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Jack O’Neil Narrative

Note: The following is transcription of a conversation I had with my father, Jack O’Neil, on the back porch of his apartment in Sewickley, PA, on Tuesday Morning, August 10, 2004.


I was born on December 26, 1926 above a tailor shop on the corner Idewild & Lang Avenues in the Homewood section of Pittsburgh, PA. My mother had gone to visit her friend Natalie Goldberg, who owned the shop with her husband Max, on Christmas Day to wish her a happy Hanukkah. My father said that I was “born in a cloud of steam and he has been in a fog ever since”. My full name is John Joseph Charles O’Neil. Everyone called me Jack except teachers and people I owed money to.

My father, Edward Joseph O’Neil, was educated through the third grade and was a machinist/ plumber/ all-around maintenance guy. My mother, Marcella Renagan O’Neil, was educated through the 8th grade and was employed as telephone operator on East Liberty Avenue before marriage.

As my father courted my mother, he and his friends would hang out and wait for all of the telephone operators to get off work. He’d do the “high pockets clog” while waiting.

When the flood hit Pittsburgh my father was working at Gimbel’s as a maintenance guy. They were evacuating and his boss told him to stay there and “take care of things”. We had to go to the police line at Grant Street and give a Red Cross worker a basket of food. They would row a boat to him and hoist it up. This went on for days. My father never got paid for staying. Gimbel’s said they wouldn’t pay him because the store was closed during the flood.

I went to Holy Rosary in Homewood all through elementary school. I attended Central Catholic for a while, then Westinghouse. It was a culture shock. It was a Protestant (i.e. public) school. We had to read the King James Version of the Bible every day. Lots of people think that Madalyn Murray O'Hair got the Bible of the schools. In fact, she got the Protestant Bible tossed out of the schools.


Later that year, in November 1944, I joined the Coast Guard.

I was a “hotel sailor” for 6 months in Atlantic City, learning radio, morse code, etc. I graduated as Radio Man, Third Class, Petty Officer. Went home for a couple days then shipped to San Francisco them they shipped me out on a troop transport on August 1, 1945 with several thousand U.S. Marines. We were headed for Pearl Harbor when Harry Truman—God bless Harry Truman—dropped the bomb. Then the second one. We went the Phillipines`and I stayed in Palawan on isolated duty for one and a half years. The original double duty. I came back a year & a half after the bomb. There was no fanfare.

I heard about the GI Bill, so I thought I’d go to college. I went to California State Teachers College in California, PA for one year then transferred to Duquesne, where I was finally able to get in. Lots of GIs dropped out after a while. I graduated in 1951 with a BA in Journalism.


Two days before I was to graduate, I met the young lady who was to become my wife. Jeanne Marie Malloy. I gave her a ring for Christmas, that sent her mother into a state of hysterics, and we were married August 9, 1952.

When I married your mother, her mother was hysterical. I made an appointment to meet her mother. I said, “Mrs. Malloy, I love your daughter, and I’m going to marry her.” She screamed. She said her daughter couldn’t handle a budget. She told me that she did not approve. She was horrified at the ring I gave Jeanne—the evidence of the threat of marriage. She let it be known that I was not welcome as a son-in-law in her family.

One day Jeanne told me that her mother wanted to know about my “family background”. We used to have a joke—the guys—about a girl running “a D&B”—a Dunn & Bradstreet check on you. Homewood was not a good place. She was from Mount Washington.

All I could remember, aside from my mother being a saint, was that she would always hear from these missionaries. She would put a dime in an envelope and send it to the Columbian Fathers. We kept getting mail to her, even after she died. My sister, Ursula, wrote back saying that she had died, don’t send any more mail. Next week she got the newsletter. The priest wrote about the woman—my mother—who had sacrificed so much and was a good woman. Ursula gave the newsletter to me, I gave it to Jeanne, and she gave it to her mother. Her mother approved.

Laurie Jean was born nine months and 2 weeks after the wedding and not a minute too soon. Followed by 6 boys in the next 14 years: Kevin James, Sean Patrick, Mark Thomas, Michael Charles, Patrick Brian, and Daniel Xavier. I always say, “I had six boys and a sister for each one of them”.

Jeanne and I were divorced in 1980.

On December 26, 1936 I had my first drink of alcohol. My dad gave him me a glass of wine after midnight mass. My sobriety date is September 12, 1972. In 1974 or so I went to group therapy at St. Francis Hospital in Lawrenceville/ Garfield. It was a group of alcoholic family members gathered to learn about the disease concept of AA. There, I met my wife Theo. In November of 1980, in Winchester, Virginia, Theo and I got a blood test, marriage license, and got married.

We were married in the Holy Roman Catholic Church on November 11, 1983, Armistace Day, or the day that the English and the Irish called a truce. There were no children born of this marriage. But we have lived happily ever after, to coin a phrase. She even dragged me kicking and screaming back to the Church. First the Episcopal, then the Catholic.

My Home Group is the Bright Eyes, Friday, 7AM at the Christy House in Sewickley. It is a discussion meeting. They read from the 24 hour a day group and it starts out the topic.  I also go to a Monday and a Wednesday meeting at the Christy House.


I had a career as a radio & television writer/ producer. I also worked in advertising, public relations, and was a freelance consultant to the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh starting in 1969.I did mail pieces, newspaper ads, direct mail. The Bishop’s Annual Appeal.

When I was dating Jeanne, I was a college graduate, and I was a stock boy at the A&P for $45 per week. That horrified her mother.

I quit my job at the A&P to take an opportunity in television. Wilken’s Jewelry had a couple TV shows Abby Neal (country music) and amateur TV show. I made only $42 a week.

WDTV Channel 3 was the only TV station in the city, so she thought it was a limited opportunity.

Then I worked at Smith Taylor & Jenkins, the ad firm for Iron City Beer. I had to do lot of research. I wrote beer commercials and drank beer.

In my job with Presbyterian Hospital, I had to produce a quarterly monograph—Grand Rounds—where I would write about a particular subject. I did one on pain management. I received the Hospital Association of Pennsylvania and Award for Meritorious Achievement in Hospital publications.

In 1980 I heard about a job opening at St. John’s Hospital Alcohol & Drug Rehabilitation. I was hired as Public Relations Director. Media, television, radio.

Shortly after getting there, a labor dispute erupted. A portion of the staff struck, asking for union recognition. I was considered management as a department head. He began counseling in the detox and rehab units. I began to give motivational speaking. To this day, I get people come up to me about all this. Fortunately, the men shake my hand, and the girls kiss me.

I didn’t keep them sober. AA did.

After St. John’s was a case worker for Beaver County Children & Youth Services on alcohol & drug-related cases. Then I retired.

I was a Lector, Eucharistic Minister, Bible Study. I sound like a religious fanatic, but I’m not.

January 28, 2005 in The Project | Permalink


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