Following the tragic news of the passing of the Virgin Islands' first Premier and Member Emeritus of the House of Assembly (HoA), Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE yesterday, November 11, 2019, tributes have begun to flow from members of the HoA.
Hon O'Neal showed commitment to BVI
House Speaker Hon Julian Willock, in a statement released following Hon O'Neal's death, said Honourable O’Neal was a man who dedicated his life to serving others and was a strong and principled member of Government for 39 years.
"Above all, it was his warm, personal qualities that brought special lustre to his years in public and political life," Hon Willock noted.
The Speaker continued, "His leadership, tireless advocacy and commitment to country will be sorely missed," and said that in the coming days there will be meetings with his family as the House of Assembly is prepared for an official funeral for the late legislator.
"On behalf of the Honourable Speaker, all Members of the House of Assembly, both current and former, and staff of the Office of the House of Assembly, we extend our deepest condolences to Mr O’Neal’s family, friends and all those who loved him," Speaker Willock said.
A 'Great' Leader - Premier Fahie
Meanwhile, other members of the HoA spared not a moment to pay tribute to the political giant, Hon O'Neal.
Premier and Minister of Finance Hon Andrew A. Fahie (R1) in a short statement said, "May the soul of the late but great Hon Ralph T. O'Neal rest in peace," while sharing a video that captured the legacy of Hon O'Neal over the years.
The video was produced by Harry Hunter and his team and directed by Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Hon Vincent O. Wheatley (R9). "Today I use this video as a tribute to Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE. May his soul Rest In Peace," Hon Wheatley said.
"A giant tree has fallen in the Virgin Islands forest. A man who can only be described as a legend. I count myself as very fortunate to even have had a conversation with this great man," said Minister for Education, Culture, Agriculture, Fisheries, Youth Affairs and Sports, Dr the Hon Natalio D. Wheatley (R7) in expressing condolences on behalf of the Seventh District.
"He leaves a strong legacy for younger ones, such as myself, to uphold. As we as leaders guide these Virgin Islands, I will look to those who trod these rocky roads before for inspiration," Hon Wheatley said.
Junior Minister for Trade and Economic Development, Honourable Sharie B. deCastro (AL), in a moving Facebook tribute, called Hon O'Neil a hero.
"He was the epitome of leadership, an example of humility, the essence of vision and the embodiment of Virgin Islands pride. I grew up admiring this legend, this giant on whose shoulders I now stand. I am the representative I am today because of the strong foundation he laid," she said.
Minister for Transportation, Utilities and Works, Hon Kye M. Rymer (R5) recalled difficulties visiting the family after the bad news, "It was a difficult moment for me this afternoon as I visited the family of Honourable Member Emeritus Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE, a great man who left us today, but his name will indeed live on in our hearts and memories forever," he said.
"We will all remember him in many different ways. He was the longest-serving elected politician in the history of the territory of the Virgin Islands. He provided long service as a civil servant (now called Public Officer). He was a true historian, one who could tell you about the history of this territory at a moment’s notice," Hon Rymer said.
Father, mentor & friend
Minister for Health and Social Development Hon Carvin Malone (AL) in his statement said, "I have had the rich fortune of interacting with great men past and present and in this regard, the man that I am today can be attributable to my direct interaction with the late Hon. Ralph T. O’Neal, OBE. I regarded him as a father, my mentor and most importantly, my friend."
Hon Malone noted that on behalf of his family, "I join in celebration, with his wife Rev. Edris O’Neal OBE, his children, relatives, the people of the 9th electoral district and his friends, of the rich legacy to which we will now fondly embrace and cherish," he said.
Deputy Speaker Neville S. Smith (AL) in his Facebook tribute said, "Today we bid farewell to a Virgin Islands giant, Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal. It was a pleasure having been in your presence and witnessing the great things you have done for this territory and its people- especially the people of Virgin Gorda and Anegada."
He said Hon O’Neal understood what it meant to do the people’s work, "He played an integral role in this territory’s success and overall development and for that we are forever grateful."
'Hon O'Neal was a true Statesman'
Leader of the Opposition, Hon Marlon A. Penn (R8) spoke of a heavy heart after receiving news. He said Hon O'Neal was a true Statesman who served his people of the 9th District and wider Virgin Islands with honour and distinction for over four (4) decades.
"I remember him as a man with a great sense of humour, extremely knowledgeable and a great sense of love and patriotism towards these Virgin Islands and its people. I count it as both an honour and privilege to have served with this giant of a man," Hon Penn said.
Sixth District Representative, Hon Alvera Maduro-Canes (R6) said, "Words cannot express how I felt today [November 11, 2019] when I heard the news of the passing of my colleague and friend Hon. R.T. O'Neal."
She said over the years, they developed a friendship unlike any other, "I learnt so much from him politically and otherwise. A true BVI icon and stalwart whom will truly be missed by all," Hon Maduro-Canes said.
The VI has 'lost a great one'
Hon Mark H. Vanterpool (R4) expressed deepest condolences to the family of the late Honourable O’Neal, following his passing after a long period of illness.
"Mr. O’Neal was truly the consummate Son of the Soil, family man, public servant, businessman, politician, legislator, confidant and friend. The Virgin Islands has lost a great one, but the territory is richer for having had the benefit of his presence," Hon Vanterpool said.