Recalling a Passionate Institutionalist
Abby M. O’Neill had a knack for helping great enterprises achieve their missions.
The photo on the next page of Abby M. O’Neill and her family on China’s Great Wall in 1981 reflects the late TC Trustee Emerita’s approach to life.
The scion of perhaps America’s foremost family of business and philanthropy — she was the great-granddaughter of TC Trustee John D. Rockefeller and spent years heading the Rockefeller Brothers Fund (RBF) — Abby O’Neill, as her son, Peter O’Neill, puts it, “believed in understanding other people’s lives and perspectives.” That view made the elder O’Neill, who died in May at 89, an “institutionalist” par excellence. “She saw the value of tending to organizations so they could adapt to confront the challenges of the times,” Peter O’Neill says.
In addition to serving on TC’s board since 2004, Abby O’Neill was Chairman of Rockefeller Financial Services and Rockefeller & Company (1998-2004), Trustee of Massachusetts Financial Services Mutual Fund (1992-2003), President of Greenacre Foundation, Vice Chairman of The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation and a 60-year Trustee of International House New York.
“She was the master at getting things done within the board environment,” says TC Board Chair Bill Rueckert. “She’d traveled everywhere, met an incredible number of people and could distill complex issues to their essentials. She had a knack for steering organizations toward good decisions.”
“For Abby, it was about the students. She loved meeting young people and hearing their plans. It gave her pleasure to know that people were benefiting from her gifts.”
—Bill Rueckert, Chair, Teachers College Board
Abby’s experiences representing RBF in post-Soviet Eastern Europe convinced her that “education is the secret to it all.” With George O’Neill, her husband of 67 years, she endowed TC’s George & Abby O’Neill Chair in Economics & Education and supported many student scholarships. In 2013, her $11 million gift established the Abby O’Neill Fellows, enabling dedicated pre-service teaching candidates to graduate with a minimum of debt.
“For Abby, it was about the students,” says Rueckert. “She loved meeting young people and hearing their plans. It gave her pleasure to know that people were benefiting from her gifts.”
The O'Neill Fellowships: For Teachers Committed to NYC
Trustee Emerita Abby M. O’Neill, who visited the People’s Republic of China during the 1980s and post-Soviet Eastern Europe a decade later, believed that the future of democratic societies depends on education. Her $11 million gift launched Teachers College’s Abby M. O’Neill Fellowships, enabling qualified, committed teaching students to graduate as free from debt as possible.
“The Abby M. O’Neill Fellowship program is a very important investment in tomorrow’s teachers,” says Suzanne M. Murphy, Teachers College’s Vice President for Development & External Affairs. “We expect the most extraordinary students, who are committed to teaching in New York City, to compete to receive the O’Neill Fellowships.”
A pilot program has already graduated 24 students — including Sarah Duer, a second-grade teacher at the recently founded 30th Avenue School in Astoria, Queens. Duer says she is grateful for a “magical” opportunity to “create a vision” at a new school. Now TC is poised to launch an expanded program that will support the certification of teachers who are committed to working in New York City. To apply for an Abby M. O’Neill Fellowship, contact Teachers College’s Office of Financial Aid at 212-678-3714 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Published Tuesday, Dec 19, 2017