A toast to Terry 0
tina peplinskie firstname.lastname@example.org Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant (left) presents Terry O'Neill with the Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal to mark her 60th year on the throne. This medal will be presented to 60,000 Canadians throughout the year. The presentation was made at a roast for Mr. O'Neill put on by the Rotary Club of Pembroke Saturday. For more community photos, please visit our website photo gallery at www.thedailyobserver.ca.
A man rarely at a loss for words was rendered speechless, at least temporarily, Saturday night as his family, friends and colleagues came together to roast and toast his numerous accomplishments.
Terry O'Neill - Rotarian, hockey enthusiast, youth advocate, philanthropist, community booster and city councillor - was the guest of honour Saturday night at the event which served as a fundraiser for the Rotary Club of Pembroke. The roast featured four speakers more than willing to share their thoughts on the honouree - Ann Cochrane, who goes back a long way with Coun. O'Neill to her days as the president of the Pembroke Skating Club; Daily Observer managing editor Peter Lapinskie, who met his long-time friend shortly after taking a job as a cub reporter in Pembroke; Fred Blackstein, who worked with Coun. O'Neill on the waterfront development project; and Pembroke Mayor Ed Jacyno.
Aside from the quips and stories of Coun. O'Neill's antics over the years, there were also a few special moments that will be remembered much longer than the jokes, and rightly so.
Renfrew-Nipissing-Pembroke MP Cheryl Gallant was on hand to present Coun. O'Neill with the Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal. The medal was created to mark the 60th anniversary of Queen Elizabeth's reign as the Queen of Canada. It honours the Queen for her service to the country but also recognizes significant contributions and achievements of Canadians. During the year of celebrations in 2012, 60,000 Canadians will receive the medal.
Ms. Gallant told the crowd she had to explain in 250 characters or less why she was nominating Mr. O'Neill for this special medal.
After careful thought and consideration it boils down to his long service to his community, service on city council, his involvement with the Rotary Club of Pembroke, his tireless efforts in sports and most of all, making sure any child who wanted to participate in sports had best opportunity to do so, she said.
Liane Rea, current president of the Rotary Club of Pembroke, also made a special announcement during the festivities.
She informed Mr. O'Neill and those gathered for the event that the building located at Rotary Park will now be known as the Terry O'Neill Rotary Building and a plaque will be installed to recognize his commitment and contributions to the community.
"The Rotary Club of Pembroke is pleased to have an opportunity to participate in honouring an individual who has worked diligently to make Pembroke a community in which we can all take pride," Ms. Rea said. "Terry has been a driving force to make Rotary Park a gathering place for people of all ages."
Proceeds from the roast, which attracted about 185 people, will go towards much needed improvements to the 40-year-old fieldhouse at the park, which is the current fundraising focus of the local service club. The building has recently been made accessible, including the washroom facilities.
When he was finally able to speak, Mr. O'Neill told those gathered he was humbled by the events of the evening. For the majority of the evening, while the speakers were at the podium, the honouree sat stone-faced, taking it all in, and sometimes jotting down notes in a special notebook presented to him at the beginning of the evening by MC Romeo Levasseur.
While he did have a few rebuttles, he seemed to take the evening in stride. He was most pleased to be surrounded by his family, including his five children and their spouses, as well as all but one of his grandchildren. Many travelled from various points in Canada and the United States to attend the roast. Margaret, his wife of nearly 60 years, was also at his side.
Since the event was a roast, not all of the words spoken about Coun. O'Neill were kind.
"Wow, I never expected to have an opportunity to roast Terry O'Neill," said Ms. Cochrane, the first to take her jabs at the guest of honour. "Believe it or not, this has been on my wish list for at least 40 years, so from one rink rat to another let me get at him."
She fondly remembered her early involvement with the Pembroke Skating Club, that is until she ran into a snag and met the president of the Pembroke Minor Hockey Association, a man named Terry O'Neill who had dreams of producing enough hockey players that Pembroke would get an NHL franchise, according to Ms. Cochrane. The problem was that the skating club only had 15 per cent of the ice time at the Pembroke Memorial Centre, the only ice surface in the city at the time, while minor hockey had 55 per cent.
She wasn't willing to let this go, particularly because there were 400 minor hockey players compared to 350 skaters and she didn't feel the split was fair. The solution? Talk to Terry, she was told. This sparked many discussions between the two and the nickname 'Gentle Annie' for Ms. Cochrane, but in the end the skaters got some extra ice time.
Not long after, the O'Neill/Cochrane relationship turned into an amazing friendship with the common denominator of working together for the betterment of sports for Pembroke's youth, she said.
