The Eye-Bank for Sight Restoration pays tribute to our former Executive Director/CEO, Mary Jane O’Neill, who passed away on February 4, 2016.
O’Neill who was at the helm from 1980 to 2000 was only the fifth Executive Director to head The Eye-Bank since its founding as the world’s first transplant agency in 1944, and during her 20-year tenure, more than 25,000 men, women and children received the gift of sight with tissue provided by The Eye-Bank.
Many Eye-Bank initiatives throughout the years can be credited, in a large way, to her efforts and leadership. She launched several successful public and professional education programs promoting eye donation; positively influenced legislation and government regulations key to the eye donation process; and relocated The Eye-Bank from its location for more than 50 years at 210 East 64th Street in Manhattan to newly- created, state-of-the-art corneal laboratory and administrative offices at 120 Wall Street, its current location.
As a means to raise funds in support of The Eye-Bank’s public and professional education programs, O’Neill instituted in 1982 the highly successful annual “Man/Woman of Vision Award” corporate luncheon which attracted hundreds of supporters each year by honoring top ranking figures in business, government and entertainment such as The Blackstone Group’s Peter G. Peterson, AIG’s Maurice (Hank) Greenberg, Federal Reserve Chair Paul Volker, and lyricist and songwriter Betty Comden to name a few over the course of the 20 years it was conducted.
In 1991, Governor Mario Cuomo appointed O’Neill to the New York State Transplant Council for a six-year term, which was later extended by Governor George Pataki. While on the Council, she served on various committees including the Task Force to Increase Organ and Tissue Donation, which launched the first computerized organ donor registry in New York State.
O’Neill worked toward the advancement of eye banking in this country as well as helping to establish eye banks in South America and abroad. While Executive Director of The Eye-Bank, she also served the membership of The Eye Bank Association of America (EBAA) in various capacities including its Board of Directors as President of the Northeast region, and as Chair of the International Relations Committee. In 1997, she received the Heise Award; the top honor bestowed on a non-medical professional by the EBAA for outstanding dedication and leadership in the field of eye banking. And in 2001, the EBAA honored her again by establishing the Mary Jane O’Neill Fellowship in International Eye Banking, a highly-sought award that provides medical or technical personnel with the skills to operate and maintain successful eye banks within developing countries. Since then there have been 12 Mary Jane O’Neill fellows from more than eight different countries around the world including Brazil, Ethiopia, India and Vietnam.
A graduate of the University of Detroit, O’Neill’s career began as a reporter for the Detroit Free Press. Before entering eye banking, she was also a medical news reporter and served as public relations director for The Lighthouse from 1973 to 1980.
O’Neill served on the Board of Directors of the New York Organ Donor Network (now LiveOnNY), The Pan-American Eye Bank Association and Pro Mujer, an organization promoting women’s economic development in Latin America.
Her other memberships included New York Women in Communications, Inc. (president, 1980-81) and Women Executives in Public Relations (president 1986-1987).
In 1999 she was named one of the top 100 Irish Americans by Irish America magazine.