Friends and family remember Jack O’Leary, who served for 28 years as Nassau County Conservative Party chairman, as much for his humor, strength and love of the arts as they do for his life entrenched in politics.
A “consummate Irishman whose Irish tenor could sing ‘Danny Boy’ and bring you to tears,” O’Leary died on St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, on the holiday he loved dearly and celebrated each year, said his son-in-law, James McKenna of Levittown. O’Leary, who battled Parkinson’s disease for the past decade, died at home in Plainview from complications of the disease, surrounded by family, at age 84.
O’Leary, born in 1932 and raised in Astoria, Queens, joined the Navy when he was 18 and served as a radio man aboard the USS Yorktown, McKenna said. After a stint in the armed services, O’Leary attended Tri-State College in Angola, Indiana, and graduated in 1958. He pursued a career in engineering, landing a job at Grumman Corp.
He also headed the Nassau Conservatives from 1972 to 2000. He served on the board of zoning and appeals, and was receiver of taxes for the Town of Oyster Bay.
His wife, Jean O’Leary, 76, of Plainview, said they married when she was 19 and spent 57 years together.
“He was a really great guy, a very inspiring person,” she said. “He did so much for me, for our family, for the community.”
Joseph Mondello said he came to be the chairman of the Nassau Republican Party when Jack O’Leary was head of the Conservatives — and that the two had known each other about 40 years, a period that allowed them — as well as their wives — to become “very close.”
“He was a man I considered my partner in politics,” Mondello said. “He was the kind of man when he gave you his word, he kept it and he meant it.”
O’Leary had strong convictions in his Catholic faith and “he did not bend or compromise .<EN>.<EN>. he was one tough guy,” Mondello said.
McKenna said his father-in-law, whom he has known nearly 40 years and was like a father to him, was “very proud of his tenure” in politics, and looked up most to President Ronald Reagan and attended his 1981 inauguration.
Jack was “a great dad, a great husband,” his wife said, always staying involved in their lives and activities.
In retirement, Jack enjoyed his time in the boxing ring and was also an avid photographer, a traveler who loved Italy, and an author: he penned his two-book autobiography titled, “Playing It Well,” with the first part chronicling the history of his life and the second about his life in politics.
O’Leary was predeceased by his son, Ranny O’Leary.
He also is survived by two daughters, Patricia McKenna of Levittown, and Eileen O’Leary of Plainview; and two brothers, Bob O’Leary of Port Jefferson Staton, and Tom O’Leary of Huntington Station. Jack O’Leary was buried March 24 at St. Charles Cemetery in Farmingdale.
“He had a strong heart and he fought very well right up to the end,” James McKenna said. “A true Irishman knows that St. Patrick greets you there at the gates of heaven, and I’m sure he did that with Jack.”