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John O'Leary, 58; Portland mayor became ambassador to Chile

PORTLAND, Maine -- John O'Leary, a Portland lawyer who served as a city councilor and went on to become a US ambassador to Chile, died Saturday of Lou Gehrig's disease at his home in Washington, D.C. He was 58.

Mr. O'Leary began his career in Portland in 1974 after receiving a law degree from Yale and previously studying English literature at Cambridge University in England. At Yale he met the woman who would become his wife, Patricia Cepeda, a native of Colombia who served as interpreter for Nobel Prize-winning author Gabriel Garcia Marquez.

Mr. O'Leary served on the Portland City Council from 1975 to 1982 and was mayor from 1980 to 1981. In 1982, he unsuccessfully sought the Democratic nomination for Maine's First Congressional District.

Practicing law at Pierce Atwood for 24 years, Mr. O'Leary gained a reputation as a knowledgeable and energetic litigator.

''Never a question that was posed to him was threatening in any way," said Dan Wathen, former chief justice of Maine's Supreme Court. ''It was his opening, and he was ready."

In 1998, Mr. O'Leary was nominated to the post of ambassador to Chile by President Clinton, whom he had come to know from their time at Yale. He held the position until 2001.

''I would hope what younger people take from his life is the importance of working hard in both your profession and your community," said US Representative Tom Allen, a Maine Democrat. ''Not just your local community, but the country as well."

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