Tip O'Neill Biography

(The 47th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives (1977 to 1987))

Birthday: December 9, 1912 (Sagittarius)

Born In: Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States

American politician Thomas P. O'Neill Jr., or Tip O’Neill, was the 47th Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, from January 1977 to January 1987. During his stint as a Member of the US House of Representatives for more than 30 years, he was a popular Democratic figure. Known for his famous quote, “All politics is local,” he became a Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from the 3rd Middlesex district soon after graduating from Boston College. He later served as the Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, a Member of the US House of Representatives, a House Majority Whip, and a House Majority Leader, too. He is remembered for his strong opposition to Ronald Reagan's policies. During the Watergate scandal, he prepared ground for the impeachment of President Richard Nixon.

Quick Facts

Also Known As: Thomas Phillip O'Neill Jr.

Died At Age: 81


Spouse/Ex-: Mildred Anne Miller (m. 1941–1994)

father: Thomas Phillip O'Neill

mother: Rose Ann (née Tolan) O'Neill

children: Michael O'Neill, Thomas P. O'Neill III

Born Country: United States

Political Leaders American Men

Died on: January 5, 1994

place of death: Boston, Massachusetts, United States

Cause of Death: Cardiac Arrest

Diseases & Disabilities: Colon Cancer

U.S. State: Massachusetts

More Facts

education: Boston College

Childhood, Early Life & Education

Thomas Phillip O'Neill Jr., better known as Tip O’Neill, was born on December 9, 1912, in Cambridge, Massachusetts, US. O'Neill was the youngest of the three children born to his parents, Thomas Phillip O'Neill and Rose Ann (née Tolan) O'Neill.

He grew up in the Irish working-class area of North Cambridge in Massachusetts, or Old Dublin. After he lost his mother at 9 months, he grew up under the care of his French-Canadian housekeeper.

When he was 8, his father remarried. His father was a bricklayer who later earned a Cambridge City Council seat and became the Superintendent of Sewers.

O’Neill earned his nickname, Tip, from 19th-century St. Louis Brown Stockings baseball player James Edward "Tip" O'Neill. O’Neill graduated from the Cambridge-based St. John High School in 1931. He captained the basketball team in school.

As a teenager, he worked as a grounds-keeper at Harvard University. He also joined the 1928 presidential campaign of New York Governor Al Smith and worked as a truck driver for a while, too.

O'Neill was quite popular in school but was not good academically. In his school yearbook, he was nicknamed “Class Caveman.” He aspired to become the mayor of Cambridge someday.

He later joined Boston College and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from there in 1936. For a while, he also studied in a law school but did not like it. In his senior year in college, he contested for a local office but was defeated in the election.

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In 1932, O’Neill campaigned for Democratic presidential candidate Governor Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1936, the year he graduated from college, he won the election to the Massachusetts state House of Representatives.

Thus, he took over as the Member of the Massachusetts House of Representatives from the 3rd Middlesex district and continued to serve in the position till 1953. In his capacity, he leveraged on political patronage and got many constituents state jobs.

When the legislature was out of session, O’Neill served the Cambridge city treasurer's office. After he lost his city job due to a political rivalry, he worked in the insurance business for a few years.

From 1947 to 1949, he was also the Minority Leader of the Massachusetts House of Representatives. From 1949 to 1953, O’Neill was the Speaker of the Massachusetts House of Representatives, too, while scripting history as the youngest speaker of the Massachusetts legislature.

In 1953, O’Neill was elected to the US House of Representatives seat vacated by John F. Kennedy, following Kennedy’s election to the US Senate. Thus, from January 3, 1953 to January 3, 1987, O’Neill was the Member of the US House of Representatives from Massachusetts, initially representing the 11th district and then the 8th district.

On Capitol Hill, he came to be known as a trusted ally of Massachusetts congressman John McCormick, who later became a Speaker of the House. McCormick made O'Neill part of the House rules committee. Thus, O'Neill became an expert in the operations of Capitol Hill.

During Lyndon Johnson’s administration, O’Neill was associated with major legislations for the Great Society programs. He, however, opposed Johnson over the Vietnam War.

In 1967, when the Vietnam War protests spread, O’Neill became one of the first House members who opposed President Johnson openly on the Vietnam War issue. He then declared his support for presidential candidacy of anti-war Senator Eugene McCarthy in the Democratic primaries of 1968.

O’Neill became a House Majority Whip in 1971. Following the death of the House Majority Leader, Hale Boggs, in a plane crash, O'Neill took over as the Majority Leader in 1972.

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After the Watergate scandal started making headlines in 1973, O'Neill began preparing for President Richard M. Nixon’s impeachment proceedings and ensured that the committee chairman, congressman Peter Rodino, was prepared for his task. Since he was friendly with Gerald Ford in Congress, O'Neill did not offer harsh criticism when Ford, as the new president, decided to pardon Nixon.

O’Neill took over as the 47th Speaker of the US House of Representatives on January 4, 1977 (after Carl Albert’s retirement as the Speaker of the House) and served till January 3, 1987. He thus scripted history as the second-longest-serving Speaker in the US after Sam Rayburn.

In 1977, Democrat Jimmy Carter took over as the President of the US. Though Carter and O’Neill were quite different in their political ways and in their personalities, they became allies.

O'Neill helped Carter with legislative matters such as the formation of the Department of Education. O'Neill stayed neutral during the time Carter faced a primary challenge from Senator Edward Kennedy in year 1980.

In 1980, O’Neill received the prestigious Laetare Medal from the University of Notre Dame. After Republican Ronald Reagan became the president in 1981, O’Neill opposed many of his policies.

By the the mid-term elections in 1982, O'Neill had become quite influential on Capitol Hill. He also tried to counter the extreme changes in US politics brought in by the "Reagan Revolution” but was never bitter in his criticism.

Due to his anti-Reagan stance, O’Neill was often ridiculed in various Republican campaigns. In 1984, O'Neill declared he would contest for a last term in the House of Representatives and was re-elected.

Personal Life

O’Neill married Mildred “Millie” Anne Miller on June 17, 1941. The couple had 5 children.

Their oldest son, Thomas P. O'Neill III, later became the lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, now works in public relations in Boston. Their second son, Christopher, now works as a lawyer in Washington.

The couple’s third son, Michael, is dead. Their daughter Susan owns a business in Washington, DC. Their other daughter, Rosemary, worked as a political officer for the State Department and died in July 2022. Actor Thomas Philip O'Neill IV is O’Neill’s grandchild.

Later Life, Death, & Legacy

O'Neill appeared in a cameo in an episode of Cheers (1983). He appeared in multiple TV commercials, for products such as Miller Lite Beer to a popular hotel chain and even for Trump Shuttle, an airline operated by future president Donald Trump.

In 1987, O'Neill was awarded the Freedom Medal. The same year, O’Neill released his best-selling memoir Man of the House.

In 1991, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom. His book of his anecdotes, All Politics Is Local, was released in 1994.

Tip O'Neill, who also battled colon cancer, died of a cardiac arrest on January 5, 1994, at 81. He remains buried in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Harwich Port, Massachusetts, US.

The highway tunnel in Boston called the Thomas P. O'Neill Jr. Tunnel was named after him. Additionally, a federal office building in Washington and the main library at Boston College have been named in his honor. He is remembered for his famous quote, “All politics is local.”

See the events in life of Tip O'Neill in Chronological Order

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