David Michael O’Connell entered eternal life on March 31, 2020 at the age of 85. He passed the same way he lived: shining the light of Christ.
Dave was born on October 5, 1934 in Medford, Massachusetts. He was the youngest of six children born to William J. O’Connell, a longtime advertising manager for the Boston Globe, and Mary F. (McGrath) O’Connell, a tough-as-nails homemaker hailing from Newfoundland. His parents instilled in their children the values of faith, family, patriotism, and hard work. In Dave’s own words, “we were all brought up to be respectful and obedient – or else!”
Times were tough growing up in the midst of World War II, when food and supplies were rationed and the entire world was on edge. Nevertheless, Dave had a childhood blessed with life’s simple pleasures. He played ball, tag, and guns with his many neighborhood friends—especially Tom Price, whom he described as “a brother to me.” The O’Connell boys regularly ran and roughhoused in “their” woods (actually owned by Tufts University) behind the family home on Knollwood Rd. Summers were spent marching shirtless on the half-mile walk to Mystic Lake for a swim. Winters meant coasting down Hume Ave. over the “seven bumps” near Tufts. Autumn brought out his mother’s homemade molasses candy, but there were abundant sweets in the home throughout the year.
Dave was raised as a devout Roman Catholic and received all the benefits of a parochial school education. He attended St. Joseph’s School in Medford (1940-1949), which he described as “all business—those nuns were strict!” He typically avoided their wrath, except when he threw snowballs at his female classmates. He went on to St. Clement High School in West Somerville. While he would have preferred to stay on the football team, Dave had to work each day after school (first at U.S. Plywood and then Hood Milk). His favorite teacher was Sister Pauline, not least because she set him up with a date for the junior prom—“and we went steady for four years!” His yearbook, The Anchor 1953, described him as “Oh Happy Dave…has a helping hand and friendly smile for everyone…”.
Coming from a large military family, Dave wanted to enlist in the U.S. Marines immediately upon graduating from high school in 1953. Due to the perseverance of the aforesaid nuns, however, he instead enrolled at Merrimack College in Andover, Massachusetts. After a short stint, he decided that he could no longer bear wearing the required “beanie.” As such, he enlisted in the U.S. Marine Corps from 1953-1956 (Korean War Era). He survived the thirteen grueling weeks of boot camp on Parris Island, despite making his “brothers” giggle during push-ups on toes and knuckles. Dave served in Quantico, Virginia, and Camp Lejeune, North Carolina. Corporal O’Connell was a sharp shooter. Being a U.S. Marine was a source of life-long pride.
Following his discharge from the Corps, Dave began working for Polaroid Corporation in April 1957. He started out by loading trucks with film, and progressed to being a General Supervisor running a three-shift operation of film production in the Waltham facility. He loved his work, which he described without hesitation as the “job of a lifetime.” He was a loyal employee for nearly 40 years until his retirement.
It was at a Polaroid dance that Dave met a girl in a black velvet dress with a singular curl on her forehead. That girl, Joan Coffey, was the love of his life. When asked whether he was scared that she might refuse his marriage proposal, Dave said (with his trademark humor), “I knew she loved me and wanted to get married to a fine catch like me!” When he asked Joan’s Irish immigrant parents for her hand in marriage, his future mother-in-law asked, “Do you know what you’re getting yourself into?” and his future father-in-law took him down to the basement to drink a lukewarm beer.
They married at the Church of St. Patrick in Watertown on September 12, 1959. Joan’s large, Irish Catholic family became his own.
Dave and Joan were blessed with four healthy children. He was a hands-on father, the type who would crawl around on all fours to give “tiger rides” to the kids on his back. He never missed a school function, dance recital, or sporting event. He listened intently. He prayed both with you and for you. He passed on the values of his parents (faith, family, country, hard work), but with more hugs and playfulness. He encouraged his children, but never pressured them. Together with Joan, he was each child’s greatest friend and cheerleader. He was the same way with all 13 of his grandchildren.
