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"Tip" O'Neill Exhibit Opens

(9-27-99) - Over 150 family members and friends of the late United States House of Representatives Speaker Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill Jr. '36, turned out on Sept. 24 for the opening of a permanent campus exhibit honoring his life and legacy.

They gathered in the library that bears O'Neill's name to experience the multi-media exhibit and attend the opening reception. Among those in attendance were O'Neill's widow, Millie, as well as a number of his children and grandchildren. O'Neill's long-time political advisor Leo Diehl was on hand, as was Rep. J. Joseph Moakley (D-Mass.), a close friend of the speaker's.

At the event, University President William P. Leahy, SJ, presented Millie O'Neill with the Joseph Coolidge Shaw, SJ, Medal. "If he was the man of the house," said Fr. Leahy, referring to the title of Tip O'Neill's memoirs, "I think it is appropriate that we recognize someone who could be called the woman of the house."

Fr. Leahy said that Tip O'Neill "lived up to the aspirations of Jesuit institutions," and that Millie's support made his contributions possible. O'Neill's daughter Rosemary, who played a leading role in crafting the exhibit, said her father's life was greatly shaped by his years at Boston College. She added that 18 members of her family have graduated from, or are attending, BC.

"The Church and the Jesuits at Boston College instilled values," she said. "If we need to be reminded of what those core values are we need only return to this wonderful exhibit."

Moakley reflected on his years in the House with O'Neill, and recalled the speaker's sincerity, loyalty and honesty. "Tip O'Neill epitomized the old fashioned values he grew up with," Moakley said. "He brought those values to work like no one I ever knew. He believed that every human being deserved to be treated with dignity ... I remain inspired by his memory and legacy."

R. Shep Melnick, the O'Neill Professor of American Politics, also spoke at the event, placing O'Neill's legacy in the context of 20th century politics. He said that while O'Neill fought hard for causes he believed in, he was careful not to alienate congressmen on the other side of the issue. The speaker, he said, realized that today's enemy could well be tomorrow's ally on another matter.

"Tip O'Neill represented the very best, the most noble features, of a congressional system that took shape between the two world wars and, unfortunately, ended in the mid-1990s," Melnick said.

The exhibit, located in the former vision resource room on the library's second level, features display from many facets of O'Neill's life. Segments are devoted to his North Cambridge neighborhood, his BC years, his legacy as speaker, and his robust political campaigns. His large desk, as well as many items from the collection of papers and memorabilia he left to Boston College, are included in the exhibit.

His distinctive baritone can be heard over audio speakers in the room, and a television provides video clips of some of his speeches. A computer station provides a way for visitors to learn more about the speaker.

The exhibit is now open to the public.

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