Donald T. O’Neill, a key executive at the Boston Globe until his retirement in 1991, died peacefully on Thursday, Aug. 20, 2020. He was 89 years old.
Family ties bound Mr. O’Neill to newspapering and in particular to the Globe. His parents worked at the newspaper before him. His father, Charles M. O’Neill, was an editor who served in the US Army as a rifleman in World War I and sent frontline dispatches back to the newsroom in Boston. He also worked at the Baltimore Sun and the Washington (DC) Herald. For her part, Emily (Van Wert) O’Neill, Mr. O’Neill’s mother, was a nurse in the newspaper’s medical offices.
In later years, his cousin, the late Gerard M. O’Neill, joined the Globe staff where he gained legendary status for his longtime investigative work as member and chief of the paper’s Spotlight Team.
Mr. O’Neill’s education in newspapering continued at the Globe, beginning with his hiring as an office boy in 1945. He later came under the tutelage of personalities like John P. Giuggio, an advertising executive, who retired as vice chairman of the company, and David Stanger, a stereotyper, who later retired as executive vice president at the newspaper.
Mr. O’Neill joined the Marines in January 1951, six months into the Korean War, and to his often-expressed sorrow, he left the service in September 1951 with an honorable medical discharge. He then returned to the Globe and eventually took up work in the composing room, where type was set and pages made up for delivery to the stereotype department, where mats were made for the presses, to the pressroom, the mailroom, and onto the trucks for distribution to the paper’s readers and advertisers.
He later moved to the production department, essentially the executive office for all the paper’s mechanical departments. As a supervisor there, he was part of the overall Globe team – front office, production, editorial, mechanical – that managed the transition from hot type (lead lines produced by linotype machines and processed into page forms) to cold type (computer-driven typesetting, and, later, page layout). It was a transition, ironically, that eventually spelled doom for the compositor craft workers who had filled the pages of the Globe with type for the preceding 100 years.
He also was a key player as the Globe moved into printing multiple edition pages in color; an effort that along the way earned the newspaper a Kodak competition award for the pioneering quality of the work. When Mr. O’Neill left the Globe almost 30 years ago, he was the Director of Production.
When he was off the clock, Mr. O’Neill was always busy tending to affairs and organizations associated with his avocation, boxing. Over a period of 30 years, he was a ringside judge at 55 international world title fights and one world heavy weight championship fight in the third meeting between Evander Holyfield and John Ruiz at the Foxwoods Resort on December 15, 2001. It ended in a draw, with Judge O’Neill voting for Ruiz.
Although he picked up the sport at age 50, Mr. O’Neill was a fine skier whose philosophy was “just point the skis down.”
He leaves his loving wife Lya Ingrid (nee Nielsen), to whom he was married for 50 years, herself a longtime Globe compositor. He also leaves two daughters, Jannie Holsten of Cave Creek, Arizona; Renee Kirsten Roberts of Kingston; a son, Donald O'Neill Jr of Franklin; grandchildren, Ingrid Ilise Fridlund of Phoenix, Arizona; Lya Roberts of Kingston; Shawna Lambert of Alene, Idaho; and Sophie Patti of Plymouth; as well as great-grandchildren and many cousins, nieces, and nephews.
Funeral services will be held at Chapman, Cole, Gleason Funeral Home in Mashpee at a later date due to the pandemic. Burial services will be in Massachusetts National Cemetery in Bourne on Cape Cod.