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Ralph Telford O'Neal
(15 December 1933 - 11 November 2019)

The Honourable Ralph Telford O'Neal, OBE, Member Emeritus
Former Premier of the British Virgin Islands

Ralph Telford O'Neal was the first Premier of the British Virgin Islands. 

Early life and education

Ralph Telford O’Neal is the ninth of 10 children of Otto and Esther O’Neal and was born on 15 December 1933 on Virgin Gorda. He was educated at St. Mary’s School, Virgin Gorda, and the St. Kitts/Nevis Grammar School.

He attended a two-month course at the University of the West Indies and later attended Trinity College, Oxford University in England. He holds the Diploma in Government and Political Science and the Diploma in Economic Development. In the latter he specialized in the study of the development of small countries gaining distinctions in both.


O’Neal entered the teaching service of the Virgin Islands at the age of 18. He taught at the East End Elementary School, then Road Town Elementary School and in 1953 was appointed Head Teacher of the North Sound Elementary School, where he distinguished himself by getting the first passes in the Seventh Standard Examination as it was called then.

In 1956, O’Neal entered the civil service and worked as Clerk of the Legislative Council and a Junior Administrative Officer. He holds many firsts in the Territory. During his civil service career, he was appointed the First Telecommunications Officer and the first Labour Commissioner, and then as Senior Officer in the embryonic Ministry of Trade and Production. He served as Clerk of the Executive Council, and then did a year as Administrative Secretary (Special Duties). He has acted as Treasurer, worked as Chief Education Officer, served as Secretary to the Government and Secretary to the Administrator, now known as Deputy Governor.

In 1969, he left the civil service and started his own business. He is the Managing Director of Ralph O’Neal Business Services Ltd., Wickhams Cay Service Station Ltd., O’Neal Gases Ltd. and Chrisneal Limited. 

O’Neal ran for a seat in the Legislative Council as the Representative for the then 7th District in 1971 but was unsuccessful. He was first elected to this Honourable House in September 1975 as member for the Seventh District (then Virgin Gorda) and served as Elected Representative for the Seventh District until 1979.

He then served as the Elected Representative for the Ninth District (Virgin Gorda and Anegada) from 1979 to 2015 having held that seat continuously until the 2015 General Election.

O’Neal was appointed as Chief Minister after the death of H. Lavity Stoutt and served as Chief Minister and Minister of Finance and Economic Development from 1995 to 2003.

He then served as Premier and Minister of Finance from 2007 to 2011. He has also served in the capacity of Minister of Social Services (1979 to 1983), Minister of Natural Resources and Labour (1988 to 1994) and Deputy Chief Minister (1988 to 1995).

He also served as Leader of the Opposition in the Virgin Islands on three occasions – more than any other politician. He first served as Leader of the Opposition whilst with the United Party from 1986 to 1988. He then served as Leader of the Opposition whilst with the Virgin Islands Party from 2003 to 2007 and again from 2011 to 2015.

O’Neal retired from political life in 2015. At the time of retirment, he was the longest serving elected politician in Virgin Islands history having served in the House of Assembly and Legislative Council (as it then was) for almost 40 years;

Outside of politics, he was also property owner and developer in the British Virgin Islands. Apart from his property investments, O'Neal had a number of other commercial interests during his life before serving in the House of Assembly under the Ralph O'Neal Group of Companies.

1971 7th District VIDP - Lost to R. George
1975 7th District IND 64.0 Winner
1979 9th District IND 70.8 Winner
1983 9th District VIP - Winner
1986 9th District VIP 47.0 Winner
1990 9th District VIP 50.9 Winner
1995 9th District VIP 66.1 Winner
1999 9th District VIP 66.2 Winner
2003 9th District VIP 60.8 Winner
2007 9th District VIP 47.0 Winner
2011 9th District VIP 49.3 Winner

Honours and awards

In 1974, he was awarded the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire (OBE), for his service to the community as a teacher and civil servant. He was a Justice of the Peace, a Commissioner of Oaths, and a Notary Public. He also received a number of other honours from organisations and churches including: National Parks Trust; BVI Farmers Association; Lions Club of Tortola; Anegada Progressive League of New York; Citizens of Virgin Gorda; Citizens of Anegada; Fishermen Cooperative of Virgin Gorda; The North Sound Methodist Church; The Zion Hill Methodist Church; St. Mary's Episcopal Church; New Life Baptist Church; New Testament Church of God; and Upper Room Victory Church.

Personal life

He was the father of two daughters (Esther Wheatley, Cheryl ‘Jacqui’ O’Neal Privitere) and one son (Ralph T. O’Neal, Jr.) by a former marriage to the late Viola George of North Sound, and one daughter (Abigail O’Neal) by a second marriage to the former Edris Christopher, now Rev Edris O'Neal, OBE. His Son-in-Law is Minister for Natural Resources, Labour and Immigration Honourable Vincent O. Wheatley.

O’Neal was a member of the Methodist Church. He is a founding member of the Rotary Club of Tortola which was established in the territory in 1968. He served as President for two years and is now a Paul Harris Fellow - the Highest honour in the Club. He was the first Director of the BVI Branch of the British Red Cross Society. He was associated with the Kids and the Sea programme ever since it started in the BVI some twentyone years ago, and is a keen supporter of programmes for youth improvement. He served on many Government Boards and committees – Chairman of the Tourist Board, Chairman of Hotel and Commerce Association, Chairman of the Visiting Justices of Her Majesty’s Prison, President of the BVI Cricket Association, Member of the Fiscal Review Committee and Secretary to the Development Committee to name a few. 

His hobbies included reading, watching cricket, studying international affairs and local history, visiting the elderly and shut in.

Death and legacy

O’Neal passed away on 11 November 2019 after being ill for some time. He was 85 years of age. following his death, the Territory observed a National Period of Mourning from 12 November 2019 until the Official Funeral and Burial during which all flags on Government buildings are to be lowered to Half Staff.

He was accorded a State Funeral on Wednesday, 11 December 2019  at the Multipurpose Sports Complex, BVI. His body was interred at the O’Neal burial ground on Virgin Gorda. 

It was only on 18 October 2019 that the Virgin Islands Party (VIP) Government, through Minister for Transportation, Works and Utilities, Hon Kye M. Rymer, successfully brought a resolution to the House of Assembly for the Central Administration Complex to be known as the Honourable Ralph T. O’Neal Administration Complex.

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Ralph Telford O'Neal
Occupation Politician
Date of Birth 15 December 1933
Place of Birth Virgin Gorda, British Virgin Islands
Date of Death 11 November 2019 (aged 85)
Place of Death British Virgin Islands
Notable Accomplishments
Premier of the British Virgin Islands: 23 August 2007 – 9 November 2011; 15 May 1995 – 17 June 2003
British Virgin Islands
Heads of Government of the British Virgin Islands
Virgin Islands Party (VIP)

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