Walter J. O’Neill, Sr. 92, passes
Golden Ear and Big Heart of Walter J. O’Neill, Sr.
December 11, 1928 – October 13, 2021 – After 92 years of living fully, the best description of Walter J. O’Neill, Sr. is that he had the unique gift of making it easy for people to confide in him. , and the greatest skill in solving their problems.
Walter was born on December 11, 1928 in Bayonne, New Jersey. He was the second son of Josephine (Sweeney) and James O’Neill. Living with depression was difficult for her family. Her father was injured during the Great War and worked as a plumber while her mother was a seamstress. Walter dropped out of school to work and support his family.
âI was a young boy who worked in a hardware store on the boulevard where I had to lift and carry 200-pound bags of nails and only weighed 130 pounds,â Walter said. During the next 55 years, Walter never stopped working. After the hardware store, at age 16, he went to work at the Bayway refinery as a bicycle courier, circulating materials throughout the plant.
Walter was recounting how one day, while going to deliver a letter to the refinery manager’s office, he saw some paper on the floor, so he picked it up and threw it in the trash. He did not know that the crib was watching, and asked who the child was. This innocent act of picking up someone’s trash made them switch from a bicycle to a desk. Working full time as a teenager to support his family and go to night school was tough, but he never complained. After high school, he attended Seton Hall and graduated. Walter spent over 40 years with Esso / Exxon and retired as Vice President of Human Resources.
Walter was a pioneer in his field according to Ebony Magazine. Exxon hired more minority executives than any other large company at the time. Walter knew the importance of diversity long before it became a topic of discussion in today’s culture.
âI caught a star and God gave me the brightest in the sky,â Walter referred to the love of his life, Judith P. Cignarelli. For these two, it was love at first sight, however, it took a while for the two very ethnic Irish and Italian families to recognize their love. The families were eventually won over and on August 16, 1958, the two were married at St. Aedan Church in Jersey City.
Walter and Judy then had five children in seven years. For Christmas one year, the couple sent cards showing Judy and Walter and their five rhythmic children. âEvery time I learned the rhythm, Judy would change the melody,â he said.
The couple moved to Oceanport with their first two sons, Walter Junior and Mark. Michael, Donna and Paul dialed rhythm five and had a wonderful life with their parents. âOut of five children, my husband only changed one diaper,â Judy said. She added that it made him so sick that he couldn’t do it. In 1959 they had a diaper service because they were made of cloth. âWalter took the dirty diaper and threw it in the incinerator. I said ‘what are you doing, we have to pay for this!’
When Walter’s mother, Josephine, was 82, she couldn’t live alone in Bayonne, so Walter and Judy moved her into their house. It was a packed house with rhythm five, the grandmother and the dog. However, Walter and Judy didn’t hesitate, as it was the right thing to do.
Judy and Walter loved vacations and made it always a family and educational trip. They bought a 22-foot trailer, hooked it up to the family station wagon, and hit the road. From Florida to Canada, they traveled the country every year.
The neighbors seemed to congregate at the O’Neill house and sit with Walter and talk from his ear, but he still listened and helped in any way he could. Most of the time, it was financially. âMy dad always handed out money to those in need and never asked for anything in return,â said Walter junior. He added that his father would say; “Don’t worry, I’m writing it on ice.”
Walter was retired from Exxon, but was working in New York for an outplacement firm working with high-paying executives when the 9/11 attacks occurred. His golden ear and huge heart were needed, and he was called in as a bereavement counselor for the horrific months that followed.
Convertibles were Walter’s passion. Since he was able to drive he had had a rag soft top, his last being a 2000 Chevy Camaro. Judy and Walter bought cars, paid for their education, and gave each of their five children money for their house. . And this generosity continued on their grandchildren and great grandchildren.
âWhen I moved to South Carolina two years ago, I had an old trunk full of stuff from years ago. I found an envelope full of letters dad wrote to me every two weeks during my freshman year in college. They were all handwritten. I was really, really touched by it, âsaid Mark. “They were great letters, full of advice, anecdotes from home, and questions about what I was doing and thinking.”
âDad always told me, treat everyone with respect and dignity,â Michael said. He added that dad would also say to remember those people that you pass on the ladder of success because you will see them on the way down.
âHe always told me that every time you walk into this room, you light it up. I miss you when you’re not around, âsaid Donna, the only girl in Rhythm Five.
The youngest of the clan is Paul, who has a funny memory. “Paul uses your head in addition to using it as a hat rack.”
When you look back on Walter J. O’Neill, Sr.’s incredible 92 years, there is a current theme of family, caring, protecting, providing and helping. âDad had a lot of wonderful, insightful lyrics, but when things weren’t going well his favorite was something simple,â Walter Jr. said. âRemember grandmother’s philosophy. Hell with that.
Walter is survived by his beloved wife of 63 years, Judy, who lives in Ocean.
Rhythm Five and their spouses; Walter and Patricia, Ocean, NJ, Mark and Victoria, Bluffton, SC, Mike and Donna, Oceanport, NJ, Donna and Joe Masica, Monmouth Beach, NJ and Paul and Sherri, Naples, FL.
Grandchildren Shay, Rachel, Matthew, John, Molly, Alicia, Kelsey, Quinn; Great-grandchildren Charlotte, Kennedy, Henry, Miles and …
A funeral mass will be held on Wednesday October 20 at St. Dorothea Church, 240 Broad Street, Eatontown, NJ at 10:30 am.
Flowers can be purchased from: Flowers by Van Brunt (732) 870-2220 and should be sent directly to the church.