'City Lights' lovingly remembers beloved journalist and supermodel Gail O'Neill

Gail O’Neill, a beloved model, writer, enthusiastic supporter of WABE and a good friend of “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes, passed away recently on Oct. 10, 2023. She will be dearly missed. (Courtesy of Summer Evans)

It’s customary in the media for end-of-year reflections to include stories about well-known people who passed away in the preceding months. Among those in Atlanta was Gail O’Neill, an enthusiastic supporter of WABE and a good friend of “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes. 

You may have known Gail as a writer and later an editor at Arts ATL. She hosted the Felipe Barral-produced program “Collective Knowledge,” a series of web interviews with thought leaders, and the tagline, “Spreading knowledge is the most altruistic thing we can do as human beings.” That sentence speaks volumes about Gail herself. Her intellect and curiosity sparked interest in a wide range of subjects, and her humanity was central to it all.

The other quality important to Gail was beauty, though NOT in terms of facial appearance or physical traits. Nature, art, music, dance, literature and examples of human dignity – were the things where Gail found beauty. Ironically, her physical beauty launched a successful international career that Gail never imagined for herself.

Reitzes’ tall and beautiful friend was spotted at JFK Airport by a photographer who asked if she had ever modeled. Despite having no previous experience, she was signed immediately by Click Models in New York. Within a few months, readers worldwide saw rising star Gail O’Neill on the cover of British Vogue.

Many more magazine covers and high-profile modeling assignments in fashion capitals of the world followed. When Vogue posted her obituary online in October, the article mentioned that she was often heard on WABE, where she reflected on topics such as the legacy of journalist and Vogue’s first African American creative director André Leon Talley, a discussion that was featured on “City Lights” after Talley died last year.  

Gail pursued her modeling career in a way that allowed time for museum-going, attending concerts, theater and dance. The knowledge and experience she received from these activities informed her later work as a journalist, first with CBS and CNN and later in Atlanta with ArtsATL, as well as conducting author interviews for the Atlanta History Center.

Gail loved to shine light on others, usually deflecting from herself. Many of the interviews heard on City Lights were the result of Gail’s book recommendations and enthusiasm for dance, music and drama.

WABE and the “City Lights” team bid farewell to our friend and colleague, Gail O’Neill.