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William T. O'Connell, funeral director, salesman and 'just plain Bill'

July 23, 1932 — Sept. 3, 2018

William Thomas O'Connell, the second of three sons of a South Buffalo funeral director, wasn't William or Mr. O'Connell.

To everyone he met, he was "just plain Bill."

"Whenever my father was introduced, if they said 'Mr. O'Connell,'  he would say, 'Just plain Bill,' always," said his daughter, Alma Brown. "He was very good in his jobs, as a salesman and in the funeral home, in making people comfortable."

Mr. O'Connell died Sept. 3, 2018 in Mercy Hospital after being stricken at home in the Hamburg apartment where he and his wife, Alma, had lived for two years. He was 86.

Mr. O'Connell was born July 23, 1932, the second child of Raymond and Mary (Coad) O'Connell, who lived on Eden Street. In 1929, his father founded the Ray O'Connell Funeral Home at Eden and South Park Avenue. Raymond was the oldest brother; after Mr. O'Connell, the younger ones were Tom, Mary Ellen and Peggy.

He graduated in 1950 from South Park High School, where he played on the football team. He worked at Burns Brothers in the Rand Building as a men's clothing fitter, then enlisted in the U.S. Army on Oct. 7, 1952.

Mr. O'Connell trained and worked as an ordnance supply specialist and served in Korea. He was awarded a Korean Service Medal with a bronze service star and his unit received a presidential citation in 1954. He was released in September of 1954, but remained available for recall for years before being honorably discharged on Sept. 30, 1960.

In 1957, he graduated from the Simmons School of Mortuary Sciences, started work as a Buffalo firefighter and married Alma Duggan, whom he had met in the neighborhood.

"My father was from South Park and she was from Abbott Road, and they always say you can't cross over, but ..." their daughter said, laughing. "He was over on Abbott Road and met my mother. They all knew each other."

William and Alma O'Connell.

The two married June 1, 1957 in St. Martin's Church, and celebrated their 61st anniversary this year. Mrs. O'Connell graduated from Mercy Hospital School of Nursing and worked as an X-ray technician.

Until 1965, his daughter said, Mr. O'Connell "worked all night as a fireman, like most dads did, then he would get dressed and run to the funeral home" to work with his two brothers.

Mr. O'Connell left the funeral home in 1974 to open O'Connell Precast Inc., a franchise of a concrete burial vault company. He operated that company for 10 years, then retired, but continued to work part-time as a car salesman at the Jack Stevens Dealership in Hamburg.

"He got to talk to people all the time, which he loved to do," said Brown. "He knows everybody, there are 500 of my father's closest friends."

In addition, he looked enough like his brothers to be their twins, so people who saw him in public would often mistake him for Ray or Tom, his daughter said.

His wife was a lifelong Democrat and he was, his daughter said, "one of two Republicans in South Buffalo," which "made for many lively discussions."

Through the years, Mr. O'Connell was active in St. Ambrose Church, where he belonged to the Holy Name Society and was Building Committee chair when the new school and church were built in the late 1950s and early 1960s. He led several Catholic Charities campaigns at the church.

A member of the St. Ambrose bowling league, he bowled for decades, winning many tournaments and rolling many perfect games, his daughter said.

He was past president of the Erie Niagara Funeral Directors Association, the New York State Burial Vault Association and the South Park Abbott Businessmen's Association. He was a board member of Mercy Hospital's Men's Sustaining Society and the Babcock Boys Club.

Besides his daughter, Mr. O'Connell is survived by his wife, Alma (Duggan) O'Connell; children Christopher O'Connell, Mary Rose Jost and Andrew O'Connell; a sister, Peggy Sierra; 14 grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be celebrated at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, Sept. 8 in the St. Ambrose Worship Site of Our Lady of Charity Parish, 65 Ridgewood Road, South Buffalo.

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