JOHN PATRICK O’TOOLE
John P. O’Toole, 92, a World War II veteran and retired businessman, died January 24 at his home. He recently had been hospitalized for multiple ailments.
John was born in 1920 in Homestead, Pa., oldest of the three children – his siblings were Marty and Ann -- of Delia O’Toole, a domestic, and steelworker John B O’Toole. His parents, both natives of Connemara, Ireland, had immigrated individually in the early 1900s to Pittsburgh, Pa., where they met at a dance.
At St. Mary’s Elementary in Homestead, young John missed so many days due to childhood illnesses that he had to repeat first grade. However, he went on to flourish academically and physically. In his teens he boxed, and in 1939 he graduated from Homestead High School, where his business track curriculum included practical skills like typing and shorthand, and soon went to work at the Bethlehem Steel plant that employed his father. But John wanted to go to college, so after spending his days as a mill hand he took night classes at Schenley High in Pittsburgh until he was drafted into the U.S. Army in 1942.
After basic training and duty at Fort Meade, Md., John was in New Jersey with his infantry unit, preparing to embark for England and what would be the D-Day invasion. A radio was playing in the barracks; wanting to remember the song being broadcast, Pvt. O’Toole began transcribing the lyrics in shorthand. A sergeant took note and, invoking the Army’s need for stenographers, reassigned him.
In England John served as a press liaison at Supreme Headquarters Allied Expeditionary Forces, debriefing Margaret Bourke-White and other journalists returning from Allied bombing raids. As the Allied offensive carried the war west he advanced with it, from France to Luxembourg to Germany. During the Battle of the Bulge, in December 1944, he was among SHAEF personnel forced by the Wehrmacht counterattack to pack up a forward operations center in Luxembourg and make haste for safety in France.
In late 1945, still in uniform and stationed in England, John used a leave to visit Ireland. This sojourn, which began in Northern Ireland and carried John into Connemara, which his parents had left nearly half a century before, was the first of many visits he made to Ireland, forging and burnishing a life-long connection with and interest in historic and familial connections that he uncovered and fostered on both sides of the Atlantic. Many an Irish relative has enjoyed the hospitality of John and his family, and, on visits to Eire, repaid that generosity.
Upon mustering out of the Army, John briefly returned to Homestead. Determined to continue his education, he applied to Fordham University in the Bronx, New York, but was disappointed. Fordham, inundated with post-war applicants, was only accepting Empire State residents. Instead he came to Washington, D.C., where he enrolled at George Washington University and later transferred to Georgetown University. He augmented his G.I. bill stipend with jobs on the U.S. Capitol police force and at Sears, Roebuck, living in rooming houses such as an establishment on 16th Street NW whose grim accommodations discouraged study, he told the Washington Post Magazine in 1990; in suitable weather he read his textbooks at Dupont Circle.
While in college he joined in public demonstrations against the segregationist policies of the Woodward & Lothrop Tea Room, a measure of the proudly progressive political outlook he never abandoned. He was an active member of Delta Sigma Pi fraternity, Mu chapter, a band of brothers with whom he kept in touch for decades.
John wed Genevieve Smith in 1949 and in 1950 graduated from the Georgetown University School of Foreign Service. In Landover Hills and in Lanham, John and Jenny made raised Eileen, Tim, Larry, and Chris to achieve success in their fields – Eileen as an educator and school psychologist, Tim as a director of photography, Larry as a health insurance analyst, and Chris as a master of stagecraft.
Soon after graduating from Georgetown, John hired on with Remington Rand, selling data storage systems for that company until the 1970s when, with Frank Hollowell and Jim O’Brien, he founded National Office Systems, an Arlington, Va.-based firm plying the same trade.
During their years at National Office Systems, John and his partners worked hard to develop successful business strategies and marketing tactics and to cultivate good relationships with customers and suppliers. They built and maintained a reputation for quality goods and services that moved their company to the forefront of its industry, where it remains today under the stewardship of his stepson, Joe Alvarez, who bought the company in 1991. Even after selling the company, John remained closely involved and assisted in the new owners in setting a course that would keep National Office Systems progressing and profiting.
