Jim O'Neill was the go-to guy in his family for anybody with a problem.

"You could go to him with any problem and he would always have a solution," said his son, Jim Jr.

And it was not hard to imagine that his father would fulfill the same role for the police officers he worked with for 30 years on the force.

You can picture Jim as he popped an El Producto in his mouth and leaned back to listen to whatever was on the mind of the troubled one.

To say Jim was devoted to his family would be a gross understatement. The family was his pride, his joy, his reason for being.

"Whenever there was anything that needed to be done, Dad was always the one who stepped up," his son said. "He always wanted to help people."

James J. O'Neill, who rose to the rank of police lieutenant, an outstanding athlete in his youth who played catcher in the Cincinnati Reds organization, a longtime coach, Navy veteran, and true family patriarch, died Sunday of heart failure. He was 87 and was living in West Chester, but had formerly lived in Mayfair.

As a 20-year instructor at the Philadelphia Police Academy, Jim was an expert on legal matters of concern to officers. To further his knowledge, he earned a law degree from the Blackstone School of Law, an online educational program.

"He would study at night so he wouldn't disturb the family," his son said.

Jim was the author of a number of articles on criminal procedure, and was coordinator of the Criminal Justice Program at Holy Family College. He was an instructor at Philadelphia University and Penn State. Jim often testified as an expert witness at criminal and civil trials.

He sometimes showed up as a guest on TV, including the old Mike Douglas Show and the former "Under Billy Penn's Hat."

After retiring from the Police Department, Jim became director of the Delaware County Police Academy, a position he held for another 10 years.

James was born in Philadelphia to Joseph and Elizabeth O'Neill. He attended Roman Catholic High School, where he was outstanding in all sports. He was co-captain and earned All-Catholic honors as a halfback on the football team.

He also competed in track and field and finished third in the 100-yard dash at the state track finals. He was elected class president and given the "All-Around Athlete" honor.

In addition, Jim was wall tennis champ, and acted in several plays.

While in high school, he played catcher on a local all-star traveling baseball team representing the Philadelphia area and featuring Tommy Lasorda, onetime Dodgers manager, and Bobby Shantz, ex-Phillies pitcher.

Jim was inducted into the Roman Sports Hall of Fame in 1996.

After serving in the Navy, Jim attended Holy Cross College where he played football.

Jim was a baseball and basketball coach and president of the Holy Terrors Boys Club in the Northeast, and the soccer coach at Holy Family College. He was president of the Upper Mayfair Community Council.

He and his wife, Frances, were married on Nov. 19, 1949.

"He was a great guy," said his son, James J. O'Neill Jr., a retired FBI agent. "He was highly respected by his fellow officers. He treated everybody with respect and consideration."

Jim was president of the Roman Catholic Alumni Association, and a member of Fraternal Order of Police Lodge 5 and the Men of Malvern.

Besides his wife and son, he is survived by two daughters, Maureen Kauffman and Colleen Slusarczyk, and six grandchildren.

Services: Funeral Mass 10:30 a.m. Saturday at St. Matthew Church, 3000 Cottman Ave. Friends may call at 7p.m. Friday at the Fleur Funeral Home, 3301 Cottman Ave., and at 8:45 a.m. Saturday at the church.

215-854-5573