A Class of 1908 alum, O’Connell served in Congress and on the Superior and Supreme Courts of Rhode Island.
Hon. Jeremiah O’Connell (CAS 1906, LAW 1908, Hon. 1931), a former member of the US House of Representatives and justice on the Superior and Supreme Courts of Rhode Island, was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame on December 3, 2017. Twelve other distinguished Rhode Island residents were honored at the event, including a former state lieutenant governor, an author and suffragette, and a Catholic spiritualist.
About Justice O’Connell
Justice O’Connell was born in Wakefield, Massachusetts on July 8, 1883 to Irish immigrant parents and financed his own education at Boston University, earning a bachelor’s degree in 1906, and a law degree cum laude in 1908.
Thereafter he moved to Providence where he served on the common council from 1913 to 1919 and on the board of aldermen from 1919 to 1921.
During the two decades when the state had three congressional districts, O’Connell won election from Rhode Island’s Third Congressional District. His first victory came in 1922. Thereafter, he served with distinction in the US House of Representatives from 1923 to 1927 and from January 1929 until he resigned in May 1930 to accept a position as associate justice of the Superior Court—a decision prompted by the death of his wife, Esther (Garraty), that April. During his congressional tenure, O’Connell became secretary of the Democratic National Congressional Committee and was assistant Democratic whip of the House of Representatives.
In the immediate aftermath of the Bloodless Revolution of January 1935, O’Connell, a staunch Democrat, was elevated to the position of presiding justice of the Superior Court and he served in that capacity until his election to the Rhode Island Supreme Court in 1948 as an associate justice. Following World War II, he was asked by President Truman to serve as a judge at the Nuremberg War Crimes Trials, but he declined due to personal obligations.
As a recognized legal scholar and recipient of five honorary college degrees, O’Connell produced many praiseworthy opinions during his tenure on the high court. In January 1956, he ended his twenty-six-year judicial career.
O’Connell was a leader in the Boy Scout Movement, belonged to several Irish and Catholic organizations, served as a trustee of two law schools and the Providence Public Library, and was a featured speaker at numerous educational and legal observances.
One interesting aspect of O’Connell’s career was his interest in farming and animals. He held a judge’s license from the American Kennel Club and judged many dog shows throughout New England. He owned Rosemere Kennels and bred a nationally regarded champion Collie named “Rosemere Rambler.” He served four years as president of the Providence County Kennel Club.
This distinguished lawyer, legislator, and jurist fathered seven sons by his second wife, Madeline Loretta Gannon, who survived him. He died in Cranston on September 18, 1964 at the age of eighty-one. He is survived by his eight grandchildren and eleven great-grandchildren.
This biography published with permission of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.
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