Spending time with family was Dave’s greatest joy. He also enjoyed tending to the yard at the family home in Watertown while the “Irish hour” was blaring in the background; having a cold beer on the front porch while listening to the chirping crickets on summer nights; going for a run during his lunch break at work; playing poker every Saturday night at the Knights of Columbus with a close-knit group of friends that called themselves the Saturday Night Dead; watching Watertown Recreation Department basketball games in the summer at Saltonstall Park; reading non-fiction, particularly books about U.S. history; golfing; watching “the fights” on television and all the Boston professional sports teams; spending time with friends at Green Harbor in Marshfield; teasing his wife and children; and eating copious amounts of ice cream, preferably Brighams. Dave understood that you do not need wealth to lead a tremendously rich life.
Dave had more time to spend on his interests following his retirement from Polaroid. He founded a social group—“The Cementheads”—for his fellow Polaroid retirees. The best things about retirement, according to Dave, were being able to go to church every morning; being able to play golf whenever he had the urge; and being able to travel with his wife. Tragically, his time with Joan was cut short by her sudden passing in 2002.
When Joan died, Dave remembered one of his mother’s sayings—“life is for the living.” Instead of being mired in grief, Dave focused his energies on an extraordinary amount of service to his church and the Watertown community where he resided for 57 years. He served as a lector at St. Patrick’s (including multiple appearances on Boston Catholic TV, whose broadcast Mass brought him much comfort toward the end of his life) and served for a period of time on the parish council. He brought Holy Communion to the faithful confined at home. He was an incorporator and director of the Watertown Charitable Council, Inc., a non-profit organization founded in 2005 that raises and distributes funding to other charities that are consistent with the Catholic faith. As an active member of the Pvt. Charles J. Shutt Marine Corps League Detachment (from which he received the “Marine of the Year” award in 2009), Dave regularly volunteered his time by delivering clothing to the Jamaica Plain VA Hospital for veterans in need. He continued his membership with the Knights of Columbus Watertown Council 155 (Past Grand Knight), which he first joined in 1961, as well as with the American Legion Post 440 in Newton and the Hibernians in Watertown. In Dave’s own words, “I take my faith very seriously and hope I inspired my own children and grandchildren to be good Catholics and not in word only. We are only on this earth a very short time and eternity is forever so act and do good deeds, especially for those not as fortunate as we are.”
Inspired we are.
Dave is survived by his children Karen M. Bilodeau & her husband, Tom, of Framingham; Deputy Chief Kevin E. O’Connell (Waltham PD) & his wife, Nancy, of Waltham; Timothy P. O’Connell & Claire, of Waltham; and Tricia O’Connell & her husband, Scott Arrighi, of Waltham, as well as 13 grandchildren. He is also survived by his brother, Bob O’Connell of Peabody, and his sister, Bernice McAteer of Burlington, Vermont, and many nieces and nephews. He leaves behind countless friends—particularly his Marine brother, Ed Aucoin of Waltham, and his health aide/guardian angel, Leila Almeida of Lowell. His faithful canine companion, Nobu, will miss him dearly.
Dave was the son of the late William J. & Mary F. (McGrath) O’Connell of Medford. He was also the dear brother of the late Thomas O’Connell of Melrose, Paul O’Connell of Peabody, and Barbara Fitzgerald of Concord.
As a result of the pandemic and the limitations established for large gatherings, Dave’s funeral service and interment were private. A memorial Mass and celebration of life open to all (Davey O’C style – lots of food, beer, and Irish music) will be held at a later date to be announced.
In lieu of flowers, memorial gifts in Dave’s name may be made to:
Massachusetts General Hospital Melanoma Research Fund
125 Nashua St., Suite 540
Boston, MA 02114
The Pvt. Charles J. Shutt Marine Corps League Scholarship Fund
215 Mt. Auburn St.
Watertown, MA 02472
PO Box 9196
34 Chestnut St.
Watertown, MA 02471
Please wear sunscreen.
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Pvt. Charles J. Shutt Detachment
215 Mt. Auburn St., Watertown MA 02472
PO Box 9196, 34 Chestnut St., Watertown MA 02472