Longtime Sonomans lost one of their own on Aug. 29 when Dennis James O’Neil passed away due to complications from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 71.
Born March 26, 1946, in Sonoma, Dennis was the youngest son of Sonoma photographer Richard O’Neil and his wife Wilma. He was a life-long Valley of the Moon resident, except for two years active duty in the U.S. Army, including Vietnam.
After leaving Vietnam, he immediately started working in the Sebastiani Winery alongside August Sebastiani who treated him as part of the family. After August died, his son, Don, took the responsibility of watching over Dennis, who worked in his office even during Don’s time as a California assemblyman.
Dennis was great booster of Sonoma and its history, and seemed to know everyone in town. Many well-known civic figures, including Bob Cannard, and mayors Doug McKesson, Ken McTaggart and Larry Murphy, welcomed his volunteerism on behalf of city government. Locals like Alan and Lenore Gardener and their family also looked after Dennis and gave him a place on Napa Street to live, and kept an eye on him until he could no longer live alone.
Don Sebastiani said of Dennis, “Most people knew Dennis as a comic character. They were right. But there was much more. He had a bone dry, sarcastic and sophisticated professional-quality sense of humor. He held no grudges and never said no to any reasonable request. He was at his best around a table over a good meal, and could be counted on to make no-holds-barred dinner conversation accompanied by plenty of belly-laughs.
“His humor was way out of the box and he presented unexpected, and sometimes bizarre, angles on things, coming up with lasting, whacky analysis of the simplest of circumstances.
“Deep down, Dennis offered his friends unvarnished honesty, and he was always very quick to make fun of himself. He had a genuine, lasting appreciation of community, local history, and the accomplishments of others and would get angry about things that seemed to him to be unfair.
“He made real, lasting friendships, but never for his own gain and was a big fan of those who turned out to be the ‘good guys.’ He was one-of-a-kind and had a very real, and strong faith that he never wore on his sleeve.
“God Bless ‘Mountain Red’ Dennis J. O’Neil,” Don concluded.
Dennis was preceded in death by his parents Richard and Wilma O’Neil. He is survived by his brother Glenn O’Neil of Sonoma, sister Sharon O’Neil of Santa Cruz, nephew Lewis O’Neil of San Francisco, niece Hilary O’Neil-Johnson of Philadelphia, aunt Meriam Martinson of Santa Rosa, and numerous cousins.
Dennis’ family extends heartfelt gratitude to Don Sebastiani, Jim Knapp, and the staff at Nazareth Agua Callente Villa for their generous support and care given to Dennis over the past few years of his life.
A celebration of Dennis’s life will be held in late September. Arrangements by Duggan’s can be viewed at duggansmissionchapel.com/notices/Dennis-ONeil.