George O’Leary, an outspoken Irish immigrant and award-winning RV park industry pioneer who became nationally known for his service and support for both Arizona ARVC and National ARVC, died peacefully in his sleep on Monday (Sept. 25). He was 92.
O’Leary initially became known as the developer and operator of the two Rincon Country RV Resorts in Tucson, which he operated for several decades before selling the parks to Summit Real Estate in 2022.
During his nearly half-century in the RV park business, O’Leary won just about every award there was to win. But during his later years, he won praise for his philanthropy, including a $1 million endowment in late 2021 to pay for annual scholarships for current and aspiring park operators to attend ARVC’s School of RV Park and Campground Management, which was renamed in O’Leary’s honor.
Widely considered to be an Irish immigrant success story, O’Leary was only 25 when he departed Ireland by boat to build a new life for himself in North America.
O’Leary immigrated to the U.S. from his hometown of Nenagh, in County Tipperary, Ireland, in 1957, after briefly working as a heavy equipment operator for the Lorado Uranium Mine on the north shore Lake Athabasca, near Canada’s Northwest Territories.
After obtaining U.S. citizenship, O’Leary settled in St. Paul, Minnesota. He worked hard, and within a year was living the “American Dream,” having earned enough money in construction jobs to buy his own backhoe and launch his own construction business. He relocated to Tucson in 1970 and developed the Rincon Country Mobile Home Park before building Rincon Country East RV Resort, with 460 sites, in 1979, and Rincon Country West RV Resort, with 1,100 sites, in 1983.
O’Leary served on the boards of both Arizona ARVC and National ARVC and won the industry’s highest awards at both the state and national levels. These include the Stan Martin Memorial Award, which O’Leary received from National ARVC in 2008, and the Jack Denton Memorial Award in 2014, the highest award presented by Arizona ARVC.
O’Leary’s two Rincon Country RV Resorts won National ARVC’s Park of the Year Awards in the Mega and Large Park categories in 2018. It was the first time the same person had won ARVC’s Park of the Year Awards in two different park size categories in the same year.
While O’Leary is widely acclaimed for his $1 million endowment for the School of RV Park and Campground Management, O’Leary also made a significant impact outside the RV park business by making major donations to children’s hospitals and food banks.
In 2022, O’Leary made sizable donations to St. Jude’s Children’s Advanced Research Center in Memphis, Tenn., and to Shriner’s Hospital for Children in Pasadena, Calif., in honor of his first son, Seán, who died of cancer at the age of five in June 1964.
“It’s been nearly 60 years since my son’s passing, but I still think about him and still feel the pain of losing him when his life was just beginning,” O’Leary said during an interview last year.
O’Leary wrote about Seán’s death in his recently self-published family history and business biography, The O’Leary’s of Beechwood, which he presented during Arizona ARVC’s Convention in June at WeKoPa Resort in Ft. McDowell.
“For 30 years after his passing, I couldn’t even talk about Seán without tears welling up in my eyes,” O’Leary said. “It has only been during the past 10 or 15 years that I began to talk about him without tears.”
By making significant donations to St. Jude and Shiners Hospital, O’Leary hoped to help other children and honor Seán’s memory at the same time. St. Jude planned to name two laboratories in Seán’s honor at St. Jude’s Advanced Research Laboratory in Memphis. Shiners Hospital, for its part, planned to name a pre-operating patient room in Seán’s honor at the Shiners Hospital in Pasadena.
In addition to supporting St. Jude and Shriners, O’Leary made sizable donations to Tucson Medical Center and to Rancho Mirage, Calif.-based IMAHelps, which organizes medical humanitarian missions to some of the poorest communities in Central and South America. O’Leary learned about the group through his work with Jeff Crider, an IMAHelps volunteer and longtime campground industry writer and publicist who helped him edit and prepare The O’Learys of Beechwood for publication.
O’Leary also made significant donations to food banks in Mississippi and Arizona. Recipients included Sacred Heart Southern Missions of Walls, Miss., which provides food for nearly 30,000 hungry people a year across five counties in northwest Mississippi. The funding enabled Sacred Heart Southern Missions to complete an administrative and distribution building, including the addition of two walk-in freezers, tripling its cold storage capacity. The new freezers will not only allow Sacred Heart to store more food but also healthy produce, dairy products and frozen meats.
O’Leary was also a longtime supporter of the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona in Tucson. In 1997, on the 150th anniversary of the worst year of the Irish Famine, O’Leary challenged guests at his two Rincon Country RV Resorts to donate money to the Community Food Bank, which he pledged to match on an ongoing basis. O’Leary and his guests raised over $300,000 to provide food for hungry people in Tucson over a 20-plus-year period.
Many of O’Leary’s philanthropic efforts are documented in The O’Learys of Beechwood, which is both a business biography and family history. In addition to providing details of O’Leary’s early years in Ireland, his decision to immigrate to the U.S. and his subsequent success in the RV park business, the book carefully documents the key roles that several of O’Leary’s ancestors have played in the history of Ireland.
The book traces O’Leary’s family history to the Battle of Kinsale in 1601, when the first known O’Learys migrated from Millstreet in County Cork to the Beechwood area of County Tipperary, near Nenagh, where members of the O’Leary family have resided for nearly 300 years. O’Leary maintained a home in County Tipperary, near the city of Nenagh, on land that had been in his family’s possession since the 1760s.
While The O’Learys of Beechwood is an autobiography that documents O’Leary’s personal grit and determination to become a successful RV park operator, O’Leary also acknowledged in his book that his successes came at a high personal cost as a result of his workaholism, a problem that afflicts many private park operators.
“Many people like me will repeat what I have done during the last 50 years. My advice is, don’t let it start,” O’Leary writes. “Workaholism can take over your life before you know it. It’s almost as bad as becoming an alcoholic. Don’t let it happen to you. Put your family first. If you think you need help, get it before it damages your health and your relationships.”
The O’Learys of Beechwood can be ordered by emailing Wendy Bykofsky at firstname.lastname@example.org. Proceeds from book sales are donated to the Community Food Bank of Southern Arizona. O’Leary’s remains will be interred at a cemetery in St. Paul, Minn.