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CBOE founder Edmund O’Connor dies at 85

Updated: September 24, 2012 6:25AM

Edmund O’Connor was a proud soybean trader in the pits of the Chicago Board of Trade, where tradition once took precedence over innovation.

But innovate is what Mr. O’Connor did, launching three family-run companies that provided the schooling for many traders who went on to their own fortunes. Once he ascended to leadership at the Board of Trade, O’Connor embraced a new but untested kind of financial product called stock options.

He rallied others around the idea for an exchange to trade the options, at one point scrawling the plan on a restaurant napkin to win over skeptics. The idea became the Chicago Board Options Exchange, of which Mr. O’Connor was a founder and an early vice chairman. He also was vice chairman at the Board of Trade.

William Brodsky, chairman of the CBOE, said Mr. O’Connor took on a lot of naysayers. But Mr. O’Connor saw the CBOE grow from a tiny operation in the Board of Trade’s old “smoking room” to the largest exchange of its kind, where some 4.5 million contracts a day are traded.

“At the Board of Trade in the late 1960s, he used all his political capital because he believed so deeply in what turned out to be the CBOE,” Brodsky said.

Mr. O’Connor, a Lake Forest resident, died early Monday at Lake Forest Hospital. He was 85.

Son Marty O’Connor said his father graduated from St. Ignatius High School and earned undergraduate and law degrees from DePaul University. But Mr. O’Connor realized he “hated being a lawyer” and gravitated to trading, his son said.

Mr. O’Connor grew up on the West Side and served in the Marines in World War II. He bought his first membership at the Board of Trade in 1952, standing in the same octagonal pit day after day, and quickly gained a reputation for savvy and trustworthiness.

Marty O’Connor also said his father was a devoted family man throughout his life, glorying in the accomplishments of three sons and two daughters. All the sons followed him into trading careers, he said.

With his late brother William O’Connor founded three trading firms dealing in futures or options, and sold all of them to big banks.

The last of them, O’Connor & Co., is now ABN Amro Clearing. Its non-executive chairman, William Floersch, recalled Mr. O’Connor as “brilliant intellectually and in business and willing to take a measured risk.” He added that there are “tens of thousands of people who owe their careers to Eddie.”

Edward Joyce, president of the CBOE who knew Mr. O’Connor from the exchange’s formative years, said, “Eddie O’Connor represented the kind of raw, indomitable spirit that in the 1960s and 1970s pervaded the Chicago financial community, which had always fought the reputation of being No. 2. ”

Mr. O’Connor was preceded in death by his wife, Patricia. Survivors, in addition to son Marty, are sons Dan and Matthew, daughters Chris Lane and Patti Mergener and 10 grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 3 p.m. to 9 p.m. Friday at Donnellan Family Funeral Home, 10045 Skokie Blvd. in Skokie. A funeral mass will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday at the Church of Saint Mary, 175 E. Illinois Road in Lake Forest.

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