Taking time to remember Judge James O’Reilly

Historian Sara Lauzon with the portrait of Judge James O'Reilly on April 23, 2015. This was the 86th anniversary of his death. Click photo to enlarge. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

SD&G – Walking through an eerily silent county courthouse with its creaking floorboards, local historian Sara Lauzon stops to admire a portrait of Judge James Redmond O’Reilly.

For Lauzon, it’s about marking the 86th anniversary of his death on April 23, 1929 after the judge suddenly became ill on the bench and later died at the 22 Pitt Street courthouse, one room away.

O’Reilly suffered a severe asthma attack.

Speaking with Cornwall Newswatch in the meeting room behind the chambers, Lauzon explained why she comes every year to remember.

“He and I are connected by the same conflict of asthma. I’ve had asthma my whole life and that’s what ended up taking his life in this very room. I think it’s one thing to commemorate people but you’ve got to keep their memory alive. You have to keep reminding people that this happened,” Lauzon said.

She says it’s important to remember Judge O’Reilly because he’s the only judge to have died while on the job at the SD&G courthouse. “He died on the job. Most of the information I found he had distress from asthma but it was never anything big. He would go to work every day. It was a normal day to just go in and, all of a sudden, he has this asthmatic spasm and he’s having a coughing fit. They bring him back here so he can kind of relax. He ends up smoking a cigarette and that was the end of it.”

Judge O’Reilly was a lawyer in Kingston, Prescott and Toronto and became a SD&G judge in 1900, succeeding Judge Jacob Pringle.

Today (Thursday) also marked the three year anniversary for Lauzon’s crusade to give a face and recognition to a man from the legal community who had slipped through the cracks of history. A dedication for the portrait that now sits on an easel in the courthouse was held on this date (April 23) in 2012.

Historian Sara Lauzon takes a moment to admire the portrait of Judge James Redmond O'Reilly on April 23, 2015. It was 86 years ago on this day that Judge O'Reilly died after suffering an asthma attack. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)
Historian Sara Lauzon takes a moment to admire the portrait of Judge James Redmond O’Reilly on April 23, 2015. It was 86 years ago on this day that Judge O’Reilly died after suffering an asthma attack. (Cornwall Newswatch/Bill Kingston)

Lauzon says her first historical crusade, that started as an inquisitive teenager, has given her a valuable lesson for the work she does today.

“The number one thing that comes from that (research) is (when people tell me) ‘Oh, he doesn’t exist.’ or ‘Oh, you’re never going to find it.’ that pretty much (means) I have to find it at that point.” Lauzon says her tenacity paid off when ordering a file from Library and Archives Canada while researching a great uncle, who fought in World War II. She says the secretary dismissed her request as a file with “barely anything in it.” Lauzon ordered it anyway and it turned out to be one of the biggest files for a soldier.

“Just go. If someone says it doesn’t exist, just go anyway.”

You can read more about Sara Lauzon’s historical projects and the story of Judge James Redmond O’Reilly on her website.

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