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Pelosi Speech at Tree Planting Ceremony in Honor of Speaker Tip O’Neill

Washington, D.C. – Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi participated in a tree planting ceremony in honor of the late Speaker of the House Tip O’Neill’s 100th birthday.  Below is a transcript of the ceremony:

Leader Pelosi.  I give honors granted to all our distinguished guests who are here.  Thank you all very much for coming.

Today, it is my honor to welcome the O’Neill family along with Congressman Michael Capuano, who now represents the district once represented by Tip O’Neill.  Isn’t that a great honor?  And Ed Markey, the Dean of the Massachusetts delegation.  We are very honored to be joined by Vicki Kennedy.  Vicki, thank you for joining us this morning.

Before we have our prayer, I would like to acknowledge the distinguished Democratic Whip, Mr. Steny Hoyer, who served with Tip O’Neill as did many, many of you.  As we proceed in the program, I’m sure there will be mentions of others like Barney Frank and George Miller and many other Members who have served.

Audience Member.  Honors granted!

Leader Pelosi.  Honors granted, okay.  Right now I want you to join me in welcoming Father Conroy to offer the opening prayer.

[Father Conroy Offers Opening Prayer]

Leader Pelosi.  I wonder what Tip is thinking of this tree right now.  He’d say: “springtime is coming.”  It’s actually a very large tree, or it will be soon!

Today, we honor the legendary leadership of Speaker Tip O’Neill.  We’re all happy to do that.  We honor his lifetime of leadership and service to our great nation.  What a great patriot he was.  This belief in the promise of equality and opportunity for all.  His dedication to progress for all Americans.  On a personal note, I would like to acknowledge Tip’s granddaughter Catlin, my Chief of Staff in San Francisco.  Her service is testament to her grandfather’s  legacy.  He would be so proud, as we all are, to see Catlin where she is today.  Where are you Catlin?

In acknowledging Catlin, I am brazenly associating myself with the O’Neill family legacy, and am proud to do so.

When Tip became Speaker of the House he gave Millie a Waterford crystal gavel, a reminder to all, as he would say, that she was the Speaker of his house.  In 2004, the O’Neill family gave me the same crystal gavel as a gift, a piece of history I display with great pride as a tribute to Tip – and it’s a gavel that I can’t use.  Today, it is a source of pride that I display as I serve in Tip’s office.

Having shamelessly associated myself with Tip’s legacy, let’s move on to the occasion.

As we plant a tree in his honor, we recall the roots of his success – his principles, his devotion to public service and the common good, his belief that the purpose of politics is to improve the lives of others.  Tip O’Neill always thought about the underdog, about how the policies of Congress would affect America’s families.  For him, a budget negotiation was not simply about getting a deal done, it was about fighting for the voiceless and the person on the street.  You all know that for him the effort to reform and save Social Security was not simply about the figures on a page, it was about the seniors struggling to make ends meet.  For him, legislative battles were not simply about numbers, or numbers of bills, they were about people.  This is the spirit that made him a legend in Congress, a legend in America.  These are the values that enabled him to succeed, to help Democrats thrive, and therefore the middle class thrive, and ensure that America would grow stronger with every generation.  He was the personal manifestation of the American Dream and he wanted it for everyone.  And if he, Tip O’Neill, were here today, there’s no doubt of his priorities.

Is it hard to speculate about his priorities even though he’s not here today?  No.  His strong stand for a social safety net, we all agree, that would be okay – for Medicare and Medicaid, right?  For fairness for the middle class and he would continue to make, and he would, and all of this would continue to make him a hero – and I don’t mean to the Democrats, but I mean to all of America – bona fide American hero.

To Rosemary, Tommy, Susan, Kip and their families, Tip was a loving father and grandfather.  [To] his fellow Members of Congress, he was a mentor and partner, an inspirational leader, a devoted friend, and a passionate voice for justice.  To the American people, he was the Speaker of the House who stood on principle and fought for what was right, who sought a higher ground in our public discourse and found common ground to advance the people’s work.

