William A. O’Donnell

April 7, 1953 - April 23, 2018
William A. O’Donnell, April 7, 1953 - April 23, 2018

William Alfred O’Donnell, an active member of the running community and a master swimmer, died at his Cedar Street, East Hampton, home on Monday at the age of 65. His death, attributed to heart failure, was unexpected and occurred in his sleep.

An outstanding athlete, surfing, swimming, and running were Mr. O’Donnell’s passions. He ran the New York City and Boston marathons numerous times, as well as a marathon in Kona, Hawaii. He took part in half-Iron Man competitions and numerous triathlons and was a member of the Y.M.C.A. East Hampton RECenter’s master swim team for 15 years. Over the years, he went to Rincon, Puerto Rico, many times to swim in its warm ocean waters. He was a founding member of the Old Montauk Athletic Club. 

He was born on April 7, 1953, to William Alfred O’Donnell and the former Elyse Michaels in Columbus, Ohio. His family soon moved to Syosset, where he grew up and graduated from high school. Initially, he attended Brevard Community College in Cocoa, Fla., where he became a member of a surfing community. Diane O’Donnell, his wife, said his father, who survives and now lives in Southington, Conn., used to joke, saying, “He got an A in surfing and an F in everything else.” He dropped out of Brevard College, moving to Oyster Bay and regularly going to Montauk to surf. 

He eventually returned to school, going to Stony Brook University, from which he graduated in 1979 as a history major, while also working full time and participating in athletics.

In the summer of 1977, he and his future wife, then Diane Rodriguez, met at the Pirate’s Den in Montauk, now Sloppy Tuna. He returned to school that fall, but came out to Montauk on weekends. They eventually moved in together. 

Mr. O’Donnell worked at the Montauk Yacht Club among other places in the hamlet, but in 1978 he opened a company called O’Donnell Enterprises. It  provided services such as lawn mowing at first and eventually focused on swimming pools.

Those who knew Mr. O’Donnell thought of him as a true people person, able to strike up a friendly conversation with everyone he met. It was hard to resist his sense of humor and wit, his friends said. 

He loved live music. The Lone Sharks were his favorite local band and he went to their gigs whether in Montauk or Manhattan. His favorite song was “(Sittin’ On) The Dock of the Bay” by Otis Redding, which he would sing whenever he had a chance, at karaoke or an open mike. 

Jack Graves, the sports editor of The East Hampton Star, wrote about Mr. O’Donnell often. “He was always upbeat. He seemed indestructible,” Mr. Graves said yesterday. 

Besides his wife and father, he is survived by four children, Caitlin O’Donnell and Natalie Mattson, both of East Hampton, James O’Donnell of Manhattan, and Lisa Hall of Santa Barbara, Calif., as well as five grandchildren. His siblings Diane Melli of Sayville, Wesley O’Donnell of East Hampton, Elyse O’Donnell and Lindsey O’Donnell of San Rafael, Calif., Patrick O’Donnell and Donald O’Donnell, both of Atlanta, and Curtis O’Connell of Dracut, Mass., also survive. 

The second day of a wake is being held from 4 to 7 p.m. today at the O’Donnells’ Cedar Street residence. 

A staunch churchgoer, Mr. O’Donnell was a member of Most Holy Trinity Catholic Church in East Hampton, where a Mass will be said tomorrow at 11 a.m. by the Rev. Ryan Creamer. His ashes are to be dispersed at three of his favorite swimming and surfing spots, Ditch Plain, Rincon, and Hawaii. 

Donations in his memory have been suggested to the East Hampton Village Ambulance Association, 1 Cedar Street, East Hampton 11937, or the Old Montauk Athletic Club, P.O. Box 1997, also in East Hampton.