Earlier today, DPOC Chair Frank Barbaro sent an email announcing the death of prominent Orange County Democrat Richard J. O’Neill.
I have very sad news to report. Last evening we lost a great leader and Orange County legend, Richard J. O’Neill. Richard was larger than life and the Democratic Party of Orange County owes its existence and success to this great man.
For those who did not know Richard, let me tell you a little about him.
A sixth-generation Californian, Richard was born in 1923 and was raised on the 230,000-acre Rancho Santa Margarita y Las Flores. During Richard’s lifetime a portion of the ranch was sold to the U.S. Government and became Camp Pendleton; many acres were set aside as O’Neill Regional Park and Caspers Wilderness Park; and the communities of Mission Viejo, Rancho Santa Margarita, Las Flores, and Ladera Ranch were developed on a portion of the remainder of the ranch.
Richard graduated from Cal Poly San Luis Obispo where he met and married Donna Newman, with whom he later established the Rancho Mission Viejo Land Conservancy. After Donna died in 2002 the Conservancy was re-named in her honor.
The presidential campaign of Harry Truman was Richard’s first foray into politics. He continued to work in Democratic politics, becoming a member of the Central Committee of the Democratic Party of Orange County in 1964 and serving three terms as our Chair. In 1974 he was elected Southern Chair of the California Democratic Party and became State Party Chair in 1979. For his many contributions the Democratic Party of Orange County created the Richard J. O’Neill Lifetime Achievement Award in 2007 and made him our first honoree.
In spite of his success and influence in Democratic politics, Richard considered himself primarily a restaurant owner. His flagship restaurant, El Adobe de Capistrano, was frequented by President Richard Nixon. The two Richards, Nixon and O’Neill, were quite the political odd couple when they met at El Adobe.
Richard was always there for his friends. To the end his mind was as sharp as ever. His body just failed him.
We will all miss him, his advice, and his friendship, but most of all his presence.
Services are tentatively scheduled for Monday, April 13. We will send details in a later email.
Chair, Democratic Party of Orange County