Today as we approach, or rather, today is the day that would have been his one hundredth birthday.  Wow.  With a tree planted in his name, Tip O’Neill takes his rightful place among fellow former Speakers, some of them fellow giants of history.  May this tree long stand as a towering tribute to the long legacy of Speaker Tip O’Neill.
It is now my honor and privilege to introduce Kip O’Neill, following in his father’s footsteps with a commitment to public service and supporting others who do so.  He will deliver remarks on behalf of the entire O’Neill family.  Please welcome Kip O’Neill to the podium.

[Mr. O’Neill Delivers Remarks]

Leader Pelosi.  I thank you for your kind remarks and for sharing with us his thoughts about Tip and those remarks.  We’ll be using that, won’t we Steny?  We’ll be using those remarks.

But you remind me also, my husband Paul is here, and he remembers, we went to one of Tip’s book signings.  I missed, by one year, serving with Tip.  We went to one of his book signings and took our kids and all they wanted to do was meet Tip O’Neill.  That’s the only reason they wanted to go to the book signing, was they wanted to meet Tip O’Neill.  So we went up to Tip O’Neill and he told me that he knew my grandfather and my father Tom D’Alesandro, and his brother, and this and that.  And he said to us: “kids, kids, you come from good stock.”  And all the upbringing, all of the pride of their heritage that we tried to instill in them never meant more to them as when Tip O’Neill said we were from good stock.  I am supposed to initially introduce the Architect of the Capitol who will put all of this in perspective for us, Stephen Ayres.

[Mr. Ayres Delivers Remarks]

Leader Pelosi.  Planting a tree on the Capitol grounds can be a very political thing to do.  I remember when we had to choose a tree and a spot with Tip’s pal Jack Murtha.  Well, the tree that the family wanted didn’t work in the area that homestead had originally planned, what, one hundred years ago.  And so it was very: “how do we get the tree that they want that works wherever it is?”  Thank God that this was easy, but I know a person who would understand the politics of planting a tree, and that’s Michael Capuano, who now serves in Tip’s district.

[Mr. Capuano Delivers Remarks]

Leader Pelosi.  Speaking for Tip again, Barney, I know how proud he is of his family.  We all know that.  And so his extended family of so many people who served with him, Chris and all of you, those who worked with him, and so I extend the recognition to his staff as did Kip.

But also, I want to acknowledge that we’ve been joined by Jack Lew.  How proud Tip would be of Jack Lew, the Chief of Staff to the President of the United States.  I have pictures.  We have some records of what went on at the time that Tip was Speaker.  And we have one that has, I think many of you were in it, including our next speaker, Ed Markey.  He looks like a baby.

And it was, it was interesting to me, as, when I was Speaker it was interesting to see that picture, to see the reverence, the respect, I don’t want to say fear, but the distance – you had to go in there, make your case, and it was either won or lost.  And people worked by that.  They had Tip speaking to John Dingell about health care, and then next in line was Ed Markey, Tom Downey, Lester Coin and others to talk about the nuclear freeze.  And I want you all to see that picture because some of you may be next in line in that picture.  But next in line in this program is one of the people in that picture, the Dean of the Massachusetts delegation, Ed Markey.

[Mr. Markey Delivers Remarks]

Leader Pelosi.  Listening to all of you talk about Speaker Tip O’Neill from the perspective of Washington, D.C., and from the perspective of Massachusetts, you have to know that in the rest of the country, he was a hero to us.  When I was Chair of the California Democratic Party, we all just couldn’t do enough to write and support Tip O’Neill.  But I want to just tell you, when he came to California it was like a conquering hero had arrived.  And he would, at the Democratic Party events he would be just the champion, though I think he had the most fun at the Irish Cultural Center.  And when he would go there, it would be so packed in the gym you couldn’t almost find him, and he’d be sitting in the midst of all of these people, singing, of course.

So do you think – I’ll leave this, make this be democratic – do you think it would be appropriate, now for us in the spirit of Tip, when he hit the road, he maybe did this back home, do you think it would be appropriate to sing “My Irish Eyes Are Smiling” as we plant the tree, or not?

Okay.  I hear it’s a split decision!

Who wants to start?  Okay.  Do we have a singer?  Oh, Joe. Joe Crowley!

[The Assembled Sing “My Irish Eyes Are Smiling As The Tree Is Planted]

[The Assembled Applaud]