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KELLY'S KORNER: A toast to Jean

Joe Kelly
Sentinel columnist
Posted 8/21/22

Historic Old St. John’s, on the southwest corner of John and Bleecker streets in Utica, was the church from which Jean O’Neil’s funeral Mass was conducted last week.

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KELLY'S KORNER: A toast to Jean

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Historic Old St. John’s, on the southwest corner of John and Bleecker streets in Utica, was the church from which Jean O’Neil’s funeral Mass was conducted last week.

She was 90 and had outlived many of her friends and relatives. She had never married. Someone said something about cousins, maybe, but I don’t believe any were there. 

That being said, the church was crowded. The priest, Father Tom Servatius, even mentioned that fact from the pulpit. He said that was a tribute to Jean and was proof of the number of lives she touched during her life.

She was smart, hardworking, active, loved life and was kind to people. She didn’t have advanced degrees. She did have common sense, something not always present in government, her line of work.

They asked me to give the eulogy. This was easy to do because there was much to talk about.

Jean was great at her work, most of which was for Oneida County’s Health Department. She also worked for three Utica mayors: Frank Dulan, Dominick Assaro and Michael Caruso, this was in the 1960s and early 1970s.

The person in the Caruso administration who best knew what they were doing was Jean. I know because I worked there, too, and went to her for advice on a daily basis.

She loved golf. The first time I played golf with Jean was a hot summer day. I didn’t bring water. A water bottle was attached to Jean’s cart. I asked for a sip.

The bottle was filled but not with water. At the end of 18 holes I was still thirsty, but no longer cared.

Jean loved the Boston Red Sox. Even when attending a game at Yankee Stadium she wore her special red socks.

There used to be a place in Utica called the Uptown Grill. Jean - as well as mayors, plumbers, lawyers, construction workers, doctors and retired people, to name a few - enjoyed going there. Jean was partial to the Uptown’s Manhattans, a drink not meant for the beginner.

It was easy to know when Jean was in the Uptown’s side dining room because her laugh could be heard from the bar.

My daughter Jackie called Jean’s laugh “infectious.” It was almost impossible not to be in good humor when in Jean’s company. Jean went through life with a face that was always on the verge of a smile, which quickly turned to laughter. 

My other daughter Cindy, who was introduced to her husband by Jean, wore a shamrock pin in Jean’s honor to the funeral. Many wore green.

Jean loved all things Irish. St. Patrick’s Day wasn’t exactly a season for Jean, but it lasted longer than a day. 

Jean loved to travel. Her favorite trip ever was to Ireland.

Ireland was how I ended Jean’s eulogy, using the writing of one Kelly Roper, who wrote “More Glorious Than Ireland.”

The beauty of the Irish hills

Has always been a balm to my soul.

To think that Heaven must be

Even more glorious than Ireland

Fills me with a desire to see it.

So I’ve gone ahead of all of you,

But rest assured,

I’ll be there when you catch up.

Reading that seemed appropriate.

The most difficult part of a funeral is when the contingent drives to the cemetery and the casket (Jean’s had Celtic crosses on each corner) is lowered into the ground. 

At Mount Olivet Cemetery in Whitesboro someone handed out plastic cups. A generous amount of Bailey’s Irish Cream was poured into the cups and a toast was made to Jean. 

That also seemed appropriate. 

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