IN MEMORIAM: The O'Neills, John and Margaret, die a day apart

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By Deb Quantock McCarey

Contributing reporter/Nature blogger

Friday afternoon into evening, July 31, they came by the hundreds to Dreschler, Brown & Williams Funeral Home on Marion Street. And Saturday morning, Aug. 1, the scene repeated at St. Luke Catholic Church at Lake and Lathrop in River Forest as a packed sanctuary said its final goodbyes to Margaret and John O'Neill.

The long-married couple — staples of their church, of the local real estate world, of countless charities and the parents of eight, to boot — died on successive days last week in their River Forest home. 

"They were well known and they were well loved," said Rev. John Szmyd, pastor of St. Luke. He was one of 10 priests, 15 deacons and a bishop who concelebrated the funeral Mass Saturday. 

Born only weeks apart in 1934, Margaret Barrett and John O'Neill were students at St. Luke, later married there, and it is where John O'Neill served as deacon for many years before retiring from that service as he grew ill. Szmyd described the couple as an "integral part of parish life" and pointed to their support for both Trinity and Fenwick high schools and for Catholic Charities as indications of their faithful commitment.

John O'Neill, 80, a leading real estate broker and insurance agent for many decades in Oak Park and River Forest, died on July 29. Margaret O'Neill, 80, died the next day, July 30. Both died of natural causes and each had been ill. 

Bradley Collins, communications coordinator at St. Luke, said, "John and Margaret were a team and she supported him in everything he did. When you are a deacon and go through the training, the wife also undergoes the training. Margaret was considered as a part of the extended staff here, along with John, because together they headed up a lot of the social outreach at the parish. I'd like to say it is their legacy."

In the 1970s, Mr. O'Neill purchased F.C. Pilgrim & Co. real estate from John Pilgrim, son of the founder, Francis Pilgrim. Mr. O'Neill merged his established insurance agency into Pilgrim. In later years, several members of Mr. O'Neill's large family took on key roles at Pilgrim. Between the Pilgrim family and the O'Neill family, the firm had had just the two owners in more than a century in business. In June 2011, F.C. Pilgrim was acquired by Chicago-based Baird & Warner, merging the two companies into one business.

Andy Gagliardo of Gagliardo Realty Associates said, "First off, John O'Neill was a family man. I was more of a contemporary of his kids and I saw that firsthand many times. He was a great competitor of my father. But they were friendly competitors. It was amazing to watch and learn. He has been missed on the local real estate scene since he retired and will continue to be missed."

Rich Gloor Sr. of Gloor Real Estate was a contemporary of Mr. O'Neill's. "John and I have known each other for a long, long time. Both of us grew up in River Forest and there are not that many people who can say that now. We could talk about all the people we knew. We'd go for breakfast at a place at Forest and Lake, which is now torn down. We'd talk about our mutual problems and see a lot of people we knew. We always had a good time."

In a Wednesday Journal column at the time of the sale, Dan Haley wrote that "Maintaining friendships is clearly vital to John O'Neill and looking out for his staff was on his mind in making this deal." He quoted Mr. O'Neill as saying, "I've had a wonderful relationship with my people. I value that more than anything else."

Besides being the "grand dame" of the O'Neill clan, Margaret O'Neill was an active member of her parish, helping with the Caring and Sharing program, which was an effort to give food and other assistance to people in need.

Ever proud of their Irish and Catholic heritage, the pride and joy of John and Margaret (nee Barrett) O'Neill was their many children and extended family, Patty (Frank) Baker, John (Pat), Peggy (Jack) Gleason, Michael (Margie), Mary (Joe) Bresnahan, Carol, Molly (Van) Conroy and Danny (Cathy) O'Neill; their grandchildren, John Francis (Julie) and Mark (fiancée Jenna Cluver) Baker, Kelly (Jon) Thielbar and Kevin and Erin O'Neill, Colleen (Joel) Thielen and Patrick Gleason, Mary Loretta, Bridget, Kathleen and Molly O'Neill, Michael, Mariclaire and Matthew Bresnahan, Michael, Margaret Mary, Madeline and Colleen Stephany, Jack and Andy Conroy, and Charlie and Daniel O'Neill; and their great-granddaughter, Maura Baker. 

John was preceded in death by his siblings: Emmett (Margaret Mary) and Bob (Pat) O'Neill and Maureen (Harry) Crawford. Margaret was preceded in death by her siblings: John, Tom (Lynn), Tony (the late Claudette) and Jim (Mary) Barrett.

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Seamus Sheehan from Oak Park   

Posted: August 8th, 2015 10:07 AM

My condolences go out to the whole O'Neill family. Mr. and Mrs. O'Neill were two of the nicest people I have ever had the privilege to know. They will truly be missed.

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