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Rory O'Neil Saw How To Connect Hartford To The River

Hartford Courant Editorial

July 30, 2012

If each of us could find just one cause, one niche, one venue to help the community, imagine what a better place it would be. Though C. Roderick "Rory" O'Neil found several avenues for civic involvement, one stands out.

Mr. O'Neil, who died over the weekend at 81, was a major figure in the business world, a senior executive at The Travelers and later the business partner of Alan Greenspan. One day at Travelers he looked out the window and wondered why Hartford wasn't taking advantage of its location on the Connecticut River. Mr. O'Neill had come from Chicago, which rightly prides itself on its lake shore park system.

Dikes and poorly placed highways had separated Hartford from the river on which it was founded. Mr. O'Neil wondered if he could do something about that. In 1981, he, lawyer Jack Riege and others formed the nonprofit group Riverfront Recapture. Now in its 31st year, Riverfront is a model nonprofit that has added immensely to the quality of life in Greater Hartford.

The Riverfront folks got the people who built the highway to lower it, and built platforms that reconnected downtown to the river. They gave people reasons to go to the river by building parks on both sides and sponsoring countless events rowing, fishing, cruises, dragon boat races, fireworks, music, etc.

Mr. O'Neil called the riverfront "the work of a generation" and may have underestimated. He and his successors kept it focused on its mission, and created partnerships that have enhanced its potential.

Mr. O'Neil found other outlets for civic engagement; he and his wife, Nancy, were heavily involved in historic preservation efforts, for example. But in Riverfront Recapture, he showed how a small group of bright, energetic people with a good idea can transform a community. For all of his many business accomplishments, Riverfront remained in many ways his proudest moment. Hartford's as well.

Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant. To view other stories on this topic, search the Hartford Courant Archives at http://www.courant.com/archives.
| Last update: September 25, 2012 |
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