Thomas A. O’Donnell ’64

Thomas A. O’Donnell, 76, of Salem and Danvers, died unexpectedly, March 2, 2019, following a delicious meal at the Peabody Diner.

Born in Peabody, he was the son of the late Henry J. Jr. and Dorothy Virginia (Dunn) O’Donnell. He was born, raised and educated in Salem and attended the former St. Mary’s Grammar School. As a young man, he enjoyed summers and weekends on the common as a member of the Drum and Bugle Corps. He followed in the footsteps of his parents attending Salem High School, where he played Varsity football and was a graduate of the Famed Class of 1960. He continued his education at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine, Maine, a place that would have profound impact on his life, where he found great strength, discipline and lifelong friends. Receiving a Bachelor’s Degree in Engineering, he was a member of the graduating Class of 1964.

Tom began his professional career three days after graduation, with the elite Texaco Oil Company as a Junior Engineer, based out of Baltimore, Maryland. He spent five years with Texaco, rising in the ranks to Chief Engineer. He traveled the world, making his way through the Panama Canal, up the Mississippi River, and through the strait of Hormuz to the Persian Gulf. He visited almost every port in the European Sea, and traveled up and down both Coasts of the United States. These were long hard days in the engine room but the reward of seeing the world from this unique perspective shaped the man he would become and in turn the lives he would touch. The valuable life experiences gained from this chapter of his life would prepare him for his lifelong passion of helping others in their greatest time of need.

In 1969, he took a leave from Texaco and returned home to help with the second-generation family funeral business, Henry J. O’Donnell & Sons of Salem. He traveled to Boston daily to take his courses in Mortuary Science at the former Kenmore Square Institute of Mortuary Science, where he graduated in 1970. When his father passed away suddenly at the age of 50, Tom took the reins of the family firm. At the young age of 28, he became the third generation to help the residents of Salem and the North Shore.

Tom was ahead of his time in many ways, a visionary, yet blessed with an old soul and a quick dry wit. Tom was one of the first funeral home directors in the United States to begin accepting pre-arranged funerals in the 1970’s. He remodeled the O’Donnell Funeral Home on Washington Square in the early 70’s to be one of the most prominent funeral homes on the North Shore. In 1987, Tom acquired the Peterson Funeral Home in Danvers and thus again was ahead of his time, as a young Catholic man serving the protestant communities of the North Shore. With Tom’s hard work, the support of his partners; his beloved mother and son; and many colleagues and co-workers over the years, he continuously was called upon to serve more and more families in their time of need. He was a licensed funeral director for almost 60 years. Tom never looked at his profession as work. He would always say it is much easier to be nice to people than it is to crank a diesel tanker. He was the proprietor of the O’Donnell Funeral Home in Salem and the Peterson-O’Donnell Funeral Home in Danvers until 2013 when he passed along the family legacy to his son, Anthony, who is the 4th generation of the O’Donnell family to serve the North Shore.

Active in civic and social circles, Tommy was a member of the Salem Common Neighborhood Association, the Salem Rotary Club and was a Paul Harris Fellow, a member of the Algonquin Club of Boston, the Corinthian Yacht Club of Marblehead, a life member of the Knights of Columbus, Veragua Council #76 of Salem and The Salem-Beverly Elks Lodge 1309. A 32nd Degree Mason, he was a member of Star King Lodge A.F. & A.M. of Salem and the Alleppo Shrine Temple. He was a member of the Board of Trustees of Roanoke College, in Salem, Virginia, Chairman of the Parents Council of St. George’s School in Newport, R.I., a board member of the Gloucester Stage Company and the Salvation Army North Shore Corps, a Corporator at the former Danvers Savings Bank, a member of the Thatcher Island Association, the Solemn Mysteries of the Ancient Order of the Deep, the Massachusetts Funeral Directors Association and the National Funeral Directors Association. Tom served his fellow funeral directors, consumers and the State of Massachusetts as a member and twice Chairman of the Division of Professional Licensure, Board of Funeral Directing and Embalming.

He loved and lived to help those in need. No matter their background, beliefs, means or station in life, if you called Tom O’Donnell he was always there to help and always with a smile. In his kindness, intelligence, thoughtfulness and humor, Thomas O’Donnell was an exemplar of that rarest breed – a true gentleman, and despite his generational modesty, he possessed that sort of greatness of character that endures forever.

Tom is survived by his son, Anthony C. O’Donnell of Salem; his brother, Henry J. “Hank” O’Donnell and his wife, Diane of Salem, his nephew, Carlos O’Donnell and his fiancé, Elizabeth Rauscher of Beverly Farms, his niece, Liliana O’Donnell of Washington D.C., his long-time companion, Carol Lindsay of Boston and Palm Beach, Fl, his aunt, Nancy O’Donnell of Salem and many cousins on both the O’Donnell and Dunn sides.