Obituary: Joseph O’Toole

US Air Force Colonel, loving father and grandfather

Joseph W. O’Toole, retired US Air Force Colonel and longtime Claremont resident, has died. Mr. O’Toole died September 4, 2017 at the age of 86 due to complications following hip replacement surgery.

Known variously as Joe, dad, G-pa and “the Colonel,” he never met a stranger, Mr. O’Toole’s family shared.

He was born May 15, 1931 in Leominster, Massachusetts, the second son to Charles and Josephine O’Toole. His siblings included his older brother Charles and his playfully named twin sisters, Mary Margaret and Margaret Mary.

His father Charles came to America from Ireland to escape the Irish Famine. Mr. O’Toole attended St. Bernard’s High School in Fitchberg, Massachusetts, then Columbia Prep, Fitchberg State College, Boston University, finally graduating from the University of Maryland in College Park, Maryland.

Mr. O’Toole was inducted into the US Air Force in 1952 and was a fighter pilot during the Vietnam War, retiring as a colonel in 1978. He was awarded the Bronze Star, the Distinguished Flying Cross and various other air medals during his Air Force career.

He married Sara (Sally) Elizabeth Copeland—whose father was also in the US Air Force—on December 29, 1956 at Robins Air Force Base chapel in Warner Robins, Georgia. The couple had four children—Mary, Patricia, Katherine and Joseph.

An Air Force career meant the family moved often; they lived on the Japanese island of Okinawa, across the United States in Georgia, Mississippi, South Carolina, Kansas (twice), Virginia and at two locations in California. The family was heavily involved in activities at the various Air Force bases and private communities where they lived, including swim clubs, golf clubs, local Catholic churches and at their childrens’ schools.

In 1974, the O’Tooles purchased their home in Claremont, lured by the city’s strong public school system. Mr. O’Toole could often be found at any number of sporting events in Claremont. He was a regular at AYSO soccer fields and Little League baseball games, eventually graduating to the sporting fields at Claremont High School. He was forever his grandchildren’s biggest fan and supporter, his family shared. He spent many years as a well-known seller of 50/50 tickets at Claremont High home football games.

Mr. and Mrs. O’Toole were members of the Via Verde Country Club for many years, and early Saturday mornings were typically spent playing a round of golf, where Mr. O’Toole prided himself on always walking the course.

Mr. O’Toole was also a longtime greeter and usher at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church in Claremont, and more recently became involved in local politics. 

Mr. O’Toole was predeceased in 2012 by his wife of 56 years, Sara (Sally) Elizabeth O’Toole; and his sister Mary.

He is survived by his children, Mary O’Toole Phillips (Bill Phillips) of Aliso Viejo; Patricia O’Toole Eckert Bosson (Dave Bosson) of Claremont; Katherine O’Toole Ghering (John Ghering) of Roswell, Georgia; and Joseph W. O’Toole, Jr. of Claremont.

He is also survived by his grandchildren, Drew and Cammi Phillips; JP, Connor and Spencer Eckert; Kylie, Sara and Matt Ghering; Shannon and Ryan O’Toole; and his brother Charles O’Toole of Tampa, Florida, and sister, Margaret (Peg) Prerost of Brecksville, Ohio; and his beloved dog, Opie.

A rosary will be held at 10 a.m. Thursday, October 19 at Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church, 435 N. Berkeley Ave., Claremont, followed by a funeral mass at 10:30. Burial will take place at 11 a.m. Friday, October 20 at Riverside National Cemetery, 22495 Van Buren Blvd., Riverside, California.

In lieu of flowers the family requests that donations be made in Mr. O’Toole’s name to Our Lady of the Assumption Catholic Church at


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