"For the next 50 years, I would be safe in saying hundreds of kids and parents benefited from Terry's dedication, determination and motivation," Ms. Cochrane said. "In all seriousness I consider myself a very lucky person to have had the opportunity of associating with one of the most dedicated citizens this city has ever had. Thank you, thank you, thank you."
A common theme with a couple of the speakers was Mr. O'Neill's driving habits. While he is a wonderful travel companion, Mr. O'Neill can be forgetful, according to Mr. Lapinskie. One of the things he forgets is his headlights, so one night after coming out of an Ottawa Senators game, the battery of the "O'Neill mobile" was dead. He is also susceptible to bouts of road rage, taking exception to people speeding past him, only to get in front of him and slow down.
"This usually precipitates his Mario Andretti alter ego, when the pedal meets the metal and he begins screeching around vehicles like Vin Diesel in The Fast and the Furious," Mr. Lapinskie said. "You know you are going to make it when the veins in his temples subside and his skin goes from this purple hue of scarlet back to its usual pasty white."
While he enjoyed the opportunity to roast his long-time friend, Mr. Lapinskie also wanted to pay tribute "to one of the most dedicated, energetic community advocates and volunteers Pembroke has ever been blessed with."
In 1999 he found out first hand what a true friend Terry is when he was in the Ottawa Hospital fighting for his life after a brain aneurysm and serious stroke. Mr. Lapinskie recalled how his friend would travel to Ottawa two to three times a week to visit him, comfort his wife and arrange for improvements at their home to help make life easier for him when he was released from hospital.
"I will never forget those acts of kindness and the sincerity with which they were given, and that, more than any jokes we might think up tonight, is what I think of when I think of my friend Terry O'Neill," he said.
Mayor Jacyno also touched on Coun. O'Neill's driving habits which he experienced while travelling to many conferences over the year.
"My finger indentations are still present on the passenger side of the dashboard, the close calls, driving through the odd red light, he has truly had a guardian angel watching over him during his highway adventures," the mayor said.
He also recalled a travel claim the councillor once submitted following a conference he attended in North Bay with former Petawawa Coun. Bill Ramsey. To make a long story short, the travel claim was for 1,500 kilometres. When questioned about the claim, Coun. O'Neill explained he and Coun. Ramsey got into a heated discussion and after driving for some time he realized they weren't travelling towards Deep River, but instead they were headed for Toronto. Needless to say, the mayor did not authorize the claim.
Mayor Jacyno made numerous references to Coun. O'Neill's election campaign slogans 'Terry listens' and then 'Terry cares,' mostly in jest, but he did make room for a serious note.
"In all sincerity Terry does listen, Terry does care, he represents council to the best of his ability and takes the job seriously," the mayor said. "I think he might have made a good mayor except for the fact that he often shoots from the hip, besides listening and caring, he often tells it like it is and is not afraid of controversy."
Mr. Blackstein talked about the past 15 years he has known Coun. O'Neill. He first came to know the councillor when he was appointed to sit on the waterfront redevelopment committee. Through their work on the project, Mr. Blackstein quickly learned it was often easier to ask for forgiveness rather than permission on some aspects. He also learned about Coun. O'Neill's rule of two, in which he usually asked for double what he needed (typically money), and when he received only half from city council he would hum and haw, stepdance and look generally annoyed but always report success.
This rule also came into effect when they were asking service clubs for money to build the Riverwalk Amphitheatre, knowing they needed $15,000 in total, he asked the three clubs for $10,000 each and again when they gave only half he did his dance, but the project was completed.
There was one time however, when the rule of two nearly got Coun. O'Neill killed. When it came to building a pointer boat, Coun. O'Neill approached Shaw Lumber, once again using the rule of two he told them he needed twice the amount of wood. When Mr. Blackstein and Coun. O'Neill went to pick up the wood, he saw the biggest stack of lumber Mr. Blackstein had ever seen. It was 4,600 pounds, more than twice the weight his Jeep could pull and enough for two pointer boats. While they made it to their destination, there were some tense moments, and possible payback for his questionable driving.
When heading out for the roast, Mr. Blackstein's wife Barb encouraged him to be nice, but he told her it was a roast, not a tribute. He admitted he spent most of the evening until he stepped to the podium trying to figure out how to use "nice" and "O'Neill" in the same sentence, then it came to him.
"Margaret O'Neill, you are the nicest person I've ever met, and for anyone who knows Terry, definitely a candidate for sainthood," he said.
He went back to this point to conclude his remarks, when he said using O'Neill and nice in the same sentence is an oxymoron, but added he has a more favourite oxymoron and he held up the 'Terry listens' campaign sign.
Tina Peplinskie is a Daily Observer multimedia journalist