Smithtown pediatrician John O'Donnell dies
By one count, John J. O'Donnell performed as many as a half-million examinations on 50,000 patients over more than 50 years as a pediatrician.
So it may not be too much of an exaggeration to say that, for decades in greater Smithtown, O'Donnell seemed to be every child's physician.
"Just an old-fashioned country doctor, and one of the best," said Michael Fitzpatrick, 55, the state assemblyman from St. James who was first treated by O'Donnell at age 4, and remained friends into adulthood. "He was definitely a member of 'The Greatest Generation.' "
O'Donnell, who was in practice in Smithtown from 1954 to 2005, and who helped launch pediatric departments at three Suffolk hospitals, died Friday at St. Catherine of Siena Medical Center in Smithtown. He was 88.
The apparent cause was heart failure, said his family.
After an honorable discharge from the Army, O'Donnell was believed to be the first pediatrician between Huntington and Riverhead to open his own office, according to his family. As his practice grew, so did his family: he and his wife, Peggy, had 11 children in 16 years.
"Having a new sibling in the family was an annual event," said one of his sons, Steve O'Donnell, 52, of St. James.
Another, Brendan O'Donnell, 62, of Fairfax, Va., said his father "set very high standards for all the people around him.
"You not only had to do your best, but you also had to achieve a certain level of competence," he said. "He was one of the hardest workers you'll ever come across."
The Manhattan native, an Eagle Scout since 1940, also inspired others to pursue medicine. Dr. John Romanelli was a patient who today runs an ophthalmology practice in Smithtown.
"He conveyed an air of confidence, and I think that gives patients confidence," said Romanelli, 51. "He was a man who believed in his convictions."
Fitzpatrick had a laugh recalling O'Donnell's stern manner in providing his young patients' immunizations.
"It was 1-2-3, let's go, and boom!" he said. "Not that he didn't have a good bedside manner -- he did -- but it was no-nonsense for things like that."
Predeceased by his wife, John O'Donnell is survived by 11 children, 24 grandchildren and five great-grandchildren.
A wake will be held Monday from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. at Hawkins & Davis Funeral Home, 17 Manor Rd., Smithtown. A funeral Mass is 10 a.m. Tuesday at Sts. Philip & James Church, 359 Clinton Ave., St. James, with burial at Calverton National Cemetery.