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Thomas P. "Tip" O'Neill, the snowy-haired Boston pol who rose from Democratic ward leader to speaker of the House on the credo "All politics is local," has died at 81.

With his girth, booming voice, ruddy face and bulbous nose, O'Neill became his party's standard-bearer - and, to the GOP, the embodiment of bloated, tax-and-spend government under the Democrats - during the Reagan years.O'Neill died Wednesday of a heart attack at Brigham and Women's Hospital, where he had gone for a checkup, relatives said.

The son of a bricklayer, O'Neill transformed the House speakership from a political and parliamentary post to a bully pulpit he used in his many battles against President Ronald Reagan. He once called Reagan the "least knowledgeable of any president I've ever met, on any subject. He works by 3-by-5 cards."

In a statement, Reagan said O'Neill was "one of our nation's most distinguished legislators," and remembered their battles almost fondly.

"It is no secret that Tip and I often had differing political views," Reagan said. "But as Tip once said during one of our fierce political battles: `Don't worry, when five o'clock rolls around, we'll put business aside and just be friends.' I must confess that on more than one occasion, Tip and I found ourselves turning our watches ahead to the five o'clock hour."

A New Deal liberal, O'Neill lived Democratic politics from the day he was elected to his ward committee in 1936, just before graduating from Boston College, until 1987, when he retired at the end of his 17th term in Congress and fifth as speaker.

It was O'Neill who made famous the phrase: "All politics is local."

His credo, passed onto him by his father, was simple: "Do the best you can for your neighbor. Never forget from where you come. And see if you can improve the lot of your fellow man."

"Tip was a giant in every way, a giant of a man, a giant of a speaker and a giant of a friend," said a somber Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., who arrived at the hospital to pay his respects.

Not suave or athletic like the Ivy League-educated Kennedys of Boston, O'Neill was a rumpled and gregarious, old-style politician who remembered birthdays, sent flowers when a constituent died and did countless small favors.