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Column

Former driver services chief — gruff but fair

A retired Princeton driver services facility manager who died too young is remembered for the no-nonsense personality that served him, and the public, well.

We were sorry to learn of the passing of the retired manager of the Princeton driver services facility for the Illinois Secretary of State’s office.

John O’Neill, 64, formerly of Tiskilwa, who managed the facility for quite a number of years, died July 30 at his home in Hennepin.

Throughout the years, O’Neill dealt with thousands of Bureau County and area residents regarding driver’s license tests, license renewals, vehicle registrations, license plates and more.

Some of those encounters might not have been exactly 100 percent pleasant for O’Neill and fellow state employees who staffed the drivers services facility. They had to politely deal with all kinds of personalities and be experts on the law, rules and regulations regarding driver’s licenses and motor vehicles.

O’Neill developed a gruff, no-nonsense approach to serving the public. If you ever stood at the counter before him for a transaction at the Secretary of State’s facility, you know what we mean.

He didn’t waste time with small talk, but instead was brisk and businesslike in expertly completing the requested action.

While O’Neill’s disposition might have intimidated some, particularly nervous 16 year olds trying for their first driver’s licenses, we suspect his curt workplace personality served a good purpose.

Given the large volume of people the Princeton office must deal with, it’s important to move customers along so the people next in line can be served. And on busy days, the line is apt to grow rather long.

It’s also important to get the information correctly entered and the transaction correctly processed. Small talk can get in the way of focus and accuracy.

When you think about it, the Secretary of State’s office has undergone several changes throughout the years, including computerization, that affected how it operated. Learning the new processes (and remembering them) while conducting everyday dealings with the public should take a staffer’s full attention.

With O’Neill, they did.

It’s a major responsibility to certify that someone knows the Rules of the Road and has the requisite skills to operate a motor vehicle on public roadways. If you allow some slacker to get a driver’s license and he goes out and causes an accident, you’d feel pretty bad.

As manager, O’Neill must have felt that responsibility deeply, and he conducted himself accordingly.

What was John O’Neill like away from the job? We suspect he was like anyone else off duty.

He was a husband, father and grandfather. He belonged to a gun club and the Knights of Columbus. His obituary also mentions service in the National Guard.

We recall O’Neill as a sharp-shooting guard for the Tiskilwa Indians of the very early 1970s who could regularly hit long-distance shots before the advent of the 3-point arc. A lot of Tiskilwa fans cheered those baskets, and the young man who made them, back in the day.

Our recollection of O’Neill’s career as a public servant is that he was scrupulously fair and that he did his job in an efficient, highly professional manner – gruff personality and all.

We offer our sincere condolences to his family and friends.

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