Passings: John O’Neill

A field of flowers at sunset

York University Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus John O’Neill died on Sept. 7 at age 89 after a fall, with his last day spent with family.

John O'Neill
John O’Neill

O’Neill came to York University in 1964 when he joined the Department of Sociology. In 1972, he co-founded the department’s Graduate Program of Social and Political Thought, and later founded the joint Graduate Program in Communication and Culture at York and Toronto Metropolitan University (then Ryerson). Internationally renowned as a sociologist, phenomenologist and social theorist, O’Nell was a senior scholar at the Laidlaw Foundations’ Children at Risk Program and the Centre for Comparative Literature at the University of Toronto. In 1985, he became a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada.

His original approach to the sociology of the body and the critical theory of the body politic was outlined in his book Sociology as a Skin Trade: Essays Towards a Reflexive Sociology (1972). His lifetime of work included dozens more books, many translated into several languages, and hundreds of articles. His wife, Susan, often assisted him, editing manuscripts and corresponding with students, many of whom became lifelong friends.

In 1994, the John O’Neill Teaching Award at York was established in his honour and reflects a beloved teacher and mentor.

O’Neill was born in Hendon, northwest London to John and Catherine (Hayburn) O’Neill. He earned his BSc (sociology) from the London School of Economics and Political Science in 1955, his MA (political science) from Notre Dame in 1957, and his PhD (history of social thought) from Stanford University in 1962.

Beyond being an admired intellectual, he was a true, charming gentleman whose dry British wit was always accompanied by a twinkle in his eye. As a husband, father and grandfather who had traveled extensively, he instilled in others a deep appreciation for the pursuit of knowledge and attention to wider societal issues.

O’Neill was the beloved husband of Susan for 38 years. He was the father of Daniela O’Neill (Derek Koehler), late son Greg O’Neill (Anita Hattiangadi), and Brendan O’Neill (Janet Green) with his late former wife, Maria O’Neill (Doerig). He was the treasured grandad of Taite Koehler, and Dylan and Penelope O’Neill. He was cherished by Susan’s children, Wendy Hallam Martin (Gary), Kathleen Kibzey (Luke) and Jennifer Rea (Bill) and grandchildren, Brontë and Bryn Martin, Jasper and Tess Kibzey, and James and William Rea. He will also be missed by Susan’s sister, Alexis Young.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests donations to the Alzheimer Society of Ontario. There will be a celebration of O’Neill’s life at a later date at York. Those wishing to attend should email Daniela O’Neill at