School Board member Patricia O’Neill passes away

Samantha Wu, News Editor

Montgomery County residents and Board of Education members alike were saddened to hear of Patricia O’Neill’s passing on September 14. She was the longest serving member of the MCPS school board having sat on the board since 1998.

This year marks her sixth four-year term. “We have lost an impassioned advocate for children, students and our community,” said Board president Brenda Wolff in a statement. 

Graduate of Walter Johnson High School, O’Neill is survived by her husband and two daughters. The ultimate cause of her death has yet to be verified by doctors, but her family confirms that it was not COVID-19.  

Her fellow board members offered condolences to the community, and statements about her legacy and impact on the community. “Pat O’Neill was a fierce champion for staff, students and families and the impact of her work will live on for generations,” said MCPS interim superintendent Monifa McKnight in a WTOP interview

Pat O’Neill was the ultimate public servant,” said Board member Rebecca Smondrowski in an email. “She dedicated her professional life to the ideal that all students deserved a world class education and worked tirelessly to make that ideal a reality. She was a go-to person, not just for me, but for so many in this county and served as a resource for those committed to public education.”

“She was just always willing to extend that hand. She would check in on not just me, but all of the board members all the time, making sure that someone was speaking to them every day, someone was with them every day,” said Student Member of the Board Hana O’Looney. Having been on the Board for nearly 23 years and living in MCPS for much longer than that, her legacy lives on among the residents of MCPS. “She was our collective grandmother, the grandmother for not just the student board members, not just MCPS students, but the entire board. An entire school system as a whole, just a grandmother in the way that she was always willing to support everyone and share her lived experience with,” said O’Looney.

 O’Neill passed at the age of 71, dedicating nearly a third of her life to the school board. During this public service career she had held the position of resident of the board five times and vice president six times. O’Neill was most recently serving as chairperson of the Board of Education’s Policy Management Committee and was a member of the Fiscal Management Committee.

O’Looney said, “That was her thing. She was very much into making sure that every important policy was looked at on an annual basis. So we review, for example, a child abuse and neglect policy every single year and just making sure that all of our ts were crossed and Is are dotted. She was really big about policy and she even helped me think and talk through the policies that I wanted to pass.”

Mrs. O’Neill’s involvement in public education extends past her time on the MCPS school board. Before joining the board, Mrs. O’Neill was a PTA activist in the Walt Whitman cluster and served in various volunteer and leadership roles. Her other past community roles include serving as the co-chair of the Washington Area Boards of Education and president of the Maryland Association of Boards of Education (MABE). 

She was also a member of numerous advisory committees for education-related issues, including the Maryland Blue Ribbon Panel on Teen Pregnancy and the Maryland Comparable HSA Task Force. She was also the vice-chair for the Montgomery County Public Schools Educational Foundation, and a member of the Foundation’s grants committee. In 2015, the Washingtonian magazine named her one of the 100 most powerful women.

She served on numerous committees and received so many awards and honors at both the state and local level, but all the accolades can’t capture what Pat has meant to us, to the school system and to the county. Her absence is felt by us all and she will be missed,” said Mrs. Smondrowski.

Mrs. O’Neill’s family suggests contributions in her memory to the MCPS Educational Foundation in lieu of flowers.