The large crowd watching the procession leading the body of the late statesman Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal to the Sports Multiplex will never forget that sad, yet historic moment. The procession which started at the R. T. O’Neal Administrative Complex was the start of the celebration of life the man that served the BVI for 40 years his people as Deputy Chief Minister, Chief Minister, and first Premier of the Territory.
The solemn procession featured the Royal Virgin Islands Police Band, Honour Guard, and Flag Party as well as uniformed members of other organizations of the Territory,
One of the light-hearted moments of the melancholic occasion was the sight of Premier and Minister for Finance Hon. Andrew Fahie distance away from the Vigilate draped casket playing music on the organ during the funeral service.
The service officially commenced with welcome and acknowledgements from Cabinet Secretary Sandra Ward. One of the first tributes was presented by Minister for Health Hon. Carvin Malone who announced that Hon. O’Neal always associated himself with the common man while dining and negotiating with presidents, prime ministers, the Queen and members of the Royal Family.
The Minister for Health reflected that as the former President of the Virgin Islands Party he worked hand in glove with Hon. O’Neal for many years. Looking at Hon. O’Neal’s philanthropic life, Hon. Malone said that the former BVI leader received the Paul Harris Fellow award, which is the highest award of Rotary International organization.
Additionally, Hon. Malone mentioned that Hon. O’Neal was member of numerous nonprofit organizations and supported some such as Kids at Sea until he was no longer physically able to do so.
“Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal has fought the good fight. He finished the race and he kept the faith. There is reserved for him the crown of righteousness. He often remarked that I may not be perfect but I try. All he demanded was a square meal and a fair deal – may his soul rest in eternal peace,” the Health Minister stated in closing his tribute.
Esther O’Neal-Wheatley the oldest daughter of Hon. O’Neal in her tribute said that she remembered his protective nature not only of his family, but the people of the Territory as well. “In his public life his accolades are many and his list of accomplishments area well known, but today I speak of him as the person behind the public view – the father. Foremost he was strong willed and principled. Discipline and respectfulness especially to our elders were the insisting and constant teaching along with large doses of the importance of education, work ethics and global curiosity,” O’Neal-Wheatley said.
In painting a bright picture of the former BVI Leader in his private life, his daughter said, “He was a warm, caring, and sharing father with a little bit of a quirky sense of humor. This side of dad is not the most obvious to many to understand he was a logical thinking man and viewed the world from that perspective. His personal emotions were rarely on display but we know in his time of privacy he cried when we cried, shared our dreams, aspirations, our successes, and failures. He celebrated with us and fought our battles when necessary.”
She also said that he was pleased to be treated at the Dr. D. Orlando Smith hospital, and felt that it was a good demonstration of hard work and tenacity of the people of the Territory.
The youngest daughter Abigail O’Neal reflected that she was born during the time her father was in public life and she learnt a lot from observing him. “My father was a teacher and was constantly teaching me at times with me not even knowing what was happening.”
“He was kind and gentle but also said: sometimes you have to speak to people in a language they understand. He was a committed and dedicated man who never did things half way and always tried to lift those around him to meet their full potential,” the youngest daughter said.
Premier Fahie said that Hon. O’Neal had a good relationship with the Lord and this was the source of his life’s success. “Ralph T. O’Neal’s life was successful because he lived the life he was put here on earth to fulfill. Some people might say he was rich because all politicians in people’s mind are rich…his success was because he praised God all the time and fulfilled the purpose that God placed him on earth to fulfill,” the Premier announced.
Hon. Fahie said that when they were building the Sports Multiplex there was a lot of controversy. According to the Premier protesters had gathered at the site and Hon. O’Neal came, prayed with him and gave advice that he uses to this day. “I learned from him, everything he touched he prayed. When he prayed, he praised.”
The USVI Governor Albert Bryan spoke at the service saying that he met Hon. O’Neal many years ago. Bryan told the gathering that the passing of Hon. O’Neal is the closing in of an era of great visionaries. “Today we say goodbye…We are so sad to see him go but he will rest well because as a leader he toiled hard for his people,” the USVI Governor said.
Deputy Premier, Ninth District Representative, and Son-in-Law of the former BVI statesman, Hon. Vincent Wheatley described Hon. O’Neal’s life as extraordinary. “He was a one of a kind or a once in a lifetime kind of person. He meant a lot of things to a lot of persons…He was a man of great intellect extraordinary memory and recall, knowledgeable, hard working yet very caring,” the Deputy Premier said: “Hon. O’Neal lived a life of service to his fellow men, he was teacher, principal, public officer, rotarian, statesman; always about service to his fellow men. R. O’Neal understood that in order to be effective you had to be hardworking, honest and of good reputation.”
The gathering included former member Speakers, and Clerks of the House of Assembly and the Legislative Council as well as visiting officials. These included the Governor of the United States Virgin Islands Bryan, Lieutenant Governor Tregenza Roach, Minister of Agriculture, Forestry, Fisheries and Rural Transformation of St Vincent and the Grenadines Saboto Caesar, Senate President of the 33rd Legislature of the USVI Novelle Francis Jr., Deputy Speaker of the House of Parliament of Antigua and Barbuda Londel Benjamin, Member Of Parliament of Bermuda Christopher Famous, and Director of Public Prosecutions for the Government of St Kitts represented the government of St Kitts Valston Graham.
The late Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal, Member Emeritus of the House of Assembly is survived by his Wife Reverend Edris O’Neal, Daughters – Esther O’Neal-Wheatley, Jacqui O’Neal-Privitere, and Abigail O’Neal; Son – Ralph O’Neal Jr.; Son-in-Law Hon. Vincent Wheatley; Grandchildren – Dr. Amber Wheatley, Xyrah Wheatley, and Alexander Caffrey.
The late statesman Ralph T. O’Neal was the veritable “man for all seasons” ready to cope with any contingency and whose conduct was not just appropriate to every occasion but also a great inspiration to all; like all genuine leaders he went through hard times and good times as well as great challenges. He had a most practical approach to life and its problems and complexities; he never took the name of God in vain and never made promises he knew he could not keep; Mr. O’Neal was one of the few politicians who attended most ceremonies and public events – big and small. He will be remembered for many generations to come. May he rest in eternal peace.
The publishers, management and staff of The Island Sun newspaper wish to extend heartfelt condolences to the bereaved family, friends and citizenry.