Sunday, June 23, 2024

Tip O’Neill sits in a replica of his speaker’s office, with family and friends looking on, sometime between 1980 and 1995. (Photo: Burns Library, Boston College)

Chris Matthews, seen at a Philadelphia election gala in 2008, was a longtime aide to O’Neill. (Photo: World Affairs Council of Philadelphia)

Chris Matthews, host of MSNBC’s “Hardball” and once an aide to North Cambridge-born Speaker of the House Thomas P. O’Neill Jr., is to be in town for a free 7 p.m. Tuesday panel discussion with members of the O’Neill family.

This discussion (described by publicists as exploring O’Neill’s “Cambridge roots and his lasting commitment to the community,” by which they might mean primarily his commitment to Verna’s Coffee & Donut Shop) kicks off a year of events taking place throughout Cambridge to commemorate the centennial of the political legend’s birth. There’s even a Speaker Thomas P. O’Neill Jr. Centennial Committee, which planned the event with the city and O’Neill family.

Planned for the panel discussion is a veritable Congress of O’Neills: Thomas P. O’Neill III, the speaker’s son, who is chief executive of Boston’s O’Neill and Associates lobbying firm; Rosemary O’Neill, a daughter of the speaker and a former officer with the U.S. Foreign Service; Susan O’Neill, the daughter who is president of the Susan O’Neill Associates fundraising and event coordination firm serving Washington, D.C.; and Thomas O’Neill Jr., a grandson and benefits specialist with the state Department of Transitional Assistance.

Matthews will be a big draw, though. Before his television hosting duties, he was aide to O’Neill from 1981-87, when the speaker was a figure in U.S. politics rivaling President Ronald Reagan. While Reagan and O’Neill fought mercilessly in the political arena, Matthews described a much more intimate and friendly relationship in a Washington Post reminiscence last year, writing that O’Neill played a unique, secondary role in Reagan’s signature achievement: as partner overseeing the peaceful dissolution of America’s Cold War rival, the USSR. “Reagan would later say that he recognized [Soviet leader] Mikhail Gorbachev as a different kind of Soviet leader — and that it reminded him of his relationship with Tip,” Matthews wrote.

The event is to be held in the lecture hall of the Cambridge Main Library, 449 Broadway.