Thomas R. O'Donnell, a "legend" in the movie, theater and labor fields, died Friday in Livingston, Mont., after leaving his home in Massapequa, which was destroyed in superstorm Sandy. He was 83 and died of a heart attack.
Teamsters Union president James P. Hoffa said O'Donnell's "commitment and vision benefited every member he represented. He was a legend in the motion picture and television industry, raising standards for all our members during his 62-year career."
O'Donnell became president of the local in 1961 "by two votes," said his son and successor Thomas J. O'Donnell of Smithtown. He said his father's greatest innovation was a collective bargaining agreement that pays a four-year college scholarship to every member's child with the grades to attend.
"It pays tuition and room and board, and 700 kids have graduated under it since it began in 1965," Thomas J. O'Donnell said.
Thomas R. O'Donnell was raised in Jamaica, Queens, before his family moved to Lynbrook, where he graduated from high school. O'Donnell served as a Navy frogman from 1948 to 1950 but did not see action in the Korean conflict. He returned to New York, became a Teamster and began driving a truck for a number of small companies.
The union local, which has about 900 working members on average, does most of the transportation work for Broadway theaters and major concert halls in the metropolitan area.
"It was a big job, and Mr. O'Donnell was a good man for it," said his secretary for the last 16 years, Tina Gusmano of Lindenhurst. "He made people feel good about themselves."
O'Donnell also held the position of director of the union's motion picture division in the early 1990s.
Phyllis, O'Donnell's wife of 59 years, died two years ago. Survivors other than Thomas J. include another son, Edward, of Livingston, Mont., where Thomas R. O'Donnell had a home; a daughter, Christine, of Hauppauge; nine grandchildren and one great grandchild.
Viewing will be from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 10 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday. A Mass will be at 11 a.m. Friday at St. Rose of Lima RC Church in Massapequa. Burial will be at Greenfield Cemetery in Uniondale. The family asks that donations be made to the Thomas R. O'Donnell Scholarship Fund, C/O Local 817, 127 Cuttermill Rd., Great Neck, NY 11021.