O’Donnell Closes the Curtains On a Storied Career


It was a night that was part roast and part tribute, but for every attendee one thing was certain; it was all about honoring the career of a true Teamster—Thomas R. O’Donnell. While O’Donnell’s career has spanned more than six decades, his impact on the families of Local 817 members will be felt far longer.

Hundreds of well-wishers filled the Metropolitan Ballroom at the Sheraton New York to pay tribute to O’Donnell who, to this day, is considered one of the most influential men to ever work in the television and motion picture industry. However, his true legacy may lay with the scholarship program he launched in 1965 that pays for the college tuition and board of every child of Local 817 members.

“When it came to the members, my father always believed in reaching for the stars,” said son Thomas J. O’Donnell, President of Local 817 in Lake Success, N.Y., during his remarks. “And it was somewhere amongst the stars that he came up with the novel concept of sending the members’ kids to college for free.”

Through the years, the program has enabled more than 700 Teamster children to benefit from a college degree. In what was perhaps the highlight of the evening, dozens of members and their children gave their heartfelt thanks to O’Donnell for establishing the scholarship program and bettering their lives in a video montage.

Over his 62-year career as a Teamster, O’Donnell spent 50 years as the head of Theatrical Teamsters Local 817, served as Director of the Teamsters Motion Picture and Theatrical Trade Division and was elected to two terms as an International Vice President At-Large.

“There’s only one Thomas R. O’Donnell, there will never be another, there can never be another,” Thomas J. O’Donnell said. “When the big guy in the sky made him, he broke the mold.”