John’s first marriage ended in divorce.
On a trip to Mexico, he met and fell in love with Patricia Hegewisch. Pat and John married in 1975, and set up a household in Bowie that included Pat’s sons Joe, Alberto, and Eddie, ages 13, 9, and 7. John encouraged his stepsons in all their endeavors, including school, sports, and career, and each grew into a successful man – Joe continuing in John’s footsteps, Al starting his own successful company, and Eddie joining the U.S. Department of Justice. A warm spirit of international fellowship marked the family ties and friendships in Mexico that John developed as a result of his marriage to Pat.
From the 1950s to the 1970s, John was a pillar of the Mens Club at St. Mary’s Church in Landover Hills, Md., and in later years an active member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars. He was an avid Washington Redskins fan, and enjoyed having company to watch games in the pleasant shadows of the family recreation room. He took delight and pride in the members of his family’s newest generation.
John loved language, and, being an eclectic reader, was a formidable Scrabble competitor; late in life, when failing vision kept him from playing the word game, he avidly kibitzed. He was an enthusiastic and inventive amateur builder. Wanting a solid floor for a shed he was building in Lanham, he collared cement truck drivers finishing runs in nearby developments and persuaded each to dump the dregs of his last load of the day into the forms he had erected. He loved growing vegetables, fruits, and decorative plants, and was always happy to throw in on someone else’s project, such as a fieldstone hearth he helped son-in-law Michael build.
Though he left the Pittsburgh area for good in 1946, John was close to his brother Marty, Marty’s wife Norma, and their daughters Kathy, Diane, Susie, Barbara, Janet, and Patty and their children. He often visited clan O’Toole of Munhall and took pleasure in wandering the hills and valleys of his youth and sampling the baked goods made by various purveyors around town in Marty’s equally discerning company. Marty and family reciprocated with visits to Bowie. John treasured Ann and Howard Kelly and their children Susan, Larry, Dan, Patty, and Janie, most recently visiting Miami Springs with Eileen and Michael during the summer of 2010. He remained a faithful correspondent with and visitor to his numerous relations in New Rochelle, New York, where a branch of the Coyne family long ago took root and where his mother once worked. He and his son Tim regularly traveled to New Rochelle to collect a carful of companions to attend the running of the Belmont Stakes. As late as winter 2011 they drove to New Rochelle to attend Ina Coyne’s funeral and afterwards a rollicking collation that included Marty Dolan, who came up from the Bronx. John wryly regarded his grandson’s acceptance by and success at Fordham as fair compensation for his rebuff there in 1946.
John’s sense of his heritage, his inborn curiosity, his studies, and his travels honed in him a keen embrace of Irish history, politics, literature, and genealogy that animated him to the end of his life. He was never without a story to tell, or an interest in the story being told. He was always ready for something new, something surprising, something exciting.
John’s much-loved brother Marty preceded him in death, as did his beloved stepson Al. He is survived by his wife, Patricia O’Toole; his sister, Ann Kelly, of Miami Springs, Fla.; his children Eileen, Timothy, Laurence, and Chris O’Toole; stepsons Joe Alvarez and Edward Hegewisch; his grandchildren Marty Dolan and Norah O’Toole; his step-grandchildren Joseph, Kathleen, and Isabella; Brian and Kristen; and Dolph, Lindsay, Maggie, and Bert; daughter-in-law Laurie O’Toole and son-in-law Michael Dolan; and nieces, nephews, and grandnieces and –nephews, all of whom remember him as a brother, husband, father and father-in-law, grandfather, and beaming senior presence. Friends and acquaintances remember him as a good neighbor, a solid citizen, a straight-shooting businessman, and a patriot.
Born: August 16, 1920
Place of Birth: Pennsylvania
Death: January 24, 2013
Place of Death: Maryland
This memorial provided by:
Beall Funeral Home