An Appreciation: Jim O’Neil

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Jim O’Neil

Kyle Anderson’s last memory of his Clark Road neighbor Jim O’Neil was, typically, of a small act of kindness. On November 9, “he rolled the recycling and trash bins from the street to the garage of a neighbor who lives alone.”

Mr. O’Neil, 81, who died unexpectedly on November 10, “was a special man with a special place in Bedford history,” Anderson declared. “He cared deeply for his family, neighbors, and the Town of Bedford.”

Other friends, neighbors, and government leaders agreed.

Former Selectman Joe Piantedosi reflected on Mr. O’Neil’s role in the successful grass-roots campaign to extend the sewer system to the West Bedford neighborhood more than 40 years ago.

“He was one of the original members of the board of directors of the West Bedford Community Association, and he helped strategize our efforts at town meeting along with a long list of things we did,” Piantedosi said. “He certainly was a big contributor to the group’s success.” The neighborhood organization was a powerhouse with some 500 members.

“We had homes in really dire straits,” Piantedosi said of failing on-site disposal systems. He recalled neighborhood meetings after town meeting rejected the initial proposed bonded project.

The board, Piantedosi recounted, worked with state and federal agencies not only to identify funding options but also to allow emergency hookups. And after the campaign succeeded with town meeting approval, “we helped other parts of town” achieve the same goal, he said.

Mr. O’Neil, Piantedosi said, “was a very colorful member of the group. He was never afraid to speak his mind on anything.”

School Committee member Ann Guay was another town official who was part of Mr. ONeil’s neighborhood. Indeed, they lived next door to each other on Clark Road for a time, in the home where her husband Marty grew up.

Mr. O’Neil “genuinely cared about the town,” she said, and his example was to “do it by your bootstraps, get involved, let’s see if we can make this better. Here is a man whose children have been out of school for years, and he still has been but he has been such a supporter of the Bedford schools. He always asked the right questions and he was willing to do the work.”

She pointed out that Mr. O’Neil was a member of the most recent school building needs committee that scrutinized the high school and middle school. “At the end of the day he really loved Bedford. He wanted to influence how town business is conducted, and he did.”

“When he committed to an issue, he was all in. He really studied the issue and he had good information,” Guay continued. “Even if you didn’t agree with his position, you appreciated the diligence.”

Mr. O’Neil was a regular attendee at town meeting and a frequent speaker, “strongly expressing his well-researched views,” commented former Moderator Betsey Anderson (no relation to Kyle).

“He always added something to the debate,” she said, adding, “He was also a friend and would always have a warm greeting—at BHS concerts, around the community and at the Tufts Osher Life Long Learning program, where we both attended a class on Great Decisions.”

Mr. O’Neil’s focus on the intricacies of Bedford’s sign bylaw—its strengths and weaknesses—was legendary. He was a member of a sign bylaw advisory panel from 1991 to 1996 and was an independent advocate for certain provisions for years afterward.

“I remember working with him on at least one sign bylaw committee, where we were trying to curtail the overuse of signage in the town,” Piantedosi said. “He was a real stickler.”

Guay added, “He was very interested in signs and in maintaining the charm of Bedford. He thought it was really important that there be rules. Most people aren’t going to be on a sign committee. He just kept showing up.”

As a 12-year member of the Capital Expenditure Committee, beginning in 2005, “Jim was particularly interested in the decisions made by the town as we expanded or renovated our capital assets,” Anderson said.

“I so appreciated his willingness to pick up the phone and let me know what he thought about a particular issue,” Guay said.

Kyle Anderson, a professional tennis coach, said Mr. O’Neil was “both quick-witted and intelligent. Everyone who knew him will surely miss his sense of humor. Whether the present company was 85 or 15, Jim was able to bridge the age gap with a smile. And while he often had something funny to say,”

“Jim was also an excellent listener,” Anderson continued. “I realized this as our conversations evolved over the years. As neighbors, we will also miss his sense of community and caring.”

Betsey Anderson commented, “I am saddened at his death and he will be greatly missed in the life of our beloved Bedford.”

Mike Rosenberg can be reached at mike@thebedfordcitizen.org, or 781-983-1763
Click this link to learn more about The Bedford Citizen’s first community reporter.



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