Steve S. O'Neill, 70, News American editor

April 30, 1995|By Fred Rasmussen | Fred Rasmussen,Sun Staff Writer

Steve S. O'Neill, former managing editor of the Baltimore News American, died Tuesday of emphysema at Holy Spirit Hospital in Camp Hill, Pa. He was 70.

Mr. O'Neill, who lived in Enola, Pa., retired in 1989 from the Patriot-News in Harrisburg where he was sports editor after leaving the News American in 1979. The newspaper closed in 1986.

He began his career in Baltimore in 1958 as a sports reporter and was promoted to Sunday editor in the 1960s and managing editor in 1972.

A large man with a gregarious personality, he directed his staff from the old newspaper's city room at Lombard and South streets. His working attire included a hunting cap and a plaid shirt and occasionally an eye shade.

"He was the film version of the hard-bitten newspaper editor and could have been in a 1930s newspaper movie," said William Stump, a retired News American editorial writer. "He liked playing the tough newspaperman but was really a very compassionate guy who had a feeling for the people the paper was supposed to reach."

Mr. Stump described Mr. O'Neill's style as being that of "an old-style Hearst editor who was ruled by getting the paper out no matter what -- rather than sitting around in meetings discussing the news."

"He was an old-fashioned editor, and I don't mean that in a demeaning way," said John Steadman, former News American sports editor who now is an Evening Sun sports columnist.

"He knew the business and could handle any job on the editorial side -- he could write, lay out pages and make up the paper and manage -- and he also got along marvelously with people."

Born and raised in Hanover, Pa., Mr. O'Neill began his journalism career while in high school, covering local sports. In 1941, he began studying at Bucknell University but left school the next year to serve in the Army. After service in Europe as a cook, he was discharged with the rank of master sergeant in 1945.

He obtained his bachelor's degree in 1948 from Bucknell and worked for several Pennsylvania newspapers before joining the Patriot-News as a sports reporter in the early 1950s.

Known for savoring a good argument over the finer meaning of words, he kept a dictionary in his dining room and one beside his bed to help settle such debates.

"I couldn't have been married this long without it," said his wife, the former Betty Kepner, who met Mr. O'Neill in 1953 while he was recuperating from pneumonia in a hospital where she was a nurse.

"He was sitting in bed smoking a cigar and I told him he shouldn't do that," Mrs. O'Neill said. "Three months later we were married. He was a wonderful man without being a saint. His HTC

bad points made his good points look like gold."

The former Idlewood resident liked to relax and fish at a summer home near Gettysburg, Pa.

"He loved his work, and he loved his family," she said.

Services were to be private.

In addition to his wife, survivors include two sons, Christopher S. O'Neill of Bel Air and Stephen K. O'Neill of Enola; a daughter, Jane Anne O'Neill of Liverpool, Pa.; his stepmother, Elizabeth O'Neill of Hanover, Pa.; a half-brother, Robert O'Neill of Hanover; a half-sister, Betsy Swarr of Malvern, Pa.; and a grandchild.

The family suggested donations to Hospice of Central Pennsylvania, Box 226, Enola 17025.

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