For the first time in over 23 years, on Tuesday, the Montgomery County School Board convened for a reunion without Pat O’Neill as a member.
O’Neill died Sept. 14 at her Bethesda home as she watched a live broadcast of a county council meeting with school district officials, according to her husband, Rick. She was 71 years old.
On Tuesday, the other seven school board members remembered O’Neill as a dedicated colleague, infallible in hard times, unofficial school district historian and friend.
“Pat’s goal was to always make decisions that would benefit all students,” said school board president Brenda Wolff. “She was never afraid to stand up for what she thought was right for the students, even if it was unpopular.”
School board members have requested that O’Neill’s name be added to the district’s list of possible names for future school facilities. When naming new buildings or renaming existing buildings, MCPS policy gives preference to deceased women and minorities.
Over the past 23 years, O’Neill has attended over 500 meetings, spending thousands of hours on the platform. She has been chairman of the board of directors five times and vice-chairman six times.
Board members on Tuesday acknowledged O’Neill’s time in the school district, but also thanked her family present – her husband, daughters and sister – for “lending her to us.”
“We know the sacrifice she has made over the years to serve the students and families of Montgomery County Public Schools and in some ways I’m sure it sacrificed some of your time,” said Acting Superintendent Monifa McKnight. “So thank you for sharing it with us because it has benefited the system, benefited our children and benefited families in so many ways that we will see in the years to come. “
Rick O’Neill told the board that Pat “deeply loved all of the board members, all of the staff.”
“There is no doubt about it,” he said. “We didn’t mind loaning it out at all.
O’Neill has been “instrumental in transformational policy decisions,” Wolff said.
“Her legacy lives on,” added Karla Silvestre, board member. “It lives on in everyone she has mentored over the years and in the children of this school system. “
She was generous with her knowledge and her time, said Board member Rebecca Smondrowski, and she “enjoyed debating the finer points of policy and procedure.”
Other board members described O’Neill as calm, thoughtful, courteous, kind and happy. Several said they spoke to O’Neill almost every day.
And, even though they will miss O’Neill, they said they would continue to “do the job” of the school system.
“Good luck,” Rick O’Neill said. “To continue.”