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Alice O’Neil, longtime supporter of Lynn youth sports programs

ALICE O’NEIL ALICE O’NEIL
By Marvin Pave
Globe Correspondent / January 21, 2011

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In September 2009, shortly after her retirement as administrator for the District 16 Little League encompassing seven North Shore communities, Alice O’Neil was honored for her 44 years as a caring and tireless supporter of youth sports in Lynn.

The house was packed that evening at the Knights of Columbus Hall, where Red Sox legend Johnny Pesky was guest speaker. There were tributes from Little League and Lynn city officials and a brief and humble thank you from Mrs. O’Neil.

But there was an even more personal and meaningful moment that went unnoticed to some at the gathering.

“One of the players from the Challenger Little League program put his arms around Alice and hugged her from his wheelchair,’’ recalled Mrs. O’Neil’s long-time friend and Little League volunteer Skip Mageary, who preceded her as District 16 administrator.

“That league was Alice’s first love, and she was touched,’’ said Mageary. “The sharing of that embrace is something I will never forget. Alice was an icon, and I’m going to miss her, and so will the city of Lynn.’’

Mrs. O’Neil, a lifelong Lynn resident who founded the Greater Lynn Challenger Little League in 1991 to give physically and mentally impaired youngsters the opportunity to play baseball — and was its president for the next 18 years — died Sunday at Union Hospital after a heart attack and fall in her home. She was 84.

“Alice was extremely proud of the league,’’ said Mrs. O’Neil’s colleague and former Wyoma Little League president Mike Phelps. “The hundreds of children who participated in this program over the last 20 years knew her as a family member, not just as the president. Whether Alice was involved in Boy Scouts, Little League, or any other organization, her operating motto was, ‘If it is good for the kids, then that is how we will proceed.’ ’’

When it came to raising money for the Challenger League, Mrs. O’Neil had an unusual way of achieving her goal.

She held annual fund-raisers at which city and state politicians and local celebrities — at her request — would wait on tables and sell raffle tickets. She was rarely, if ever, turned down, according to her friends and colleagues.

“Alice would say to me, ‘Tommy, put June 12 at the K of C Hall in your book,’ and I did it right away,’’ said state Senator Thomas McGee, Democrat of Lynn, “I always looked forward to going. She was such a great lady, a driving force behind many youth programs, including the Challenger League. She was their champion. And Alice never hesitated to ask, because it was her goal to bring the Little League experience to everyone.’’

Former Lynn mayor Edward Clancy joked that “with Alice it wasn’t a request, it was an order, and I definitely followed her orders when it came to helping her, because she put her heart and soul into everything she did, especially for individuals who did not have the best breaks in life.

“That tribute at the K of C Hall meant the world to her, because it was a chance for people to give back the love she had given them.’’

That love and respect was evident after her death.

There were plans for the North Shore Umpires Association to hold a walk-by during visiting hours tomorrow. And Saturday’s scheduled citywide Little League registration has been rescheduled because a funeral Mass for Mrs. O’Neil will be said on that day at 9 a.m. at St. Pius V Church in Lynn.

Current District 16 administrator Joe Baglieri said Mrs. O’Neil “put in 25 hours a day, and it was never about her; it was all about the kids.’’

“She will be an inspiration for many of us who will carry on in her place,’’ Baglieri said. “But no one can truly replace her.’’

Her Little League Baseball involvement began in 1966 as a scorekeeper for her late husband, Ed O’Neil, who coached the East Lynn Little League Baseball team. She would become a coach and serve for many years on the East Lynn Little League Board.

Mrs. O’Neil’s duties over the years included director of the Junior, Senior, and Big League programs for Districts 15 and 16. From 1993 to 2009, she was District 16 administrator for 14 leagues in Lynn, Swampscott, Lynnfield, Saugus, Winthrop, Saugus, and Revere.

The baseball diamond at Frey Playground is named in her honor and the clubhouse at Volunteer Field, home park for the Challenger League, is named for Mrs. O’Neil and her husband.

Mrs. O’Neil was also helpful to her neighbors at Caggiano Plaza, a senior and disabled state housing complex in Lynn, where she lived in recent years. It was customary for Mrs. O’Neil to drive friends to the supermarket or for doctor’s appointments.

“Alice had some mobility problems in recent years and had to be helped in and out of her car, so she’d drive her friends where they had to go and then wait for them,’’ said Paul Gaudette, director of management and operations for the Lynn Housing Authority and a former Little League president in Lynn.

“She was a considerate and compassionate person whose deeds made her feel good and because she felt it was the right thing to do. Alice and her husband also operated a store at Caggiano Plaza so that our less mobile residents didn’t have to go out. She was an amazing woman.’’

Alice T. (Cuthbert) O’Neil graduated in 1945 from St. Mary’s Girls High School in Lynn. She served on its board for three decades, was president of its Alumni Association and helped plan her 65th class reunion last year. A scholarship fund in her name at St. Mary’s High School was established at Mrs. O’Neil’s request on the occasion of her 2009 testimonial.

Mrs. O’Neil leaves a son, Patrick of Cumberland, Maine, and six grandchildren. Burial will be in St. Mary’s Cemetery in Lynn.

Globe correspondent Marvin Pave can be reached at marvin.pave@rcn.com.