THE former deputy leader of Wigan Council received a standing ovation and cross-party plaudits as he was installed as the latest borough honorary alderman.
A packed town hall debating chamber saw a sometimes emotional John O’Neill praised for a long and active public service which has continued after his retirement as a Labour councillor.
Accompanied by wife Barbara and several other members of his close family, the one-time representative for Shevington, Standish and Standish Lower Ground said: “It is a big honour and I am very grateful to the council for this recognition.”
The 79-year-old’s successor as deputy leader, Coun David Molyneux, called him a “tremendous ambassador for the borough” who, as someone born outside the borough, had immersed himself so much in local heritage that he could teach much to Wiganers about their own history.
Shevington with Lower Ground councillor Damian Edwardson called Mr O’Neill the “stereotype of a good community leader, a man with a passion for his own community, the borough as a whole and beyond. John is not in it for himself, he is in it to make things better for everyone.”
The Mayor of Wigan, Coun Phyll Cullen, said: “John has given outstanding and valuable service to the council and to the community at large.”
Independent councillor Norman Bradbury said that political differences should be put to one side to congratulate Mr O’Neill on his service to the borough.
The resolution to confer the title, unanimously passed by the chamber, was moved by Labour councillor George Davies who, as a former pupil of one-time teacher Mr O’Neill, revealed that he had once been caned across both hands by him for talking too much! During his time representing Shevington and Standish (the boundaries of his ward changed over the years) he held positions of responsibility in finance, social services, regulation and planning.
Mr O’Neill can be credited with helping to establish the Greenheart Regional Park and was much involved in the introduction and expansion of the Wigan Borough in Bloom scheme.
His desire to do things that shook off grimy industrial stereotypes also included the establishment of the now annual design and development competition aimed at creating a more attractive borough.
He also founded Standish Community Forum 20 years ago and helped to revive Shevington and District Community Association several years later to encourage greater community involvement across a range of interests.
Surrey-born and schooled in Hampshire, Mr O’Neill however probably knows more about his patch’s heritage than almost anyone else, having become a scholar of local history.
He was a driving force behind getting Lancashire Day going locally and was involved in all manner of projects to enhance the appearance of Standish and Shevington while raising public awareness of the communities’ pasts.
He remains prominent in the community including: championing Wigan Schools Music Service to the point of providing bursaries to youngsters who can’t afford instrumental fees and helping to fund the Schools Music Festival; continuing to serve on the board of Wigan Metropolitan Development Company; and serving on the Wigan Borough Environment and Heritage Network (he is a former chairman).