Tip O’Neill Celebrated On Centennial

Former President Ronald Reagan, right, talks with House Speaker Thomas
Former President Ronald Reagan, right, talks with House Speaker Thomas "Tip" O'Neill Jr. D-Mass., in the Oval Office of the White House on Nov. 1, 1985. (Scott Stewart/AP)

 Updated December 10, 2012, 9:36 am

Legendary U.S. House Speaker Thomas P. “Tip” O’Neill Jr. is being remembered by family, colleagues and constituents. Sunday would have been his 100th birthday.

O’Neill was born and raised in North Cambridge and got his start in politics as a teenager, quickly learning the lesson behind his iconic quote, “All politics is local.”

O’Neill was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in 1936, becoming the first Democrat to ever serve as its speaker. O’Neill was elected to the U.S House in 1952, filling the seat vacated by then Sen.-elect John F. Kennedy. O’Neill became speaker in 1977, a post he held until his retirement in 1987.*

A liberal Democrat, O’Neill’s name has become synonymous with compromise. His son, Thomas P. O’Neill III, says Tip was able to reach agreements even with his staunchest political opponents.

“I think that my father believed, as did Ronald Reagan, that politics was the art of compromise,” O’Neill said. “That you could fight for your ideals, and understand that you’d have to give in while the other side gave in, in order to create progress for our government to move forward.”

O’Neill says his father took pride in “cleaning up government” and would be disheartened by the current political climate in Washington, D.C.

“He often said, ‘You know, it’s nice to be important, but it’s more important to be nice,’ ” O’Neill said. “And I think the miracle of Tip O’Neill, my dad, was to keep firmly planted and just stay a regular guy.”

The John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum will hold a forum Sunday afternoon about O’Neill and his legacy. Journalists Mike Barnicle, Al Hunt, Cokie Roberts, Steve Roberts, Chris Matthews and Charlie Gibson are set to participate.

Correction: An earlier version of this post mistakenly stated that Tip O’Neill held his post as speaker of the U.S. House until his death in 1994. He held the post until his retirement in 1987.

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