All Politics Is Local: Books of Millie O'Neill and Speaker of the House Thomas P. O'Neill Jr.
By Renée Magriel Roberts
When we arrived in Harwich Port in 1975 it was hard to ignore what I can only think of as a large presence at Ike’s breakfast place on Main Street. Thomas P. O’Neill, Jr. and his family had a home here, within walking distance to Bank Street Beach. By ’75 Tip had been in politics for over 40 years. He was hard to miss in the village, which was — and still is — a pretty sleepy little place. He was affable and approachable and ate his breakfast in one of the leatherette booths or on a stool at a formica countertop, right in front of the short-order cook. Representative O’Neill didn’t have airs; he was a real person in spite of his celebrity, quick with a handshake and a smile.
In 1977, Tip O’Neill capped his already successful political career with a truly remarkable 10-year leadership role as Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, the longest continuous service in this post in the Nation’s history. Informed by the Great Depression, Tip consistently supported programs for the disadvantaged and let light and air into the secrecy that had enveloped the workings of Congress. Here on the Cape he was responsible for creating and preserving one of the jewels of the National Park System, the Cape Cod National Seashore. As Democrats, and social activists, we revered him, as we revered John F. Kennedy, whose seat in the House Tip had won back in 1952.
In 1984 Boston College named its library after him and received his political papers upon his death in 1994. Last fall, his wife Millie passed away; their estate was settled this year. The O’Neill’s home in Harwich Port was sold; antiques and collectibles were picked up by the local auction house. Items not valuable enough to auction were tagged for a yard sale. The O’Neill children identified and distributed treasures. Tip and Millie’s everyday books were packed into boxes, some destined for the tag sale and others for the Treasure Chest, a free store at our local dump.
We now arrive at the tale of two dogs — Geraldine, a mutt who looks like the dictionary definition of bird dog, with a bossy, runt-like personality, opinionated, and obsessive about working, and Chessie, the pedigreed reddish brown and white Portuguese Water Dog. The former is one of three siblings, foisted on us by a relative; the latter dog belongs to Kip and Stephanie O’Neill, the Speaker’s son and daughter-in-law. We happen to live near the only field in town where you can let your dog exercise (do not ask for the location), and as oftentimes happens, the dogs make friends long before the people do. It is — well — a democratic kind of place where any dog can run, as long as they don’t beat up on other dogs or humans.