Obituary: Police Officer Robert O’Neill, beloved Brooklyn Heights figure in 1970s, dies at 77
Police Officer Robert O’Neill, who patrolled Brooklyn Heights during the 1970s and was known as the unofficial “Mayor of Montague Street,” has died at the age of 77. The Brooklyn native was a “true-blue, old-fashioned beat cop that people loved and respected,” recalled Dozier Hasty, longtime publisher of the Brooklyn Heights Press.
O’Neill came from an era of neighborhood policing that allowed beat cops to become part of the neighborhood. He was an example of the best of neighborhood patrols and he knew all the local characters. He knew who was a good citizen and who might be trouble.
“There is a famous story, maybe mythologized today, about Bobby O’Neill walking past a car illegally parked in front Grace Church,” added Hasty.
“O’Neill walked over and felt the hood of the car; it was warm.
“‘It’s probably just a mom dropping off her kid at the nursery school,’” Hasty recalled O’Neill as saying.
He did not write a ticket, but waited a few minutes. The mother emerged from the school rushed to her car and called out, “I’m not parking, just dropping off…” He made her day, but he also made her feel safe, just by his presence, according to Hasty. “He was a beloved neighborhood cop that everyone knew.”
O’Neill was born in Brooklyn on March 29, 1940 to the late Robert J. and Dorothy H. O’Neill. He attended John Jay College of Criminal Justice while serving as a police officer in the NYPD’s 84th Precinct. O’Neill earned the title “Mayor of Montague Street” while patrolling the neighborhood.
He was a proud veteran of the U.S. Army, who served in Germany during his time in the service. He was deeply steeped in the history of the second world war, and fulfilled a long-held wish some years back to go and visit the beaches of Normandy, bringing back sand from each of the major sites.
O’Neill was known for his wonderful sense of humor and great love of sports, particularly for the New York Mets and the Giants.
In 1982 O’Neill married the love of his life, Agnes Szechy. He is survived by Agnes and their children Kelly, Robert and Sean.
O’Neill was always devoted to his family. “With his fierce love of his children, Bob wanted more than anything else for Kelly, Bobby and Sean to live with him,” said Agnes. “And in 1984, when the police department retired him for an injury, Bobby and Sean did indeed come to live with us.”
In 1985, the family moved to East Brunswick, New Jersey. According to Agnes, “It was not an easy time of transition for any of us — Bob was Brooklyn born and bred and found the burbs to be very different.”
The couple enjoyed traveling together, and in 2001 they finally took their long-planned trip to Europe, which coincided with the 40th anniversary of O’Neill’s last tour of duty in the Army.
Agnes summed up her feelings for her husband: “Bob was my strength, my support, my other half. He was the wind beneath my wings.”
A gathering for family and friends was held on Thursday, Aug. 31 at the Spicer-Mullikin Funeral Home at 214 Clinton St., Delaware City, Delaware, where a celebration of his life took place.
In lieu of flowers, contributions in O’Neill’s memory may be made to the Wildlife Conservation Society, Attn: Donations, 2300 Southern Blvd., Bronx, N.Y. 10460 or to the Environmental Defense Fund, 1875 Connecticut Ave. NW, Washington, D.C. 20009.
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