Donald Joseph O’Brien – Obituary

by Lynn McMillen
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donaldDr. Donald Joseph O’Brien died peacefully at home on Thursday, Oct. 17, 2013. Dr. O’Brien was born in Syracuse, N.Y. on May 14, 1921, and attended St. Michael’s College in Toronto, Canada and Syracuse University for both his undergraduate and medical school degrees. He served as a medical officer in the U.S. Army during World War II, and married Evelyn Bowe in 1944. After completing his internship and residency training, Dr. O’Brien, in 1949, visited his parents who had moved to Sheffield, Ala. where his father, Ed, was recruited to TVA because of his engineering expertise in running ammonia plants without explosions. Upon learning that at that time there was no orthopedic surgeon in the region between Birmingham and Nashville, Dr. O ‘Brien decided to open his medical practice in the Shoals area, first in Sheffield, and then, in 1960, moving his practice to Florence, where he had a busy and successful career until he retired at the age of 70 in 1991.

As an orthopedic surgeon, Dr. O’Brien was known for his sensitivity and dignity in treating each of his patients. He cared not only about their medical problems, but, more importantly, he was interested in their overall well-being. He often cared for patients who did not have insurance or the funds to pay for their medical care, and his children remember patients paying him in vegetables or home-grown produce. They also remember going with him on home visits he would make to patients who lived in Tennessee, Mississippi and rural areas of north Alabama.

Dr. O’Brien had an insatiable curiosity and devoted himself to a lifetime of reading and learning, especially educating himself about the latest developments in orthopedic medicine. He was a member of the American Academy of Orthopedic Surgeons as well as the local and state medical associations. For over 40 years of medical practice, he and his wife, Evelyn, formed a dynamic “team” in which he established a thriving orthopedic practice, and they together raised five children.

In addition to his contributions to the medical community in the Shoals area, Dr. O’Brien was active in his parish of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Florence serving as a lector and a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society. He was a moving force in establishing the Society’s thrift store in Florence and actively participated in assisting the poor particularly after he retired from his medical practice. Dr. O’Brien was a proud member of the Knights of Columbus and a Paul Harris Fellow in the local Rotary Club.

Dr. O’Brien was the patriarch of the O’Brien family, and he took great joy in presiding over famous spaghetti and meat sauce meals for his family at the beach on the Gulf Coast and at home in Florence. Every meal was a day-long event which resembled a complex orthopedic operation as he would make sure the ingredients were just right. He reveled in sitting at the head of the dining room table during meals and watching his family, his grandchildren and his great-grandchildren interact with each other. His love for his family and his warmth of personality would permeate such moments during these family gatherings. Dr. O’Brien had a keen interest in current events, and no family gathering was complete without him sharing his views on political or cultural events. He was also a lover of good music, particularly jazz. One of his favorite occasions was the trip he and Evelyn took to New York City to celebrate his 85th birthday by seeing Wynton Marsalis perform at Lincoln Center and then meeting Mr. Marsalis back stage and discussing the impact that W.C. Handy had on creating the jazz musical genre.

Dr. O’Brien was preceded in death by his wife, Evelyn, who died on September 19, of this year and was his partner and soul mate for 69 years. He was also predeceased by his two sons, John and Jim O’Brien. He is survived by his son, Joe O’Brien, of Little Rock, Ark.; his daughter, Mary Beth O’Brien Grady and son-in-law, Kevin Grady, of Atlanta, Ga.; and his son, Walt O’Brien, of Florence, Ala. He will be terribly missed by his children, his seven grandchildren, Kimberley McKimmon, Bowe O’Brien, D. J. O’Brien, Evie O’Brien, Martin Grady, Donald Grady and Mary O’Brien and his five great-grandchildren, whom he loved dearly. The funeral Mass will be held at St. Joseph’s Catholic Church in Florence on Monday, Oct. 21 at 11 a.m. Visitation will be from 10 to 11 before the funeral. In lieu of flowers, please consider making a contribution to the St. Vincent de Paul Society of St. Joseph’s Church, 1111 E. College Street, Florence, AL 35630.

Finally, the family wants to acknowledge with great appreciation the love and care that Dr. O’Brien received in his last years from his caregivers, Brandy Black, Holly Davis, Tonya Garrie, Donna Latchem, Kay McMullan and Faye Williams and his hospice nurse, Shelly Grimwood.

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1 comment

Kat O'Brien December 11, 2013 - 12:23 pm

Warmest thoughts this Christmas season for Mary Beth, Joe, Walt and your extended families – you’ve had quite an autumn of falling leaves….
May there be love under all your trees,


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