RIP James Kevin “Poppy” O’Reilly

Poppy working on a crossword puzzle.

Poppy working on a crossword puzzle.

On June 8th, my Grandpa, known with great affection as “Poppy” died peacefully after a fight with cancer. He was 82. My family and I went up to upstate New York, where him and my grandpa (“Bobo”) live, a house that was once a summer home near lake Sacandaga, up in Saratoga Springs. There, me and my family also met up with 3 out of my 4 aunts on my fathers side, my respective 3 uncle-in-laws and my many cousins for a week of mourning and family bonding.

Big, close families seem to not be all that common these days, but they do a great job of supporting each other in times like this. It was good to see my family, despite the circumstances and everyone made the best out. We knew it was coming, so we were at least somewhat prepared. You can only be so prepared for these sorts of things though. For example, bagpipers are cruise control for tears as I learned.

Poppy and my Dad

Poppy and my Dad

I want to write about Poppy for a bit though. Poppy first off was a twice veteran, serving both in World War II (pacific theater) and the Korean war. He was a Marine engineer. He was a massive man. While ‘only’ 6’4, he possessed a huge build, with giant, mitt like hands. After the Korean war he became a New York Train conductor — a job he kept until retirement. He went on to have 6 kids, My aunts Cathleen, Robin, Trisha and Sharon as well as my dad, Michael and my deceased uncle, Jimmy. He was a quiet, relaxed parent who rarely resorted to anger. Even when resorting to extreme discipline, he maintained his composure. A story my dad often tells goes like this…

Him and his siblings were arguing over who got to use their new, fancy radio. Poppy, who worked the night shift, was in bed when one of them walked in, asking him to resolve the issue. Poppy told them that he needed to sleep and to please work it out amongst themselves. 10 minutes later one of them comes back. He repeated what he said, adding that they really did not want him to have to get up.

They still didn’t listen to him. Now, Poppy was the type who kept all the dangerous things in his rooms where the kids couldn’t hurt themselves. Well he took one of them out with him. A hand axe. He then walked up to the radio and calmly split it in two. He then, again calmy, said “Well, now you have nothing to fight over.” and went to bed.

Bobo, my Aunt Sharon and Poppy

Bobo, my Aunt Sharon and Poppy

Another story involves a technician servicing their septic tank. He was cleaning it with acid when he slipped and fell in. Instead of fall into the acid that was at the bottom of the tank to clean it, Poppy grabbed his belt buckle and, with one hand, lifted him out of the hole.

Poppy had a bazillion stories and was always willing to share them at great length. In his old age, he spent most of his time sitting quietly and reading — or solving crossword puzzles, which were a specialty of his. He took care of things, usually quietly and without fuss. He even took care of all the perpetrations for his death for everyone discreetly, so there was no panic when he finally passed. Poppy rocked and I will deeply miss him. I am just glad I got to know him as long as I did.

I’ve also been working on a portrait of him for a bit now. I’ve decided to take a break from it for now and post my progress.


8 thoughts on “RIP James Kevin “Poppy” O’Reilly

  1. I have to say your father was a great man. I’m glad you could make a tribute to him in your gallery. He seems like the type of the man who offered a lot to the world and I wish you and your family the best.

  2. It was my grandfather, not my father but I appreciate the comment, sir. :) Hopefully my dad has a good long while left in him.

  3. Hi

    I’ve been trying for a long time to trace a branch of my mother’s family which ended up in the US. This morning I received a copy of the naturalisation certificate for James Patrick O’Reilly born in Dublin in 1899 which stated the dates of birth of his two sons , the older one named James Kevin O’Reilly born 24 May 1927………. which led me via the SS Death index to the death of a man with the same name and date of birth on 8 June 2009.

    This sounds like a match. Perhaps you could contact me.

    Kind regards


  4. Most compelling story and photograph I’ve heard in a great while, possibly in forever. I could explain my numerous fascinations, but I don’t think there’s any need for that.

  5. I am so glad that I found this special tribute to your Poppy. I was actually looking for information on your uncle James Kevin O’Reilly Jr., Jimmy. I was his girlfriend when he died and have always cherished the love and kindness your Poppy and Bobo, your dad and mom, and all of your aunts and uncles gave me at the most difficult time of my life. I stayed in touch with your Aunt Robin and your Aunt Kathleen and Bobo for a long time but then lost contact with everyone. But I have never forgotten the two weeks I spent in Long Island at your grandparents home. You are blessed to be part of such a beautiful wonderful family. Cheryl Bowen Carrillo

  6. Certainly not an comment I expected to see on my website but a very welcome one. Also a lovely one to share with my parents (my father just went to add you on facebook). It’s both surprising and touching to see someone I’ve never met or really knew much about be able to appreciate this picture and it’s lovely to hear about your experiences with my family. Hope everything is going well with you!

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