Sylvia T. O'Neill, age 91, of Madison, WI, passed away on Sunday, October 11, 2020, just shy of her 92nd birthday, at her home in Capitol Lakes retirement community. She was born October 13, 1928, in Washington DC, the eldest of three daughters of newspaper columnist and author Catherine (Medill Hackett), and attorney Edgar Turlington. She attended Sidwell Friends School, Swarthmore College, and Cornell University, where she earned a doctoral degree in Psychology. At Swarthmore, she met Gerard K. O'Neill, whom she married after graduating, in 1950; they settled in Princeton, NJ, had three children, and divorced in 1966. Sylvia lived over thirty years in Princeton, then Pennington, NJ before moving to Burlington, VT, then Dekalb, IL, and finally Madison, WI.
Sylvia first taught at Rutgers University, then was a full professor at Trenton State College (now College of New Jersey), where she was a driving force for the implementation of a Women's Studies curriculum. One of her most popular courses was her own creation: The Psychology of Love Relationships. In the 1970s, she was deeply involved with the Women's Rights movement, meeting many pivotal leaders and writers of that time. She served with distinction on the Trenton State faculty senate, chairing the promotions committee for some time, and was instrumental in changing the hiring and promotion policies to include more women and people of color. In the 1980s she became involved with the Gay Rights movement as it grew, and enjoyed marching in the Gay Pride parade in New York City in 1985. She was a civil rights advocate throughout her life, believing civil rights are human rights.
Sylvia and her partner of 20 years, Glenda Cosenza, together enjoyed opera, singing in their Unitarian Universalist choir in DeKalb, Illinois, their chocolate lab, Athena, Sylvia’s family, and travel. They had many adventures, driving through the southwest, exploring Alaska’s inner passage by small cruise ship, surviving a storm in a four-seater plane on the way to see puffins on Grand Manan Island in Canada, touring through England, Scotland and Italy, as well as cruises too numerous to mention.
Sylvia moved to Capitol Lakes retirement community in 2010 to be near her older daughter and her family, where she came into her own, blossoming into a new life. She wrote poetry and created art, served as a leader on many committees, and initiated a program to help residents of the assisted living and memory units stay active and involved. For the past ten years, Sylvia enjoyed some of her deepest friendships and became a beloved member of the Capitol Lakes community. When Covid19 shut down opportunities to be with her friends, and as her health started to fail, she was at peace with having had a good life and was ready to go. When asked how she would like to be remembered, she replied, “As someone who helped make a difference in addressing inequities -- but I was never alone in this effort, I always worked with others.”
Sylvia is survived by two daughters: Janet O'Neill (Kuehling) of Madison, WI, and Eleanor O'Neill (Casciola) of Burlington, MA; three grandsons: Luke Kuehling of Madison, WI, Niko Casciola of Melbourne, FL, and Ian Casciola of Worcester, MA; two nieces and a nephew: Barbara, Reed, and Pat Johnston, children of her sister Ellen; and a grandniece, Katie Elena Johnston.
Sylvia is predeceased by her middle child, son Roger O'Neill, and by her two sisters, Ellen Johnston Hale and Barbara Turlington.
Donations can be made to the Capitol Lakes Foundation https://www.yourclfoundation.org/ or contact Jan O’Neill directly to make a donation to the Sylvia T. O’Neill Giving Fund. The family would like to thank the staff at Agrace HospiceCare, Caring Made Easy Home Care, and Capitol Lakes for their wonderful support of the family and loving care for Sylvia.
Remind me that in deep midwinter
green shoots wait beneath the snow
and patient Nature wraps her arms
around her shivering children,
Comfort me that time goes by
and all things change
without my wishing.
The sun will rise, the river flow
without my pushing.
For I have strained against a door
that opens on the other side
and wasted time in never-never land,
though time is all I ever had
or ever will.
--Sylvia T. O’Neill (2012)
6021 University Ave.
Madison, WI 53705