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John J. O’Donnell Jr., 89, of Cohasset and Westwood, Massachusetts died on Wednesday, October 12, 2022 after a long, heart-breaking period of decline inflicted on him by Alzheimer’s Disease. He was born on July 10, 1933, the son of John James O’Donnell and Bridget Christine (Haren) O’Donnell originally of County Sligo, Ireland and then of Attleboro, Massachusetts. The youngest of four siblings, John attended Attleboro High School and Boston College ’56 where he studied Latin and Greek and majored in English before graduating from Georgetown Law in 1959. While in Washington, D.C. and pursing his J.D. degree by taking mostly evening classes, he worked full-time at the CIA, where he met his devoted wife of 62 years, Margaret “Jill” (May) O’Donnell, originally of Chevy Chase, Maryland.
John began his career practicing law at the Washington, D.C. office of the Chicago-based firm of Ross, Hardies, O’Keefe, McDugald & Parsons after a short period of work with the FHA before joining forces with three partners to found the State Street Development Company of Boston, Massachusetts in 1971. Through its forty years, the company successfully completed a broad range of development and managerial activities, including work with housing authorities to add hundreds of “turn-key” units for elderly and low-income residents in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut. Their projects included the rehabilitation of existing structures, most notably the Boston University Bookstore building, at the base of the iconic Citgo sign the company also restored, and the Hamilton-Wade House in Brockton, a former shoe factory. In Boston, there were the Chauncy House, the Stearns Building, and the Franklin House, whose façade was widely recognized as the hospital St. Eligius of the popular 1982-1988 TV series “St. Elsewhere,” among others. John was an active participant in and elected to Senior Life Membership on the Board of Directors for the National Home Builder’s Association of the United States in 1992. He co-authored two Urban American Inc. sponsored publications evaluating and analyzing rent supplement programs and nonprofit housing.
John and Jill established roots in Cohasset, where they raised their family and devoted their lives to each other, to friends, to community, and to the Church. John read voraciously on subjects ranging from political and social history to philosophy and economic theory and made daily drives along the shore with weekend walks on the wooded paths of Wompatuck State Park. He was happiest traveling the world with Jill and family. Camera in hand, he recorded the varieties of nature and ways of being they experienced together in more than 60 countries. He built a collection of travel books but also clocks, pocket watches, and toy vehicles.
John’s reserved yet congenial personality touched every person he met, communicating acceptance and unconditional love. He possessed the rare gifts of charity, generosity, and humility and always made those in his presence feel special.
John was predeceased by his parents and his sister Sister Mary O’Donnell (Mary Colum), OP. He is survived by his sisters Elizabeth “Betty” Berry of Pembroke, Massachusetts, Annie K. “Jackie” Burch of Pawtucket, Rhode Island, his wife, and their three children: John Stephen O’Donnell (Julia Kadison) of Chatham, New York, Michael T. O’Donnell (Sonja Krusic O’Donnell) of Castine, Maine, and Susan “Jasmine” O’Donnell of New York City, New York. He has one grandchild, Julian Krusic O’Donnell, a recent graduate of the Rhode Island School of Design.
Friends and family are invited to attend visiting hours on Thursday, October 20th from 9 AM – 10:30 AM at the McNamara-Sparrell Funeral Home, 1 Summer Street, Cohasset, MA. A funeral mass will be held at St. Anthony of Padua Church across the street at 11 AM. Interment will follow at Woodside Cemetery, East Street, Cohasset, MA.
The family requests those who wish to express sympathy to consider making a donation to the Alzheimer’s Association (www.alz.org) to further hope and help for the more than six million Americans living with the disease.