I first met
Dan O'Neill in 1984 when I first joined the club. That was 18 years ago,
I was 26, my brother Allan was 14.
John (22yrs) and Alpo (10yrs)
In 1982 brother came
to live with me and we were both attracted to the South End Rowing Club.
Must have been the Irish. Must have been the DNA. Must have been the water.
Must have been we liked going to Aquatic Park for a walk, the most beautiful
place in the world.
Dan was the Rowing Commissioner
and when Pat Cuneen introduced us, Dan took a liking to us immediately.
Pat was the first member we ever met. He learned that I was raising my
kid brother, that Allan went to Sacred Heart, and Pat, God bless him to
this day, made us feel as family.
When we met Dan, we met
our 'Grandpa' we left behind in Michigan, our new family in San Francisco.
Pat and Dan welcomed us as if we had always been San Franciscans, like
we were locals. Being imports from Detroit Michigan, we felt like were
the luckiest guys in the world.
Dan taught me how to row, he taught my brother. He taught us well and
In turn, I would spend my Saturday morning teaching other South Enders
to row. To the exacting standard taught to me by Dan O'Neill. Among my
students, our current Rowing Commissioner Mr. Marshall.
Dan O'Neill would never talk much, he did not have to.
A large chested, proud,
not cocky or arrogant, but a confident man, Dan was a natural mentor,
a natural leader.
Dan would always go for a row with you if you asked. He always had a pointer,
maybe the tides, maybe your stroke, but he was always a teacher. And as
a big stupid student, I listened. At the end of the day, he would always
ask about my brother and sometimes, just enough, let me know that he was
proud of me for taking care of my own.
At the time I had a successful business on Hunters Point, and I joined
the Police Athletic Club, where Dan was also a member.
My brother and I dropped out of the
club for about 6 years.
Back in the day, the old timers (George Dillon...God rest his soul ) would
hound you "are you a member?", everyday, every single day.
Sad to say, it got old.
We both later rejoined in 1992. Dan and Pat were still there. Dan was
older and looked his age. But his grace, his strength, his pride, his
integrity were still there. He was an older guys, an old-timer then, but
he was respected, gee's he was 'Dan O'Neill.
a tradition for Dan and Sal Reina ( yes, his family donated
a boat in his name) to row around Alameda every year in the fall.
There are pictures in the cookshack of Dan and Sal's trips. This is
a 26 mile trip. About 10 hours of rowing.
Sal Reina died a few years later, and Dan did not do the Alameda row
for a few years.
One day Dan asked me if
I would row with him around Alameda.
Footnote: This is like the Beatles asking if you want to 'sit in'? Or
for you knuckleheads born after 1970, its like like the guy from 'Flock
of Seagulls" asking you for hairspray!
Of course. I said 'cool' (privately
thinking 'Like Wow!!) and Dan and I made this trip 4 times over 4 years.
Sometimes out of the South End End, sometimes out of the Police Athletic
Club, where we were both members.
What was I thinking !?!?!
Rowing for a long time equals 'pain' squared times five! God, did those
Dan and Sal, over
the years, made friends in Alameda, a couple, who one day, years earlier,
as they were tired and had to stop, and this couple let them use their
Well, Dan always brought them a present, a bottle of wine, a piece of
fruit. And when I went with Dan, we always stopped at their place,and
Dan, always welcome and always bearing a gift.
And we were always unannounced.
Dan introduced me me as 'his friend', never saying much about Sal's passing,
and they never questioned.
They were always very gracious and kind hosts, they opened their home
One year we arrived, only to learn that the wife had passed.
Dan never talked or met
or called these folks other than his annual visit. It was just accepted,
it was, what is was.
In 1991 I was having
problems with my marriage. I was separated from my wife and living with
a lady friend. I would row a few times a week with Dan out of the Police
My situation did not set to well with Dan. He was an old school Irish
Catholic and did not believe in divorce.
He offered to have a friend talk with me, Father Charles Dulley, another
South End legend, to counsel me about my separation.
As we would row, he would discuss
the merits of family, the impact on my children. And I was thinking 'for
a guy who does not talk much, this is damn "chatty".
Well I listened, I figured if Dan is upset with me I must be doing something
wrong. He had that affect on you.
I believe we made this row on the day of the Oakland Hills Fire, we were
out for 6 hours on the bay and watched the fire go from a small flame
to an entire horizon.
I went back to my wife and made peace. So well in fact, that a few months
later, Joan became pregnant with Conor.
Conor O'Neill McGovern-Calder
was born on October 17th, 1992. I named him after Dan.
I figured that was was no better man to be a role model for my son than
Conor was baptized at St. Philips
Church in Noe Valley when he was 2 years old. Dan was his Godfather.
During the ceremony, before he was
baptized, while Dan was holding him, Conor dunked his head in the baptism
water and started blowing bubbles. I love that kid!
A few years later
Dan and I were rowing at the PAC. My marriage was bad again and I took
Dan did not approve.
Being a life long athlete, Dan saw no merit in smoking.
So we were rowing one day. Dan telling me a story about a famous baseball
player who used to advertise 'Lucky Strikes' cigarettes.
Dan was frustrated because he could not remember the baseball players
name. Drove him nuts all day.
When you row at the PAC, you have to lift your boat with an electric crane,
and the boat is always on the windward side. A real Jerry rig, and very
We were lifting the boat, I was on the crane, Dan was holding the boat,
steering it as it lifted from the water.
Well Dan took a misstep, and fell off the dock. He was in his late 70's
and fell about 8 feet, flat on his back, splitting open his head.
I ran over, terrified, and Dan looked at me, blood covering his face,
Only a fine Irishman brain works better better when you smack it a few
Sadly, this accident lingered with
Dan. He would become dizzy at random..
Within a few months, Dan, who lived in the Marina with his wife, could
no longer row, or swim in the bay.
He had been a member of the South End for over 50 years.
As he looked at the bay everyday, and he knew he could no longer 'participate'
in it. He left San Francisco. He moved to his sons house in Redding.
This is where Dan died.
Too proud to live by the bay in which he could no longer belong.
I miss Dan
I miss his silence and his pride. I miss his wisdom and his leadership.
I miss him seeing Conor grow up.
I love Dan O'Neill.
Next time you see his boat, next time you see his picture, remember, remember
the man, Dan O'Neill.