Obituary: Robert O’Neill

Peter Viney pays tribute to Robert O’Neill, who has left us on 29th June 2014.

‘Robert O’Neill was a writer, not just a “textbook author.” This is recognized in the Extensive Reading Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award. Robert crafted original texts and situations and dialogues, combining a master’s ear for language with a thorough understanding of what he was trying to teach and how he aimed to achieve it while creating room for the learner to innovate. His essay for the ELTJ, “My Guinea Pig Died With Its Legs Crossed” showed that many sentences are probably unique, but are meaningful, because we have grasped the building blocks that have created them.

Robert wrote textbooks with stories in them, original graded readers and memorable radio and video scripts. He is the ELT writer I admired most when I started teaching, and my admiration never waned. He also erudite, witty, challenging and every time I heard him debate an ELT issue, I awarded the points to him. Robert was pessimistic about the state of ELT in our later conversations, and had disdain for the “cut and paste” assembly of courses from diverse components. Robert understood the care and integration that went into great course materials, and indeed he created them.

I had many memorable conversations with Robert over thirty years. I heard him speak many times in lectures and seminars too. I was always delighted to see him. I shall miss him.

Some personal recollections are on my blog:

Peter Viney


Robert O’Neill receiving the ERF Lifetime Achievement Award from Jeremy Harmer in 2012.

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