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V. Henry 'Hank' O'Neill, 89; Real Estate Investor Who Lived in New Canaan for 50 Years

Mr. O'Neill served on the board of Norwalk Hospital and as chair of the New Canaan Tax Review Board.

V. Henry 'Hank' O'Neill. Contributed photo.
V. Henry 'Hank' O'Neill. Contributed photo.

V. Henry (Hank) O’Neill, a 50-year resident of New Canaan, died on Saturday, May 3, 2014. He was 89.

Born in 1924 in Santiago, Chile, Hank was the son of Victor O’Neill and his wife Rosa Zegarra-Ballon. His mother’s family were newspaper publishers in Arequipa and Lima, Peru, and his father worked in South American operations for Johnson & Johnson. Hank’s upbringing was influenced by a strong Quaker grandmother, Lydia Haines Fowler O’Neill of Harrison, NY, with whom he lived when his parents were abroad.

Hank attended Seton Hall Preparatory School in South Orange, NJ, where he was a member of the cross country and swim teams. Upon graduation in 1943, he enlisted in the US Army Air Corps and completed the pilot training program in the Southwest Training Command. He got his “wings” at Eagle Pass, Texas in 1944. He then received training in single-engine aircraft and heavy bombers and served as an engineering test pilot, clearing repaired planes for flight.

After World War II, Hank entered Columbia College, where he served as president of the senior class in 1949 and president of Delta Phi (St. Elmo) fraternity. He was also elected to the Senior Society of Nacoms.

In 1951 Hank married Eleanor Quinn, who had recently graduated from Smith College. He frequently cited his marriage to Eleanor as the critical turning point in his life and credited her with keeping him “on the straight and narrow” and also with any success he may have enjoyed. Hank and Eleanor settled in Manhattan, where they had two daughters, and in 1954, moved to Connecticut, where a third daughter and a son were born.

After his Columbia graduation, Hank headed the printing and publishing company Bradbury, Sayles, O’Neill, which he founded with two older partners. Over 20 years, the company became the regional leader in college and independent-school yearbooks and other school-related publications. Among its customers were all the Ivy League colleges, the US Naval and Military Academies, the Seven Sisters and many independent and graduate schools. Hank took pleasure in the thrill young yearbook editors got from visiting the company’s Chrysler building headquarters in the heart of Manhattan to plan their publications.

In 1973 Bradbury, Sayles, O’Neill was sold to Carnation, which merged the company with their national publishing subsidiary, Herff Jones. Following the sale, Hank and Madison Sayles, his original partner and financial backer, shifted gears into another partnership called Fairfield Ventures. They became private investors in commercial and residential real estate, mostly in Fairfield County. Hank and Maddy were close friends as well as colleagues, and their partnership lasted for over four decades until Maddy’s death in 1996.

Hank’s family was still very young when they started visiting Nantucket for summer vacations in the late 1950s. They built a home in Wauwinet, and as the kids grew up, Nantucket became the place where the family gathered every summer. Hank raced a small sloop with his children as crew and served as fleet captain and commodore of the local Wauwinet Yacht Club. He often said that the relaxed and likeable group of sailors in the club changed into “the most fierce group of competitors imaginable” after the starting gun went off.

In Nantucket Hank was a longtime corporate trustee of the Trustees of Reservations, one of the country’s largest and oldest Conservation Trusts. At home in Connecticut he served as a trustee of Norwalk Hospital in the 1960s and ’70s. In the 1990s he was elected chairman of the New Canaan Tax Review Board for eight years.

Hank was a director of the Continental Can Company for 17 years, serving on the Executive Committee and chairing the Audit Committee. He was a member of the Country Club of New Canaan, the Princeton Club in NYC, and, in Nantucket, the Wauwinet Yacht Club and the Sankaty Head Golf Club, where he organized the Senior Tennis.

Hank is survived by his wife of 63 years, Eleanor; his children Vicki, Lisa, Sarah and Quinn; his sons-in-law Tom Kelly, Bob Wright and Barry Munger; his daughter-in-law, Romanie Rout; and his grandchildren Eleanor and Margaret Wright, Nan and Hal Munger, and Liam and Val O’Neill.

During the summer, the family will gather in Nantucket to remember and celebrate Hank’s life.

Contributions in Hank’s memory may be sent to The New Canaan Volunteer Ambulance Corps at www.ncvac.org or to The Trustees of Reservations for the Coskata-Coatue Wildlife Refuge at www.thetrustees.org 

For online condolences please visit www.hoytfuneralhome.com  

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