one of Hamilton's first families. One other memento
- a framed certificate issued to O'Hara and certifying him as a practicing
member of the Minnesota bar - was bought at auction by Henry Grant.
These items were among historic mementos that were
displayed at the meeting of the Bitter Root Valley Historical Society Monday
evening in Corvallis. They point up a problem the Historical Society has in
the county - the old families pass from the scene and toss away or burn or
sell at auction articles that would be of historic interest. The Society's
archivist, Lena Bell, commented that undoubtedly the O'Hara family had many
pictures of early day Hamilton and documents pertaining to the legal scene
over many years.
The problem of losing such historical items is
compounded, of course, by the fact that Hamilton has no museum in which to
keep articles and documents of value. The Society is hopeful that a museum
will be developed in the future.
Bessie K. Monroe, who knew Robert O'Hara well for
many years during her work as a journalist in Hamilton, recounted the life
of Hamilton's first mayor in the following words:
Who was Robert A. O'Hara? Answering that query
in the way it deserved would mean telling the story of a life lived to the
fullest in a little more than 87 years, a life of public service, of home-keeping
with a beloved wife and children; of untold frustrations, perhaps but always
a life of effort and of action.
Known throughout his long life in Hamilton as "Bob"
O'Hara, this man of Irish parentage had a learning so profound as to humanity
and its ways and needs, that he wove into his study of law, his chosen profession.
I was told by members of his family, this: "Father read law but was never
a law school student; he mastered an education and became a member of the
legal profession the hard way."
My own observation of this man and his life in
Hamilton, as I knew him in more than 30 years of my own public work in Hamilton,
"Bob" O'Hara had a genius for connecting enlightenment with the grass roots.
He was never one to get his feet off the ground. He had an interest in his
community always and why not? Hadn't he helped Jim Hamilton plat the town
in 1890, and acting as land agents for the town's founder, Marcus Daly, hadn't
the two sold lots to the first men to start businesses in the brand new town?
O'Hara told me his sister, Anna, came here from
their Minnesota home as the first teacher in a one-room school that was located
about where the Roberts Book Store was later to hold forth.
Talking about his early law practice, O'Hara recalled,
"I had a case in Darby justice court and Bill Solleder beat me." Solleder
had a little law office on Darby's Main Street between a store and a saloon;
but he was never a qualified attorney; he just got by somehow and in after
years was justice of the peace for Edwards (Darby).
R.A. O'Hara was considered the best criminal lawyer
in Ravalli county and in the 1920 decade when J.D. Taylor served as county
attorney, the two became almost feudal as competitors in district court. At
one early century court session, names were called and it was said a fist
action started, the judge intervened and both were cited for contempt. They
were two able attorneys, two number-one citizens. Taylor tired of state counsel
work later and he, too, became a defense lawyer. Their quips as court lawyers
were always interesting, barbs that sharp minds knew when to thrust.
Business was an aside from O'Hara's lifetime profession.
He was one of the founders of the Citizens State Bank. In the 1930 depression
years, when some banks in the county folded, the Ravalli County Bank and the
Citizens Bank were likewise feeling a money-pinch and when a member of the
Ravalli bank staff told me there might be a consolidation of the two banks,
he told me, "You go and see Bob O'Hara about it." I went. What a scoop! I
thought. My scoop died aborning. When I put the question, this was the answer
I got. I give it to you as an O'Hara Classic, enlightenment tied firmly to
grass roots philosophy. In less than a dozen words it came. "Hell, Bessie,
you can't put two bad eggs together and make one good one."
I think retirement was most hard for O'Hara. I
would meet him strolling around town instead of sitting in his Main Street
office and once he said, "Most of my friends are across the river now." and
he waved his hand to the west.
Robert A. O'Hara fell in love with a young woman
soon after his Hamilton life began. Her name was Mary Frances Hughes and when
she finished her education, they were married. A small home was built and
rooms added in years as a family of three daughters came. Eventually, the
home became the large residence we still know as a landmark, on South Fourth
Street. The daughters were Mary Frances, Geraldine, and Roberta. Geraldine
became a graduate in law and joined her father in practice through 20 years
One interesting community interest for O'Hara is
the years of Chautaqua. He would give financial backing for this annual event
of late summer. Sometimes there was a deficit for the sponsors to meet.
Irish tradition for a devout Catholic was akin
to birthright. R.A. O'Hara had a brother, Edwin who became a bishop in the
church and "Father Ed" as they affectionately called him, often visited the
family. Mrs. O'Hara became a member at her marriage to the young town-planner
and fledgling attorney. They shared about a half century of life together
before her passing. The day of her last rites, I sat with Mr. O'Hara in their
home for the hour of the funeral Mass in the church; then we joined his family
members for the ride to Riverview; he had talked tenderly of "Frankie" in
that lonely hour. She was a home-maker always and a community member of worth.
Robert O'Hara died at age 87, December 18, 1954
and his nephew, a young priest of the same name, Robert O'Hara said the last
Mass. Bishop O'Hara, the brother, was kept away because of a commitment to
give a TV address in another state at the time. By strange coincidence, I
was visiting my son George's home at Chino, California, and I chanced to turn
on the television set, a very new deal for me then. There was Bishop O'Hara,
their beloved "Father Ed" addressing the nation on some humanitarian subject.
His face was sad, his words wonderful, coming from a heart that must have
longed to be in Hamilton that very hour.
This is the story of the Robert O'Hara I knew;
my father's friend of earlier years and mine as a news woman and associate
in public work. He was self-learned in law and life-learned as to humanity,
a good citizen.
B.K. Monroe, The Western News, March 26,1975
Note: when Robert O'Hara waved his hand to the west, indicating where his
friends were, that's the location of Riverview cemetery.