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Dr. Bill O'Connell, visionary who hoped to memorialize "Famine Ship" victims

By Ed Forry, special to the BIR, January 10, 2014

Dr. William T. O'Connell, of Duxbury, passed away on Monday, January 6, 2014.
Dr. Bill as he was known to many, lead an active life. He traveled extensively from Russia to South America, including 21 trips to Ireland, he skied into his 70's, and devoted considerable time and resources to a wide range of Irish cultural and historic organizations. Always at his side was his beloved late wife Rita, who was the light of his life and the true companion of his days.

From the ski slopes of New England to the fields of the annual Irish Cultural Festival, they shared a zest for life and a dedication to all things Irish. Bill became an expert historian and gave frequent lectures to educate, entertain and raise funds for the Deer Island Famine Memorial. Some of the multiple organizations he belonged to included: the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Plymouth Chapter, the Corkmen and Lady's Association, the Knights and Ladies of St. Finbarr, voting Member of the Boston Athletic Association (Boston Marathon), Co-Chair of the Deer Island Irish Memorial Fund-Boston Harbor Project, the Randolph Ski Club of North Conway, NH, the Holy Family Choir in Duxbury and Founding Member of the Irish Cultural Centre where he and Rita enjoyed many an evening listening to Irish music and playing along on the bones.
He was the son of the late William T. O'Connell, Sr. and Margaret McCarthy O'Connell of Ireland. His wife, Rita V. Layden O'Connell, predeceased him. He was a devoted brother to the late Margaret Carmichael, Hannah O'Connell and Charles J. O'Connell. He is survived by his sister, Mary Manning and her husband Joe Manning of Mashpee; their children, Susan Clement and her husband Richard, Paul Manning and his wife Suzanne, Lori Hennessy and her husband Mark; and by his niece, Karen O'Connell and her husband Shawn Dunn of Boston, who had the honor of being given away by Bill at her wedding, and his nephew Charles J. O'Connell, Jr. of Attleboro. Also by his Brother in Law, Joseph Layden and wife Mary Ann and their family of Westwood.
Born in Boston and raised in Dorchester of Irish parents from County Cork, Bill cherished his heritage as a Bostonian and Irish American. He served in the U.S. Navy during World War II and first became interested in medicine as a corpsmen. He followed that with the study of podiatry at the Kent State University College of Podiatric Medicine in Ohio. For years, he was known as "Uncle Bill the Foot Doctor" to his nieces and nephews. Later he rose through the ranks at the MBTA where he met his future wife Rita. Over the course of many summers, they also served as a host family for the Cape Cod Irish Children's Program which brought children from both Catholic and Protestant traditions together for an extended visit to the United States.
Visiting hours at the Shepherd Funeral Home, 216 Main Street, (Route 106), Kingston, on Monday, January 13, 2014, from 4:00-8:00 PM. Funeral services at the Shepherd Funeral Home, Kingston, on Tuesday, January 14, 2014, at 9:00 AM, followed by his funeral Mass at the Holy Family Church, 601 Tremont Street, Duxbury, at 10:00 AM. Graveside services at Saint Joseph's Cemetery, 990 LaGrange Street, West Roxbury at 12:30 PM. In lieu of flowers, please consider a donation to the Ancient Order of Hibernians, Division 9, Plymouth Chapter, c/o John Todd, President, 32 Trout Farm Lane, Duxbury, MA 02332.

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