Tip O'Neill stories were repeated again and again, although the humble storytellers admitted something was lost in the translation.
Rep. Jim Wright (D-Tex.) told of O'Neill losing a lobster bet on a Texas-Boston college football game. Rep. Margaret Heckler (R-Mass.) recalled when the newly elected speaker said he wished he were still speaker of the Massachusetts legislature because "in that job you have all the power." And Rep. Morris Udall(D-Ariz.) told the one about the priest who fed his multitude of parishioners on loaves of bread and fish thrown at him during last week's sermon.
"But that's nothing like Tip tells it," said Udall, apologizing for his performance of O'neill's material at last night's party in the Rayburn Building for Paul Clancy and Shirley Elder, authors of "Tip," a biography of O'neill.
O'neal himself told the crowd of some 150 members of Congress and wellwishers the one about his golf game with Sam Sneed culminating in Sneed's comment to the speaker at the end of the game: "O'Brien, you're a hell of a fella. What do you do for aliving?"
And the Reggie Jackson story where Jackson asks a young boy if O'Neill is important. The boy said yes.Jackson asks: "But does he have a candy bar named after him?"
Clancy's favorite is when O'Neill told Carl Yastrzemski that in an audience with the pope during the 1978 Red Sox-Yankees playoff series the pope had kissed O'Neill and asked: "What the hell happened to Yastrzemski in the ninth inning with two out and two on?"
O'Neill really is a baseball addict," said Clancy. "He values his friendship with baseball players more than with presidents. And he has a good sense of the House, because of his love of the game -- the statistics, the odds. That, and card playing -- it helps him to count the votes."
But Elder said that although O'Neill cooperated with the biography and let the two Washington Star reporters rummage through some 40 boxes of correspondence: "He never really opened up to us on a lot of things concerning people who are still alive. H'd say 'I could tell you more, if I would.'"
"We'd ask him 'What did you do about a specific point?' and he'd go into some long story about some Irishman," said Elder, who added that O'Neill did not let the writers see transcripts of tape recordings he had made of his impressions during the Waatergate hearings.
"They had a hard subject," said O'Neill. "I wish now I would have cooperated with them a little more."
And although there may have been a bit of blarney in the story of the sick child who reportedly recovered because she had received a doll from O'nEill, the speaker said: "It's the little stories you remember along a lifetime, the ones that never get into the headlines. That's what makes you want to stay in public life."