Mushroom industry legend dies in aircrash

July 3, 2007

Murray O’Neil (80), the co-owner of Highline Mushroom Farms, Canada, died Saturday afternoon when …

Murray ONeil (80), the co-owner of Highline Mushroom Farms, Canada, died Saturday afternoon when his single-engine J-3 Cub airplane crashed in a Colchester North soybean field.

The following In Memorial is published with permission of Highline Produce.

On Saturday afternoon, June 30th, 2007, EssexCounty lost one of its great sons. Dr. Murray Roy ONeil passed away suddenly and tragically doing what he loved most, piloting his beloved Piper J-3 Cub near Colchester, Ontario.

Born on May 12, 1927, and raised in Paquette Corners on the family farm, Murrays love of the land never left him. In the fall of 1945, he left home for London, ON where he studied pre-medicine and then medicine at the University of Western Ontario, graduating in 1951. He returned home to practice family medicine in the town of Essex. While he went on to specialize in Allergy and Immunology and later build the largest private Allergy and Respirology partnership of its kind in Ontario, the principles of practicing good old-fashioned medicine – of listening, caring, being there for his patients at anytime of the day and seeing them through no matter what – always set his standard of care. Dr. ONeil was honoured by the medical community as President of the Michigan Allergy Society (1981-1982), President of the Essex County Medical Society (1985-1986) and in 1999 was honoured with a Life Membership by the Ontario Medical Association. He was a brilliant diagnostician and pioneered the areas of respirology and sleep medicine in Windsor, however he will surely be most fondly remembered as a simple and principled man with a genuine love for his patients, who would arrive, doctors bag in hand, whenever needed.

In 1961 Dr. ONeil embarked on his second career, founding Highline Produce. After 45 years of strength and growth, Highline today is one of the largest mushroom growing facilities in Canada, employing close to 800 people at its Leamington, ON, Wellington, ON and Montreal, PQ locations. Murrays countless feats of engineering and his personally devised innovations made Highline one of the most advanced and modern facilities in North America. He was known internationally as a father of the industry, and as in his first career, held many positions of leadership, including Co-Chairing the first North American Mushroom Conference (1979) with his dear friend, Charles Ciarrocchi, serving as President of the Canadian Mushroom Growers Association (1976-1978), as a member of the US Mushroom Council (2003-2005) and being honoured as a Life Member of the Canadian Mushroom Growers Association in 2002 for his then 41 years of service.

His final passion, the marvel of flight, is one which in his own words was “something thats been a part of me for as long as I can remember,” beginning when he was given the gift of a toy airplane at five years of age and stayed with him throughout his whole entire life. He first soloed a Tiger Moth in the summer of 1950 while stationed at Summerwide, PEI. His quest for knowledge, his great curiosity, and his love for the skies culminated in a commercial license by 1966. He owned 18 different private aircraft during an aviation career that spanned over five decades and accumulated over 8,500 hours. Great moments of glory included competing in the Great London, England to Victoria, BC Air Race in 1971 as a part of a two-man crew in his Piper Twin Comanche (for which he received a Windsor Flying Club Special Award) and flying his “hottest” plan, a Mitsubishi MU-2 twin engine turbo prop on Highline business throughout the 1990s. He lovingly built a single-seater, open-cockpit Volksplane, the “Cutie”, which will forever hang suspended at the WindsorAirport as a part of a Heritage Collection. He also restored a beautiful 1946 Piper J-3 Cub, which he taught his children to fly and which lived at his home until this Saturdays fateful accident.

For all of his many accomplishments, Murray ONeil will be remembered as a simple man from EssexCounty who loved his family and cherished close friends, who served his fellow man and touched so many lives, and who lived life to the fullest with an abundance of optimism and a deep gratitude for all his lifes blessings. He is pre-deceased by his wife Judith (Fitch) ONeil, his son, Andrew ONeil, and his sister, Marjorie (ONeil) Wright. He is survived by his brother, Ejay ONeil and family, heartbroken children Debra and John Gallaugher, David ONeil, and Elizabeth ONeil, grandchildren Brandon Gallaugher and Regan, Lisa, Samantha and Mallory ONeil, mother-in-law Dorothy Fitch, and numerous nieces and nephews.

A visitation will be held on Thursday, July 5th, 2007 at the Walter Kelly Funeral Home (1969 Wyandotte St. E., Windsor) from 2-4pm and from 7-9pm. A third visitation will be held the following morning, Friday, July 6th, at Lakeshore St. Andrews Church (231 Amy Croft Drive, Tecumseh) from 11-12pm, with a funeral service at Lakeshore St. Andrews following at 12:30pm. The family has requested a private service and interment at St. Stephens Anglican Church, Oldcastle, following which friends and family are invited to celebrate Murrays life at a memorial celebration at Hangar 401, Windsor Airport, from 4-6pm on Friday July 6th. In lieu of flowers, the family kindly requests that you make a donation to your charity of choice, or to Ability Online, an online support network for children and young adults with disabilities and illnesses ( which Murray believed in and supported.

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