‘Bill’ O’Donnell, Irish activist, 20-year columnist with the Boston Irish Reporter, dies at 84

William T. “Bill” O’Donnell, whose words of wit and wisdom and praise and admonishment were featured monthly in the Boston Irish Reporter for 20 years, died in hospice care in Woonsocket, RI, on April 18.
The loving husband for 50 years of the former Jean McKenna, Mr. O’Donnell was born in Boston, and over the full measure of his long life he was an active member of the Irish community, traveling often for both business and pleasure to Ireland and joining numerous Irish-American charitable and cultural organizations. He was a past president and life member of the Eire Society of Boston, a member of the Irish Cultural Centre and the Charitable Irish Society. He also served as the treasurer and a board member of the Belfast (NI) – based nonprofit corporation, Intercomm, USA.
Occasionally, Mr. O’Donnell stepped into the political arena. During the 1980 presidential campaign he was a senior press aide to the Independent presidential candidate, Congressman John B. Anderson.
He was a proud citizen of the United States and Ireland. As the editor of the Irish Echo weekly newspaper in Boston, he reported on the historic, tumultuous decade of the 1980s, covered local protests, hunger strikes in Ireland, and, later, the making of the Anglo-Irish Agreement. In the late ‘80s, he joined the Boston Redevelopment Authority as Community Relations Manager. In 1995 he retired from the BRA and later spent three years as an ADR case manager and arbitration analyst for John Hancock Financial Services.
For many years Mr. O’Donnell was involved in organizing Boston-based job training programs benefiting young people from both traditions in Ireland, north and south. He served from 1995 to 1998 as president and CEO of Boston Ireland Ventures, a nonprofit corporation working to stimulate inward investment, development, and job creation in Ireland. Over the past two-and-half decades, he wrote a regular newspaper column for the Boston Irish community, and for the 20 years he contributed a monthly column “Here & There” to New England’s largest circulating newspaper serving an Irish American readership, the Boston Irish Reporter of Dorchester.
The son of the late William Sr. and Anne (Flaherty) O’Donnell, Mr. O’Donnell attended St. Clement schools in Medford and graduated from Somerville High School. He also attended Suffolk University and Boston State College. He was a US Marine Corps veteran of the Korean War.
In addition to his wife, he leaves a daughter, Erin Catherine, a son-in-law, Aaron Hoban, and a grandson, Aidan Araujo. He also leaves two brothers, Philip, of Mashpee, MA, and James, of Boston, (he was predeceased by his brother Steven), sisters-in-law Marilynn Gove O’Donnell and Carol Webster Blair, and nieces and nephews representing two generations.
Mr. O’Donnell’s funeral Mass was held on Tues., April 23, in St. Charles Borromeo Church in Woonsocket. In his homily during the service, the Rev. Gerald Finnegan, SJ, alluded to the Irishness that permeated Mr. O’Donnell’s life:
“When I visited Bill about a week or two before his death. I was struck by the Catholic tone of the conversation. Of course, Catholicism was never far from our conversations when I dined with Jean and Bill at their home here in Woonsocket. After all, I was their pastor, and, after all, Bill and I shared an upbringing in Boston when things were very influenced by the Catholics of the city. But even then, it seemed to be more prevalent at this, my final, time with Bill. Maybe we all turn to our roots when we feel that our time here is limited, and, I suspect, Bill felt that that was his situation. …
“On Holy Thursday, when Bill entered into a new existence, we can imagine him turning around and seeing someone standing there. Like Mary Magdalen, he may at first have imagined that it was a stranger. But then the stranger spoke his name and Bill recognized him. It was, and is, Jesus. I just hope that Jesus’s voice and accent sounded just a bit Irish, or, at least, Boston Irish. If not, Bill may not have had a positive reaction.”