Obituary for Earl W. O'Neal, Jr.
Earl W. O'Neal, Jr., 87, passed away May 26, 2017.

Born in Philadelphia in 1929, Earl led a long and impactful life. He served in the U.S. Navy Reserve for four years, retired from the U.S. Army, and is a Korean War Veteran. In between his service, he participated in nuclear power research, held a career in engineering, and ran his own business. He and his late wife, Delores Collins, retired on Ocracoke Island, NC where he served on 10+ different committees, wrote 25+ books and articles, and received more than five awards for his genealogy and historical research of the Outer Banks. He is survived by two children, five grandchildren, two great-grandchildren, and two great-great-grandchildren.

A service will be held on Ocracoke Island June 24, 2017 @ 2:00pm at the United Methodist Church.

For more information or to send condolences, please email Obituary originally published in The News & Observer on June 4, 2017.

Earl was a special friend to the Ocracoke Current. As Sundae's neighbor, Earl was a frequent guest at potlucks and birthday celebrations, and graciously allowed lemonade stands to be set up in his driveway. Sundae's son, Emmet, spent many summer days of his youth hanging on Earl's fence talking to/at him as Earl did yard work. (Think: Mr. Wilson and Dennis the Menace). 

You can read about Earl's birthday party at OPS and when he was O'Neal of the Week here. He was the Current's go-to historian when we had a question or needed a photo. We also recommend his autobiography, One Boy's Life. He will be missed. 

The following is an article that Sundae wrote in 2010, when Earl was awarded with the "Order of the Longleaf Pine."

Earl O’Neal Honored With Order of the Long Leaf Pine 

Ocracoker Earl O’Neal received a special surprise recently, when he was awarded the Order of the Long Leaf Pine, North Carolina’s highest civilian honor.

Earl was attending what he thought was a routine Outer Banks Scenic Byway advisory committee meeting, when he was called forward to be honored. Jack Overman of Manteo, NC, was designated by Governor Bev Perdue to present the award to Earl, in recognition of his outstanding community service over the past twenty years. Earl had known that Overman and his wife, Lou, would be on the island that day, but he assumed it was just a social visit. The presentation was a surprise to all the members of the Scenic Byway committee and the meeting was followed by a celebratory lunch.

The award recognizes the governor’s “special confidence in the integrity, learning and zeal” of its honorees. 

Earl was happily shocked to be honored, but it’s no surprise that he earned the Order of the Long Leaf Pine. He’d already been awarded the North Carolina Award for Outstanding Volunteer Service (in 2005), and, since then, his efforts on behalf of Ocracoke, the Outer Banks and North Carolina have only increased.

Earl is a retired nuclear engineer who can trace his family’s tree back to the earliest settlers on Ocracoke. His home is on the same site where his grandparents’ house used to be. When he moved to the island in 1990, Earl continued to work for several years as a part-time consultant in the nuclear energy field, while developing a fulltime hobby of preserving the history of the Outer Banks. Full retirement allowed him to do even more work in the community.

His love of island history led him to begin his writing career, and over the past twenty years he’s written over twenty books with topics ranging from Ocracoke family genealogies to island architecture, hurricanes, the U.S. Lifesaving Service, the Civil War on the Outer Banks, WWII, and his own life story. Many of Earl’s books are available at Ocracoke Preservation Society’s gift shop, the Ocracoke Variety Store and the NPS visitor’s center. He donates many copies to museums and library collections; Ocracoke Library’s North Carolina room contains all his published works.

While documenting and writing about Outer Banks history, Earl has also found time to serve on committees for the Outer Banks History Center Associates, Hatteras Island Genealogical and Historical Society, Surface Interval Diving Company (a non-profit marine archaeological team), and the Graveyard of the Atlantic Museum in Hatteras. He’s also a member several organizations including Friends of Portsmouth Island and Ocracoke Preservation Society.

He regularly gives talks on Ocracoke and Outer Banks history, and has become a featured speaker at North Carolina Center for the Advancement of Teaching seminars.

He was instrumental in getting a Civil War marker in place on Ocracoke in 2000. The marker, which was designed by Earl, also includes the names of the Portsmouth Island residents who served. Earl worked with his fellow members of the NC Civil War Trail committee in Dare County to include Ocracoke on the trail. The committee has placed markers at fifteen places of Civil War interest along the Outer Banks. 

Earl has been closely involved in the care of Ocracoke’s British Cemetery and designed new markers and plaques for the graves. In 2005, he proudly hosted Commander Tom Cunningham and his wife, Madeleine, when they visited Ocracoke for the annual British Cemetery ceremonies. Cunnningham is the son of SubLt Thomas Cunninham, one of the four British sailors buried on Ocracoke.

As a member of the Ocracoke Heritage Tourism Committee, Earl was involved with entering Ocracoke village into the “Preserve America” program. He has also served on the Hyde County Chamber of Commerce, the Hyde County Planning Board, and Ocracoke Zoning Variance Board.

This year, Earl was able to help develop a monument to the Navy Beach Jumpers unit that was active on Ocracoke during and after WWII. Since Earl had worked on the Civil War and British Cemetery markers, he volunteered to design a marker for the Beach Jumpers. He was able to work out the details with Cape Hatteras National Seashore and NC Department of Transportation to locate the marker on Loopshack Hill, just north of the village on highway 12. O’Neal also spurred the effort to get Loopshack Hill designated as a National Historic Site. The new marker was designated on October 23, 2009.

He has been very dedicated to his work with the Outer Banks Scenic Byways committee and Ocracoke Transportation Committee. We have Earl to thank for our new multi-use paved path out to the NPS campground – he has been working on the bike path project for years and is happy to see it nearing completion.

As chairman of the Ocracoke Airport Advisory committee, Earl led the way to a new emergency helipad at the airport, which was designated on September 16, 2009. His committee has also improved airport security, and had a new passenger pavilion and pilot operations room installed. 

In his autobiography, Earl wrote, “It would be nice to have twenty more years to complete my work in preserving the history of the Outer Banks of North Carolina. I will keep writing as long as I am able.” He’s currently working on a book about Ocracoke wild ponies.