When my father walked me down the aisle on my wedding day, he kept whispering to me out of the side of his mouth in the way that he did, "Keep your powder dry, Kathy, keep your powder dry." Dad, I'm going to try to do that now, but I hope you'll understand if I can't.
I want to start off by thanking my mother for having such great taste in men. She chose William E. O'Brien, a man who would love, honor and respect her for over 62 years and whose love she likewise returned. Two peas in a loving pod for a lifetime. The last words he spoke were to her, "I love you".
Joan, Bob and I want to thank you, Mom, for selecting for us the most wonderful and loving father. One we could respect, treasure and adore, one who was such a loving and caring Grandpa to Brian and Charlotte, Greg and Amy, Madeline, Bridget and Dylan. How deeply and tenderly he loved us, and we him.
My mother would always say, "When they made your father they broke the mold." As kids, Joan and I would roll our eyes.
As adults, we want to say, "Mom, you were right." My cousin Claire told me she always considered my father the most perfect man she has ever known. My Uncle Fred told his daughter Mary Ann that my dad was the finest man he ever knew. Our dear friend Joan Stecher recently told me that she thought my dad was the most saintly man she ever knew. (This is especially wonderful, since Joan is the most saintly woman we've ever known.) It was quite a mold that broke!
The story of my father is one of a life well lived. He was one of seven children born of a Newark, New Jersey fireman. His mother died at Christmas when he was just two years old. He once told me that he thought that the good choices he made in life were a result of his mother's guidance from heaven. She was quite a guide.
No matter what the role he played he did it well. He was a good son and son-in-law, a good brother and brother-in-law. He loved and cared for them to the end of their lives and beyond.
"Uncle Bill" to so many, both Otts and O'Briens, he loved you all and was able to tell us how special each one of you is. I think of all the parties he hosted, showers, anniversaries, birthdays and Christmases. I especially loved the Christmas parties with all the cousins. "Santa" had gifts for all. What you did not know is how much he planned behind the scenes, setting up tables and chairs, adjusting and moving, so that everyone would be comfortable. It was important to have "enough elbow room".
My dad did have his limits. He couldn't carry a tune, a trait he passed on to his daughters. Our pew at Mass was something to hear — or perhaps not! But nonetheless a party was not a party until my very Irish dad sang the Schnitzlebanc, complete with pointer in hand. What he lacked in voice he compensated for by making the perfect Manhattan, Martini or Sour!
My dad was an accountant par excellence! He was respected for his ability and integrity. Joan and I worked with him at Mallon's in the summer and it was so apparent how deeply he was regarded. Everyone there loved his wry, quick wit.
He used his talent for numbers at both St. Leo's and St. Rose's with collections, bingo and fund raising. I can still see my father walking in his top hat with St. Leo's in the Holy Name parade with Fathers McCarthy, Price, Curtin and Collins. He looked so handsome, and we were so proud.
My dad had just the right touch of vanity. He was a sharp, meticulous dresser. I'd always love it when he came home from Bert Green's Men's Shop in New York City with a new suit. My mother played a big part: his handkerchief, shirt and even his underwear were ironed to perfection.
Dad was a loyal alumnus of St. Benedict's Prep. He was proud to be a Benedict man. What a credit to his school! He attended functions there to the end.
My father was also a loyal and dedicated Yankee fan. He loved baseball. I really feel like the Yankees should wear black armbands in his honor. He took us to the Polo Grounds and Ebbetts Field. They felt like churches. But Yankee Stadium! It felt like a Cathedral! I loved hearing about when he took my cousin Phillip with him to the Stadium to hear Babe Ruth speak on his last day.
He played his role as a neighbor like all the others — with class. On Chapman Street we had the first television on the block, a small seven-inch screen with a magnifying glass bubble. He would invite all the neighbors to our back yard to watch the games. He supplied the peanuts and beer. He even put chairs behind our clothesline pole and told them they were sitting by the left field foul pole.
On Meadowbrook Road we had the good fortune of having Joan and John Stecher as our neighbors. At Christmas time our garage was their Santa's headquarters. Joan Stecher tells the story of asking my mother if she had a large box to wrap one of the children's new jackets. Next day there was a large box. My father went right out and bought a new raincoat so there would be a box.
I couldn't begin to count the number of friends and family whose income tax he prepared. My cousin Delores told me of all the ways he gave of himself to her family. He did it quietly, behind the scenes. No one knew. He did so much for so many.
We all loved my father's sense of humor. He loved, as he would say, to "kibitz". He had a couple of routines that he would perform that my Mother hated. Her expression of dislike was always "Oh, Bill!" We loved it. What was most special was his quick and gentle wit. He could say so much with one perfectly delivered line.|
He had some expressions that continue to ring in our ears:
Oh for pity's sake.
Pardon the iron grip.
Yes, I guess not.
Keep it down to a dull roar.
No use in both of us worrying about it.
Grass can't grow on a busy street (referring to his hairline).
If you don't have anything nice to say don't say it at all. He lived that.
Joan's favorite was when a man opened a door for him he would say, "Thank you — you're a gentleman. There are very few of us left!" Although he said it in jest, it couldn't be truer. He was a gentleman and a gentle man. He rarely, if ever, yelled. I remember him teaching me how to drive, a considerable challenge since I am dyslexic. He would very calmly say, "Kathy, you might want to look out for that bus". Only a few short days ago, when I was taking him to the bank I heard him say, " Kathy, you might want to get in the left lane".
I've been proud of my father for my whole life, but never so proud as in the last few months as he faced the loss of his sight and his other limitations. He did it all with such courage and dignity. The loss of his sight was the hardest for him. No more New York Times crossword puzzles or reading the paper from cover to cover.
I'll never forget the day he decided he could no longer drive. His major concern was how my mom would get to the hairdresser. What a man! It became our privilege to give back to him. Joan, Bob and I became his wheels. We took our parents to all their old familiar places and discovered how treasured he was there as well. His tailor, barber, cleaners, the bank, gas station, pharmacy and the Glenwood Sweet Shop. Each and everyone telling us what a wonderful man he was and commenting on what a special couple my parents were.
Yesterday Joan and I got gas at Dad's gas station. When we told Mike, the owner, that Dad had died, he sang his praises and excused himself as he started to cry. Last night he came to pay his respects.
How blessed we all are to have had him grace our lives for so long. In my mind's eye now, I have a picture of him. His sight is restored; he is driving a blue Pontiac (my mother's favorite color, the model with the head of Chief Pontiac on the hood). His jacket is hanging from the rear window hook, his tie is loosened, and shirtsleeves rolled up, his arm resting on the open window ledge. He always knew the way. He spent his whole life steering in the right direction. He is on his way home after a good hard life's work. He is enjoying the ride. His father and the mother whom he did not get to know are waiting to tell him how proud they are of him. All his friends and family are there to welcome him. His God who he worshiped so well embraces him. His Lord says, " Bill, you have lived a wonderful life — welcome home."
My father had an expression he used when describing a man he thought was a cut above. He would say, "He's a real prince". My father was the Prince of Princes.
And now it is time to say, "Good night, Sweet Prince. Let Angels take thee to thy rest."
We miss you already, and will love you forever.