REDONDO BEACH : Tom O'Leary, Longtime Community Figure, Dies

Tom O'Leary, a longtime community activist known for his gentle demeanor, and for his booming voice and passionate deliveries at city meetings, died Tuesday. He was 79.

O'Leary, a member of the city's Environmental and Public Utilities Commission, frequently drew smiles from City Hall onlookers as his voice built to a crescendo while he railed against the Southern California Edison plant in Redondo Beach.

He checked into Little Company of Mary Hospital in Torrance on Friday due to a heart condition, and probably suffered a heart attack the next day, said Dorothy O'Leary, his wife of 61 years. He died in the hospital early Tuesday.

O'Leary was remembered Wednesday as a strong man who fought hard for the issues he cared about, but who also was kind and quick to smile.

"He was the last of the gentleman City Hall watchers," said Redondo Beach City Clerk John L. Oliver, a friend of O'Leary. "I would receive scathing criticism from him, then he'd pat me on the back and say 'Let's go have a cup of coffee.' "

O'Leary, who grew up in Worcester, Mass., retired in 1970 after working for the federal government for years as a civilian in military operations. He was appointed to the city's Environmental and Public Utilities Commission in 1992.

Dorothy O'Leary, 78, said her husband always struggled to right wrongs, adding that he was president of a labor union for several years while working for the government. "It's been a very exciting life with Tom," she said. "All his life he was an activist trying to make things better and make people do the right thing."

In addition to his wife, O'Leary is survived by his daughter, Fay Jaffy, 58, of Ogden, Utah; and two grandchildren.

Visitation will be from 1 to 9 p.m. Friday at McCormick Mortuary in Redondo Beach. Rosary will be recited at 7 p.m. The services will be at 10 a.m. Saturday at St. James Church in Redondo Beach.

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