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Leo's love of people


Matthew Leo O’Reilly - Born November 24 1925 | Died April 21 2019

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Mathew Leo O’Reilly, known as Leo, was born in Peterborough where he lived until he came to Adelaide to attend Rosary Primary School and then Rostrevor College.
When he finished school he was anxious to work with aircraft, and so started work as a riveter at a production plant, first working on Beaufort Bombers and later the production of the Beaufighter aircraft.
At 18, he moved to flying operations and worked in crop spraying. He became a qualified pilot at the age of 23 and never lost his love of aircraft. Any aeroplane flying over the house had to be inspected.
He married Margaret in 1951 when an intense plague of moths was ruining linseed crops throughout South Australia and Victoria. What he thought was an overnight spraying trip turned in to three months away from Adelaide in an operation out of Naracoorte. Not an ideal start to life as a newlywed.
In his own words, at that time his ‘wings were clipped’ and he thought it was sensible to get a job closer to home where he could work regular hours and be home each night.
He accepted a position with the South Australian Housing Trust and for the next 30 years was the manager of its Rent Control and Housing Improvement section. It was not quite the 9-5 job he imagined. Premier Don Dunstan once announced at a residents’ association meeting in Hackney that if any resident desired to leave the area, all they had to do was ‘see Leo O’Reilly here beside me and he will relocate you in comparable housing without any cost to you’.
In the early 60s, Leo and Margaret moved their young family to their much-loved house at Henley South where they raised their children.
Leo was actively involved with the local school and church community, which was very important to him.
After 30 years at the Housing Trust, he moved to a role in property management for the Catholic Church, during which time Margaret died (1989).
He finally slowed down to life on the farm at One Tree Hill upon marrying Joan (also deceased).
These are all facts, and facts are important. They tell you a lot about a person – where they came from and what they did. But the mark that Leo O’Reilly left on the world was much more than that.
He was Patrick and Bridget’s son, he was Pat, Kevin and Margaret’s brother, he was Margaret and Joan’s husband, he was Ann, Robyn and Louise’s father, he was Michael and Allan’s father-in-law, he was a very special person to the Hakendorf family, and he was the ‘best person in the world’ to his grandchildren Tom, Chris, Amy, Cody, Lani, Jake and Bec and great grandchildren Cooper, Charlotte and Willow.
Leo was a fantastic handyman; there was nothing he couldn’t do around the house or garden, and he loved being able to do things for others, whether that was engraving people’s details on their possessions as part of Neighbourhood Watch (a job he took very seriously) or fixing things for his less skilled son-in-law, always in his polite way of course.
He spent his life doing things for other people, making people feel welcomed and making people feel loved.
He never said a bad word about anyone, and you would have to search a long time to find anyone who had a bad word to say about him.
He was proud of his family, and anything they achieved, no matter how big or small. He always wanted to hear about what they were doing, and delighted in their lives. He loved the opportunity to come to school events, sporting events or religious ceremonies.
Leo loved people. He was never the life of the party, but loved being at the party. He loved talking to people, and finding out what they were up to. He loved telling stories, and his stories were great.
He was gentle, and he was a gentleman.
Every person who met him left feeling like they were important and had been listened to.
Everyone who met him also left with a sore hand, after one of his well-known strong handshakes.
There was a lot of cheek about him too. His famous wink was there till the end. In his last couple of days, he didn’t have much strength but could still manage to muster up a wink for the nurses and carers who came in to check on him.
Taken from the eulogy by Bec Dahl, Leo’s granddaughter.


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