Thomas J. O'Shea, 72, insurance salesman, promoted Irish culture

February 22, 2000|By Frederick N. Rasmussen | Frederick N. Rasmussen,SUN STAFF

Thomas J. O'Shea, a retired insurance salesman who was active in Irish cultural organizations, died Friday at Atlantic General Hospital after being stricken with a heart attack at his Ocean City condominium. He was 72.

Mr. O'Shea, who lived in Mays Chapel and was a former 30-year Towson resident, retired in 1994 as a senior account agent at Allstate Insurance Co., where he began his career in 1963. Earlier, he had worked as a salesman for several Baltimore automobile dealerships.

Born in Shamokin, Pa., Mr. O'Shea moved with his family in 1941 to Cokesbury Avenue in Northeast Baltimore. He left Lake Clifton High School to help support his family after his father was injured in a fall.

He served in Army Air Forces ground support from 1945 until he was discharged in 1946, and earned his GED in the late 1940s.

Mr. O'Shea had grown up listening to stories of his grandfather, who had emigrated in 1884 from County Cork, Ireland, to work in the Glen Burn colliery near Shamokin, in the anthracite coal fields of eastern Pennsylvania.

Because of the earlier activities of the Irish miner rights group, the Molly Maguires, and profound anti-Irish discrimination, his grandfather had dropped the "O" from his name to get a job in the mine that eventually claimed his life in a disaster.

"We were from a workingman's family, and our father quietly instilled in us our Irish heritage and roots," said a brother, Michael O'Shea of Lutherville.

"Some of those stories sank in, and it gave us such a sense of pride that Tommy wanted to go back and get the `O' for our name," said the brother.

In 1952, Mr. O'Shea legally had his name changed from Shea to O'Shea, with his brothers following his example.

He was an active member of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick and sang with the Amhranai Na Gaeilge Irishman's Chorale group, which performed at the inaugura- tion of Mayor Martin O'Malley in December.

"After taking the oath, I came into the rotunda and someone said, `Hit it,' and they began singing my theme song, `The Minstrel Boy,' " said Mr. O'Malley yesterday, describing him as "a steady friend, a decent and honest man."

Mr. O'Malley also toured Ireland twice with the O'Shea family, playing guitar as their bus rolled through the countryside while the others sang Irish songs.

"When we were there, Tommy was out late and up early, and we spent many wonderful days walking around Ireland looking for a bar and a good time," he said, laughing.

Mr. O'Shea, who was described by his brother as being a "bit of a tenor," was never happier than when he was singing such classic Irish songs as "Danny Boy" and "Fields of Athenry."

"His voice was very pleasant, and when he sang, he always had a smile on his face," said Joe Herbert of Timonium, former president of the Friendly Sons of St. Patrick.

Mr. O'Shea volunteered with the Little Sisters of the Poor and was a member of the Elks Club and the Knights of Columbus.

He was an avid golfer and skier and traveled extensively in the United States and Europe pursuing both sports. He was a member of the Winters Run Golf Club of Bel Air and the Baltimore Ski Club.

A daughter, Patti O'Shea of Carney, said, "He loved to laugh, dance and sing. He lived life to the fullest."

He was a communicant of Catholic Community of St. Francis Xavier, 13717 Cuba Road, Hunt Valley, where a Mass of Christian burial will be offered at 10 a.m. tomorrow.

He is survived by his wife of 49 years, the former Nellie Gudalwesky; three sons, Thomas O'Shea of Carney, Kevin O'Shea of Lincoln University, Pa., and Joseph O'Shea of Parkville; three other daughters, Mary Ann Hafner of Forest Hill, Terri O'Shea of Timonium and Sharon Brown of Havre de Grace; another brother, Patrick O'Shea of Glen Arm; two sisters, Lorraine Heagy of Phoenix in Baltimore County and Margaret Hedley of Bowie; and 10 grandchildren.

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