Gerard M. (Gerry) O’Neill was a newspaperman, pure and simple. During his 35 years as a reporter and editor at The Boston Globe, his work was displayed on paper for people to read wherever they happened to be. He was an old-school newsroom type who evinced an uncommon zeal for getting bottom-line, verifiable facts into the stories he wrote and edited. To him, facts were the guardians of truth in a world where deceit abounded in both public and private life.
Mr. O’Neill died last Thursday at his home in Boston, of respiratory issues, leaving behind a legacy rich with Spotlight Team successes: conspiracies uncovered (the FBI and Whitey Bulger, to name just one), criminals convicted, Pulitzer Prizes won, and Globe readers informed as he worked with, and mentored, generations of newsroom colleagues in the specialty of news gathering, in particular, the investigative variety.
After retiring at the end of the year 2000, Mr. O’Neill took up teaching at Boston University, from which he had earned a master’s in journalism 30 years earlier, and book-writing, especially “Black Mass,” the story of the Whitey Bulger-FBI dealings that Hollywood grabbed for a movie.
As a newspaperman, Mr. O’Neill did not reach for fame; he always reached for the comfort his wife Janet and their two sons, Brian and Shane, provided in abundance. To those who have put in the hours and days and nights that go into reporting and writing investigative stories, family-supplied comfort is the balm that refreshes, to borrow a phrase from Mr. O’Neill.
For those of us who worked closely with Mr. O’Neill at the Globe, in a university setting, or in a book editor’s office, the lights dimmed across the world of journalism last Thursday when he drew his last breath.
– TOM MULVOY