Before being named Boston College High School’s first vice president for development in 1971, Bill MacNeill already had experience planning alumni fund-raising events.
While he was a history teacher and track coach at the school, he organized a benefit at the South Shore Music Circus, and during the school’s 100th anniversary year celebrations in the early 1960s, he arranged a meet between his team and Cheverus High in Maine that drew a sizable crowd to Boston’s White Stadium.
“That definitely sold our school president, Father Leo McGovern, on choosing Bill for the development job,” recalled Bill Burke, a longtime friend and former teaching colleague. “He was a natural leader in a quiet, selfless, often humorous way. As one of the school’s first lay faculty members, he was the go-to person for others who followed.”
Mr. MacNeill, who played a major role in several large projects and was a 1989 inductee into the school’s athletic hall of fame, died May 27 in South Shore Hospital from complications of metastatic melanoma. He was 84 and had lived in Scituate for more than 50 years.
During Mr. MacNeill’s tenure, Boston College High was the first Catholic school in New England to raise $1 million in a single year.
As a development official, he was involved with projects including the STAR Complex/Viola Stadium and the McNeice Pavilion athletic and event facility. He also helped form the Magis Guild, a major donor society at the school. In February, the school presented Mr. MacNeill with the prestigious Shields Medal for his service.
“When I started teaching here more than 30 years ago, Bill was already an iconic figure,” said principal Steve Hughes. “When he looked into the future and saw what he had to do, he never looked back. I became a better teacher and a better person because of him, and when I presented him with the Shields award, I thought how blessed I was to be there with him.”
Jack Dunn, director of news and public affairs at Boston College, was teaching at BC High when Mr. MacNeill asked him to help out in the development office.
“I told Bill I didn’t have a background in fund-raising and he said, ‘Don’t worry, I’ll teach you,’ ” Dunn said. “I had so much respect for Bill that when I succeeded him, I assumed a different title because there was just one Bill MacNeill.”
Dunn added that Mr. MacNeill had the gift of the common touch.
“People of all backgrounds and incomes liked him and responded to his appeals,” Dunn said. “He also had a great memory with names that endeared him to generations of alumni.”
Longtime Globe editor and reporter Walter Robinson said that when he was a student at the school, Mr. MacNeill’s infectious enthusiasm whetted his appetite for journalism.
“Many of us flocked to his after-school Current Affairs Club,” Robinson recalled. “He challenged us to pay close attention to the world, both near and far, and he brought the issues and the world players vividly into the room.”
A scholarship established in Mr. MacNeill’s name when he retired in 1991, after 35 years at the school, is presented annually to a student in need.
Born in Roxbury, William A. MacNeill was a track athlete at Boston Trade High and ran in the Boston Marathon at 16. An Army veteran who initially served in Germany, he was called back into service for two years in Korea before enrolling at Boston College through the GI Bill.
He graduated in 1956 with a bachelor’s degree in social sciences and received a master’s in history from BC in 1959.
He married Bridget Riordan in 1954 and they had six children. She died in 1972.
A chance meeting at The Welch Co. department store in Scituate led him to renew an acquaintance with Carol Hart, a 1956 graduate of Boston College’s nursing school, whom he had known socially.
When they married in 1973, they adopted each other’s children and the Harts became the MacNeills.
“Our mom had four children of her own before our dad passed away,” said their son John of Scituate, “so when we all moved in together, we had to change over a couple of rooms for extra bedrooms.”
“Bill and Carol had a wonderful life together,” John said. “They truly had a marriage to envy.”
Carol said that when she changed fields from nursing to special education, her husband’s support made the transition easier.
“I remember Bill waiting for me when I took my oral exams at BC, and then we went shopping for Christmas presents for our kids,” she said. “For just about all of our marriage he also served me breakfast in bed, and after he retired, he had supper waiting for me when I came home.”
Raising money for BC High became a family affair.
“We sold raffle tickets, stuffed envelopes, and participated in walkathons and auctions, and our reward was hot fudge sundaes,” John recalled. “We loved BC High because Bill loved BC High.”
John and two of his brothers attended the school, and three of Mr. MacNeill’s grandchildren will be enrolled there this fall.
As the track coach in the 1960s, Mr. MacNeill guided teams to state Class A and New England Catholic championships. He was also an assistant track coach at Boston College for three seasons.
John Normant, who succeeded Mr. MacNeill as BC High’s track coach, asked his predecessor to introduce him when he was inducted into the BC High Athletic Halls of Fame, “and he knew all the right things to say. He made me feel worthy of the honor.”
Mr. MacNeill was a founder of the New England Association of Catholic Development Officers, which presents an annual achievement award in his name, and a consultant to Catholic schools throughout the country. He also was an instructor in the Catholic leadership program at Boston College and the graduate education program at Emmanuel College.
In addition to his wife and son, Mr. MacNeill leaves six daughters, Maura of Fort Myers Beach, Fla., Bridget of Cape Coral, Fla., Adrienne of Andover, Lisa Prince of Sagamore, Joan of Litchfield, N.H., and Linda Giovannucci of Scituate; two other sons, Andrew of Northampton, and Larry of Ho Chi Minh City; four sisters, Barbara Cataldo and Sally Petrucci, both of Norwood, Micki Scarlata of Westwood, and Edna Gately of Randolph; and 10 grandchildren.
A service has been held. Burial was in Cudworth Cemetery in Scituate.
“We just had our 50th reunion for the class of 1964 and hands down their favorite teacher was Bill MacNeill,” said Michele Daly, the high school’s vice president for institutional advancement. “I knew Bill the past 10 years and sought out his advice whenever we met. I always wanted him to be proud of the job I was doing, and every day I’m here I walk in his footsteps.”Marvin Pave can be reached at email@example.com.