The Association for Latin Teaching

respice prospice

Wilfrid O’Neill 1944 - 2013

Wilf's funeral took place on Friday March 22nd, at St Wilfrid's church, Farnley, Leeds.

Wilf,  a proud Yorkshireman, spent his entire life in his native Leeds.  Born with glaucoma resulting from his mother’s rubella during pregnancy, he faced the problems of very poor vision with amazing fortitude.  Special arrangements were made for him at junior school , but he remained in mainstream education, proceeding to St. Michael’s College and Leeds University where he gained a first in classics and a P.G.C.E. under the aegis of William Thompson who became a great friend and inspiration to him.

After a year each at Hipperholme Grammar School,  Halifax and Leeds Grammar School ,  for over thirty years Wilf taught Latin and Classical  Civilisation at Ossett Comprehensive School.  He championed the cause of classics in a state school , refusing to concede when one Head Teacher after another tried (unsuccessfully!) to erode the subject from the timetable. Although unable even to read hard copy, his tremendous services to education were justly recognised by the award of an M. B. E. In  2002.

Wilf’s active involvement with the ARLT spanned four decades during which he served as President, Summer School Director, Secretary of Teaching Resources and producer of an extensive audio-visual library, offices which he performed conscientiously and with distinction.  With customary tact and shrewd rhetoric , as president he guided the ARLT through a period of somewhat strained relations with JACT ,  and was instrumental in effecting the entente cordiale between both associations still enjoyed today.  He will be remembered for running many Summer School option groups on Latin pronunciation.  Young teachers  were especially grateful  for his help and encouragement with accurate reading , for his own Latin was faultless.  In earlier years when his sight permitted it, Wilf gave talks on “ Classics in the Environment “, illustrated by a fascinating collection of slides of,  inter alia, architecture,  branded goods and place names,  all showing some linguistic or cultural link with the ancient world. His loyalty to,  and affection for  the ARLT are shown in that 2013 would have been his fortieth consecutive Summer School!

Wilf’s classical interests extended to  an active part played in the Leeds CA where he masterminded the annual Reading Competition , selecting judges and categories of prizewinner,  and to the job of  CLC e-tutor,  which he undertook with much enjoyment after retirement. For some years he was also the JACT rep for Yorkshire schools.

His personal life had had its vicissitudes:  a broken engagement in the mid-eighties balanced by a whirlwind romance with Margaret whom he married  in 1997 less than three months after they became acquainted.  Wilf showed his dry sense of humour when ,  on being congratulated for his engagement,  added, a fortnight after it  was announced, “ I got married on Saturday!”  He took great delight in the story that  Margaret, who was working as a classroom assistant at his school,  had signed in on the Friday under her own name and on the following Monday as Margaret O’Neill, thus astounding all Wilf’s colleagues  who had been deliberately kept in the dark about the impending wedding .

Their marriage was an immensely happy one and for Wilf it provided the freedom and security to travel while Margaret drove their car.  He was , for example, at last able to buy a holiday cottage in France . Very sadly, Margaret died just three years later. With considerable magnanimity,  Wilf opened his home to Talia, Margaret’s daughter and brought up Alex,  her son, as his own grandson.  Alex often accompanied Wilf to Summer Schools where the bond of affection between them was very much apparent.  Wilf had the pleasure of introducing him to the delights of Greece, France and Germany on an extended holiday last summer.

Wilf,  a devout catholic , served his parish church loyally from its opening in 1958.  Liberal with his time and financially, he trained altar servers for many years and,  far beyond the scope of generosity, bought a new organ for the church.  He was proud to receive the Papal Award for loyal service to the catholic church .

A life member of CAMRA  ( The  Campaign for Real Ale),  he travelled frequently to beer festivals to share his knowledge and love of good food and drink.  His other major interest was music.  He regularly attended organ recitals in Leeds and Halifax, as well as arranging several in his own church.  An accomplished organist himself, he was President of Leeds Organists’ Association in 2012.

To have limited vision is at best restrictive.  Wilf’s character and achievements can be more fully understood in reference to his later optical traumas.  The day after 9/11 the retina of his left (good) eye detached, “a horrifying experience”,  as he described it.  There followed five operations within three months , two of them  failures , but requiring him to  recline with his head at an angle of 45 degrees for six weeks!  The third operation was a five-hour marathon, including a corneal graft and the removal of a cataract.  On one occasion the surgeon even began his incision before any anaesthetic had been administered!  Wilf, typically, was able to see the funny side of this.  Latterly , he also developed the more serious form of macular degeneration .

Diagnosed with cancer in January ,  he died exactly six weeks later; mercifully his suffering was short-lived.  His life was a triumph of courage and faith amidst adversity. The ARLT  owes him a great debt of gratitude.

Lynda Goss

From Yorkshire Post

Wilfred B. O'Neill

Published on 16/03/2013 00:01

Wilfrid Bernard O’Neill, who has died three days after his 69th birthday, was born in Leeds and spent his early years in the Blackman Lane area, where he attended the local junior school.

He was handicapped by very poor eyesight and special arrangements had to be made in the classroom. He then attended the former St Michael’s Roman Catholic College, after which he took a first class degree in Classics at Leeds University.

He was on the staff of Hipperholme Grammar School, Halifax, for one year in 1968, then spent a further year at Leeds Grammar School. However, the greater part of his career was spent at Ossett Comprehensive School, where he taught Latin and Classics for over three decades.

In the 1990s he was made an MBE for promoting classics teaching in schools and was also granted the Papal Award for long service to the Catholic Church.

Though almost blind in his later years, he remained loyal to the promotion of education and also to St Wilfrid’s RC Church, Wortley, where he had been greatly involved since its inception in 1959.

He was a perfectionist – nothing but the best would do – and a regular attender at organ recitals in Leeds and Halifax Minsters and Leeds Town Hall.

A great lover of food and wine, he was a life member of the Campaign for Real Ale.