Obituary: Paul A. O’Leary

Great-grandfather, social worker, volunteer, camper 

Paul Andrew O’Leary, a 55-year resident of Claremont, died February 19. He was 89.

Paul enjoyed learning, words, games, and puns, and shared this love with his family, along with his love for the outdoors — camping, hiking, and canoeing. He was hard working, at one time having three jobs to support his family. He worked as a licensed clinical social worker until he was 78.

He was born in New Bedford, Massachusetts on March 13, 1934, to Thomas J. and Agnes L. (Donaghy) O’Leary, two schoolteachers who loved singing and performing in community theater. He grew up in Milton, Massachusetts with his older brother, Thomas Jr., and younger sister, Joan. He would recount playing broom hockey on the street during warm months and how in winter the brook behind the local park was flooded to allow for skating.

He graduated from Milton High School, then in 1955, from Boston College. He attended St. John’s Seminary for two years while considering the priesthood, but left and later began working on his master’s degree in social work at Boston College. He met the Rev. William J. Barry (later monsignor and pastor of Our Lady of the Assumption Church) who was visiting Boston and recruiting for the Catholic Welfare Bureau. In 1960, he moved to Los Angeles to work for the Catholic Welfare Bureau, where he met his future wife, Frances Bock. Barry married them in 1963 and he then went back to school, earning his master’s in social work in 1968 from the University of Southern California.

He began work as a licensed clinical social worker with Los Angeles County, first with the department of adoptions and later at the department of mental health; later he also worked part time at Tri-City Mental Health in Pomona and started a private practice.

The couple and their growing family moved to Claremont in 1968, despite their concern of being able to afford their $128 mortgage every month. In Claremont, the family could bicycle in town — down to the colleges or over to Baskin Robbins for a free ice cream scoop on birthdays. They also would go to nearby Lewis Park to play softball and basketball and frequently hiked in Claraboya and Mt. Baldy with the family dogs. He also enjoyed golfing with a good friend and on some Fridays would get up early to “play the back nine” at nearby golf courses.

As his family grew to six children, he would read maps and camping books to find new locations to visit. His family shared: “His frequent segue from other conversations to one of his favorite topics was ‘That reminds me of camping …’ and he would start discussing his plans for their next trip.” On many camping trips, the family would play card games, Trivial Pursuit, and board games. He passed on to his children his love of the outdoors and playing games. “Many memories were made on camping trips, though unfortunately for Paul, some of them were of Paul changing a tire on a vehicle, trying to get something fixed on the van, or working on the temperamental chain that helped to elevate the roof of the tent trailer,” his family added.

He and Frances later had a timeshare rental and spent vacations in Palm Springs and Sedona, Arizona, as well as traveling east to visit with his sister Joan and her family in New England.

The couple bought an office in Pomona and established The Sycamore Counseling Center for their private practices. In 1989, he retired from LA County with 21 years of service, lastly as the director of the Therapeutic Residential Center in El Monte. Upon retirement, he increased his time in private practice and did some consulting. He also had more time to be involved with the local Kiwanis club, where he gained pancake making experience at the annual pancake breakfast (he even had a personalized apron). Though enjoying his time, he missed the camaraderie of going to an office daily, and later began working at Kaiser Permanente Department of Psychiatry in Montclair, from where he later retired again at age 78.

After his second retirement he excelled at crossword puzzles and loved going on walks in his neighborhood, including with a senior walking group. With age, he camped less, but camped with his daughter on occasional canoe camping trips as part of a group paddling the Colorado River. “He liked getting out into nature and the group camaraderie, though he said an outboard motor on the canoe would have made it perfect,” his family said.

“Paul had an amazing memory but sadly his last years were marked by Alzheimer’s disease, and the loss of that memory,” his family said. “He continued to enjoy life, though, through visits with his family and walking the neighborhood, greeting neighbors, and waving to passersby.”

He was preceded in death by his parents, brother, and sister.

He is survived by his wife of 60 years, Frances; and his six children and seven grandchildren, including Maureen O’Leary, Julie O’Leary and daughter Nora, Anne O’Leary Cohen (Ben Cohen) and daughters Ava and Ellen, Paul O’Leary, Jr. (Shari Fournier) and children Lila and Andrew, Timothy O’Leary (Laura Temes) and children Sofia and Lucas, and Patrick O’Leary (Virginia Pol); and numerous nieces and nephews.


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