William O'Neill, tax lawyer, a Waverly Heights founder

William G. O'Neill
William G. O'Neill
Posted: August 01, 2014

William G. O'Neill, 88, a longtime Philadelphia tax lawyer and a founder of Waverly Heights, one of the first continuing-care communities in the Philadelphia area, died Tuesday, July 29, from complications of a stroke at Waverly Heights in Gladwyne.

Until 1992, when he left to found his own firm, Mr. O'Neill was a managing partner of the Philadelphia law firm Obermayer Rebmann Maxwell & Hippel. His niche was tax law, and he wrote, taught, and lectured widely on the topic.

But he broke ground in the mid-1980s when he saw a need to establish a new type of community that would cater to the growing number of wealthy seniors on the Main Line and elsewhere. For them, the traditional nursing-home model would not fit; they needed a system that would offer increasing care as their health declined, in gracious surroundings.

Using his legal acumen, Mr. O'Neill helped establish Waverly Heights as the first of what would become a groundswell of continuing-care facilities under various financial arrangements. He served as general counsel at Waverly for many years and as chairman of Waverly's board of directors from 1991 to 1999.

"Up until when he couldn't communicate, he always referred to Waverly as 'we,' " said his wife, Eugenia Crapelli O'Neill. "He was so happy and proud of his role, but it wasn't" just about him.

Born in Dunmore, Pa., Mr. O'Neill was one of nine children. His father, Harry P., represented Lackawanna County as a state representative for 20 years and later served in Congress.

Mr. O'Neill entered Pennsylvania State University as a Navy officer-in-training in 1943. At age 20, he graduated and was commissioned as one of the youngest Navy officers.

After completing his military service, Mr. O'Neill enrolled at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, earning a law degree in 1950. He chose tax law and joined the office of chief counsel of the IRS in New York, as a trial lawyer.

After 10 years there, he moved to Philadelphia to join Obermayer Rebmann. He organized a tax department and served as its head for the next 32 years. Mr. O'Neill served twice as managing partner and was the longtime chairman of the firm as well.

After his departure in 1992, he formed O'Neill, Bragg & Staffin, in Plymouth Meeting. The firm is now in Warminster. He retired in 2006.

"We were pleased to have him as the elder statesman," said partner Mel Staffin. "When he retired, we had so much respect for him that we left him on our letterhead."

Mr. O'Neill was a member and past president of the Bachelors' Barge Club of Boathouse Row, and a former member of the Union League of Philadelphia.

The O'Neills celebrated their 65th wedding anniversary on Dec. 29, 2013. They moved to Waverly Heights in 2002 after living in Villanova.

Besides his wife, he is survived by sons William, Timothy and Thomas; daughter Ellen; six grandchildren; and a sister.

A Funeral Mass will be held at 11 a.m. Saturday, Aug. 2, at St. John Vianney Church, 350 Conshohocken State Rd., Gladwyne. Interment will follow in Calvary Cemetery. Visitations will be Friday from 7 to 9 p.m. at McConaghy Funeral Home, 328 W. Lancaster Ave., Ardmore, and again Saturday from 9:30 to 10:45 a.m. at the church.

Donations may be made to Juvenile Law Center, 1315 Walnut St., No. 400, Philadelphia 19107.



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