In Memory and Honor of William J. O’Brien, a gentle man and an extraordinary human being
by Heather Van Vliet
They say the people who impact your life the most never leave you, ever. If that is the case, Bill will be in the hearts and minds of many of us for the rest of our careers as Howell employees and as Association members. Bill was a unique leader with a gentle yet effective style of leadership. He could handle any situation diplomatically and even if he was correcting someone, he made the person feel good about the situation. He never criticized…he just said, “Okay, next time you might want to consider…”
No matter how bizarre an idea might be, if Bill liked it, he could talk a person into anything and make it sound like a good idea. It usually was, unless things backfired. At one point, the social studies department wanted to send a “message” to our supervisor at the time. There was a district wide in service coming up and Bill suggested how we, as a department, could get noticed…brown paper bags. It was humorous, it was fun, and it was more “noticed” than we realized. The plan was that whatever room the supervisor went to, the social studies teachers in that room would put the bags over their heads. Unfortunately for me, the supervisor came into my room and I and three other teachers “bagged up.” Needless to say, Bill was not one of them. The others shall remain anonymous unless they “out” themselves; all but one of us were called to the starship and received administrative reprimands.
I will miss the mischievous twinkle in those bright, blue eyes. I will miss the wisdom, the experience, and the leadership; but most of all I will miss the camaraderie and friendship that grew from a professional relationship. I will miss Bill, always.
by Doug Anderson
I got to know Bill pretty well when 8th grade was moved to the A wing and continued when I became involved in the union.
What I came to know and like about Bill?
-he cared more about his family and friends than himself
-his stories about his son Billy, as my son gets older I appreciate them more
-his calm demeanor, on more than one occasion he had a way of defusing a problem and me
-the impact he had on students. I never had a student say something bad about him
-his ability to handle pressure calmly
I know many of you feel the same way. Our North family lost a teacher, a friend, a mentor to many of us, a leader, a real class act.
I’ll close with this because I know Bill had a sense of humor. To me Bill made school a better place even though he was a Patriots fan.
You will be missed.
by John Agoston
Bill was a great mentor and friend. I wish I was eloquent enough to explain all the things he represented. He always knew what to say in any situation. He would comfort you when needed and prod you in the right direction when that was called for. His dry sense of humor always made me laugh, especially when he muttered it under his breath in meetings, and I would crack up, and get the evil eye from administration. Then he made it worse by giving me that sly smile of his! I know he is still joking around, as the New England type snow fell today, and all my kids ran to the window yelling “IT’S SNOWING!” You will be missed my friend.
by Rich Concato
To say they broke the mold with Bill O’Brien isn’t even the beginning of it.
Bill was not only a colleague and a friend of mine, but a mentor as well. In the 15 years I spent knowing and working with Bill, he amazed me with his ability to always find solutions. When I needed advice, he always had sound advice. When I needed a nudge in the right direction, it was always there from Bill, even when I didn’t know what the right direction was. Bill had an ability to always get me on the road I needed to be on. Sometimes it took me a little while to “get” it but somehow he was always right.
A few years ago when Bill asked me to Chair Academic Council, I was happy to do so for the sake of the Association, but it made me proud to know that Bill had enough faith in me to even ask me to do it. Through the years I always looked to learn from Bill. Bill was a wealth of knowledge just waiting to be tapped. I feel fortunate that I was able to tap into that knowledge, and I know I am a better person for it! Most recently, he didn’t really ask, but he put Diane and I in charge of the new Action Committee. I was glad to do it and again, honored that he looked to me because I know just how important the strength of the HTEA was to him!
Moving forward, I will miss you Bill for so many reasons, and I know many others feel exactly the same way. You were a very gifted man and Howell Township and many people’s lives you touched were better off for knowing you. The 1000’s of students you taught are all better people for knowing you and learning from you, too. Thank you for all the help and wisdom you imparted on me through the years. I will miss you greatly my friend. God Bless.
by Jacqui Tennant
Bill was a quiet man who led through patience and humor. I have never worked under a more benevolent mentor and extraordinary human being. Bill was generous of spirit and time, and steadfast in his devotion to family, the New England Patriots and to the members of the HTEA. Bill headed our association with integrity, honor and guided the ship through rough seas and fair winds. Bill would often say, “None of us would be doing these jobs if our overriding purpose wasn’t to help someone. Am I right?”
I believe it was Emerson who said, “Make yourself necessary to someone.” Bill did that. He helped so many of us. What he did was important. The life he lived mattered.
I will miss my friend.
by Eileen Levine
Bill counted a lot of ceiling tiles. He always looked up and seemed to be looking for something when I told one of my stupid jokes or stories. I have told stories that have made the room howl with laughter. Bill, on the other hand, would look up at the ceiling.
One day, I called him out on it. No, I didn’t say, “Hey, what are you looking for?” Instead, I started counting, “One…two…three….” The room looked at me and asked what I was doing. I told everyone that I was helping Bill count the ceiling tiles. It was Bill who then started to laugh and so did the room. It was clear that Bill would allow me to be me and tell the stories I would tell. He would endure the crane of his neck to let me laugh and speak as I speak.
Here’s to you, Bill O’Brien, for being a true gentleman. For always encouraging me to speak my mind, to err on the side of right and for allowing me to laugh, I thank you.
by Debbie Gates-Kane
Tonight is a very sad night in Howell. My friend and colleague, Mr. Bill O’Brien passed away suddenly. I cannot begin to express the loss that not only the Howell community feels but also the great hole that will be felt on the county and State level. Bill was a true believer in the Teachers Union as you can see by his involvement in all aspects of the Teachers’ Union way of life. The one thing I will always remember about Bill is not his Union involvement but the true happiness and joy that shown when in his eyes when he spoke of his family, especially his son Billy. My dear friend Bill may you finally rest in peace. I for one will find it hard to fill the hole left in my heart. Good bye my dear friend, good bye.