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IU mourns passing of Paul O’Neill, alumnus and former U.S. Treasury secretary

For Immediate Release Apr 18, 2020

BLOOMINGTON, Ind. – The Indiana University community mourns the passing of Paul O’Neill, former secretary of the U.S. Treasury and IU alumnus, who died April 18, 2020 in Pittsburgh at the age of 84.

O’Neill was known for his unflinching integrity, his data-driven approach to decision-making and his strong commitment to public service. His distinguished career in government and industry represented a remarkable combination of business acumen and devotion to the greater good.

O’Neill served as the 72nd secretary of the United States Department of the Treasury as part of President George W. Bush’s first administration, capping an extraordinary career that spanned nearly every sector of the workforce. Raised in a military family, O’Neill learned early the value of hard work, a trait he would instill in the employees he led as CEO of industrial giant Alcoa, as chairman of the RAND Corp. and president of International Paper.

He earned his Master of Public Administration degree from Indiana University in 1966. In 1967, he joined the U.S. Office of Management and Budget, serving as deputy director from 1974 to 1977. O’Neill’s career trajectory led to major roles in the private, nonprofit and government arenas. 

“Paul O’Neill was an extraordinary leader who, in his more than five decades working in the public and private sector, embodied the very ideals we strive to impart in our students,” said Indiana University President Michael A. McRobbie. “His was a life and career marked by unwavering integrity, extraordinary vision, dedication to public and community service, questioning of conventional wisdom, and respect and concern for all people. He also possessed a strong belief in the enormous power of education to transform lives and to develop the kinds of public-sector leaders and decision-makers who will be needed to solve our society’s most vexing challenges.

“IU will forever be profoundly grateful to Secretary O’Neill and his family for their enthusiastic and extremely generous support to our top-ranked O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, whose outstanding students, faculty and staff will carry forward Secretary O’Neill’s legacy through the important and lasting contributions they will make to strengthen our state, our nation and our world.”

O’Neill remained a dedicated alumnus long after leaving Bloomington. He returned frequently to meet with students and faculty, providing candid yet inspiring insight into the roles of the corporate leader or public administrator. His generosity extended well beyond the gift of his time.

The Paul H. O'Neill Graduate Center at the IU O'Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs
The Paul H. O’Neill Graduate Center at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs in Bloomington.Photo by James Brosher, Indiana University

In 2019, O’Neill and wife, Nancy, announced a transformative, $30 million gift to the school that will provide student scholarships, faculty fellowships and a new Center on Leadership in Public Service. In recognition of his gift and his lifetime of service, McRobbie announced the school would be renamed the O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs. It was formally dedicated in September 2019.

“We are extraordinarily saddened to learn of the passing of Paul O’Neill today,” said Siân Mooney, dean of the O’Neill School. “Paul lived a life that was genuine and inspiring. He knew what all great leaders know, and that was to lead by example. Whether it was eschewing a corner office for a cubicle or giving his home phone number to those in charge of workplace safety, Paul knew that his most valuable assets were the people who worked for him, and he worked tirelessly to ensure they had the safest work environment possible. Paul was a visionary who led with conviction, and we couldn’t be more proud to carry on his legacy of selflessness and the pursuit of excellence.” 

After leaving government service, O’Neill dedicated much of his focus toward improving health care outcomes. He co-founded the nonprofit Pittsburgh Regional Health Initiative to address the clinical and economic problems of the region’s health care system, drawing on the data-driven approach to process improvement used by Japanese automakers. With his son, he later co-founded Value Capture LLC, which counsels and supports health care executives and policymakers who share his conviction that the value of health care operations can increase substantially through the pursuit of perfect safety and clinical outcomes.

O’Neill is survived by his wife, Nancy; four children; 12 grandchildren; and 15 great-grandchildren.

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