Robert Emmett O’Brien, MD FACP, 92, a longtime resident of Winooski and Colchester, Vt., died peacefully at home surrounded by loving family on Sunday, September 29, 2013.
Robert was born in Winooski on February 3, 1921, the son of John E. O’Brien and Yvonne M. (Provost) O’Brien. He was a graduate of Cathedral High School, class of 1938; Saint Michael’s College, class of 1942 (cum laude, Prize for Biology, Chemistry and Philosophy, elected charter member of Delta Epsilon Sigma Catholic Honorary Society); and the University of Vermont College of Medicine, class of 1945 (cum laude, Prize for Clinical Medicine). He interned at Mary Fletcher Hospital, served his residency at St. Francis Hospital in Hartford, Conn., and served the Winooski community in private practice specializing in internal medicine and cardiology for 50 years.
Robert was married at St. Stephen Catholic Church in Winooski on July 30, 1946 to Shirley A. (Murray) O’Brien, RN. He was a veteran of World War II, serving his country as captain with the United States Army. Robert served at Regional Hospital, Fort Meade, Md.; Brooks Army Medical Center, San Antonio, Texas; Surgeon General’s Office (Pentagon), and Walter Reed General Hospital. He was a member of the first medical team to ever use chemotherapy in the treatment of cancer (Lymphoma Leukemia). He was a diplomat of American Board of Internal Medicine: past president of medical staff at Fanny Allen Hospital, Degosbriand Hospital and Mary Fletcher Hospital (now Fletcher Allen Health Care), and he served on executive committees and many hospital committees.
Robert was the first chief of medicine at Fanny Allen Hospital; founder and first director of the Coronary Care Unit at Fanny Allen Hospital; recipient of many hospital awards; a life member of Vermont State Medical Society, serving on many committees; past chairman of the Committee on Grievances against Physicians; past chairman of Vermont Board of Medical Practice; life fellow and past governor of American College of Physicians; past president and life member of board of directors and honorary life president of Vermont Chapter of American Lung Association; member of the American Heart Association, serving several committees; member (1963-1973) and past president (1972-1973) of University of Vermont board of trustees; and member of Saint Michael’s College board of trustees (1975-2005) and trustee emeritus (2005 to present). He was active in Alumni Affairs for Saint Michael’s College and University of Vermont. He received the Alumnus of Year Award and an honorary doctorate degree from Saint Michael’s College and the University of Vermont College of Medicine Award for outstanding Service to Medicine and Community Clinical Professor of Medicine; and the University of Vermont College of Medicine.
Dr. O’Brien had a strong interest in education and established the Robert E. and Shirley A. O’Brien Scholarship Fund at Saint Michael’s College. They awarded for many years a scholarship to a girl and a boy graduate of Winooski High School in honor of his Aunt Ella Mae and his father, John. Dr. O’Brien served as Winooski health officer for 45 years, and once spent three weeks in the barrio outside Caracas, Venezuela, providing medical aid to this poor nation. He was a member of GBIC Board that worked to bring IBM to Essex Junction. Bob was active in community and church affairs, was a lector since Vatican II at St. Stephen and Holy Cross Catholic Churches, where he was a member and past chairman of Parish Council and Liturgy Committee at Holy Cross. He was a great supporter of the pro-life movement, appearing at many hearings and television debates in opposition of Roe v. Wade in the early years of its passage into law. He was also a firm believer in health care for all. Bob was proud of his Irish and French Canadian heritage. He enjoyed his dual citizenship with the United States and Ireland and took many trips to Ireland with Shirley and family, visiting all 32 counties. He enjoyed speaking French daily with his Francophone patients and took many trips to visit French relatives in Quebec. He once took a six-day river raft trip through the Grand Canyon.
During high school and college, Bob played saxophone and clarinet with several dance bands. He enjoyed family and friends, especially large family gatherings with French Canadian and Irish song fests, golf, boating, cross-country skiing, fishing, traveling, jazz and classical music, literature, Irish history, politics and playing bridge. He was a member for 64 years of the Knights of Columbus, a member of the Winooski Senior Citizens, and a former member of the Burlington Country Club and the Ethan Allen Club.
Bob and Shirley have nine children; 21 grandchildren; 13 great-grandchildren; and one great-great-grandchild.
He is survived by his loving wife of 67 years, Shirley; nine children and their spouses: Timothy P. and Sue Ann of Winooski; Patricia E. of Colchester; Maureen A. of Colchester; Mary Jane and Michael Bailey of Colchester; Dr. Stephen EmR, MD, and Chris of Clemson, S.C.; Sheila A. of Colchester; Michael R. and Susan of Winooski; Brigid C. and John Kulhowvick of Essex Jct., Vt.; Dr. James K., MD, and Michele of Norwich, N.Y.; and 21 grandchildren and spouses and 13 great-grandchildren: Patrick & Mellissa O’Brien (Morgan and Alana); Meghan & Thomas Mongeon (Logan, Riley and Cian); Colleen and Andrei Noni; Kelli and Matt Reno (Jeremy); Dr. Brian Dinger; Conor & Jess O’Brien (Liam, Aiden, Maeve and Rowan); Erin O’Brien; Edward O’Brien (Phillip and Jeremy (Jalen)) Ellen and Dr. Thomas Woodcock; Daniel Hayes; Matthew Robbins; Dr Robert O’Brien and Dr Chi Hunt Wong; Thomas and Kimberly O’Brien; Kate and Matt Violette (Amelia); Mary and Mark Kulhowvick; Kathryn, James K., Jason, Theresa and Jacqueline O’Brien. He is also survived by his brother, J. William O’Brien of Winooski; his sisters-in-law, Lily O’Brien, Lois Lantman and Helen Devoid; ans many cousins, nieces and nephews. He was predeceased by his parents; his brother Dr. Thomas E., MD; his brothers-in-law Howard Lantman and Carroll Devoid; his sister-in-law Phyllis O’Brien; and aunts, uncles and cousins. Visiting hours were held on Friday, October 4, 2013, from 3 to 7 p.m. including a prayer service by the Knights of Columbus beginning at 6:30 p.m. at the LaVigne Funeral Home, 132 Main St. in Winooski.
A Mass of Christian Burial was celebrated on Saturday, October 5 at the Chapel of St. Michael the Archangel, St. Michael’s College, Winooski. Park in Colchester. Memorial contributions can be made to the Robert E. and Shirley A. O’Brien Scholarship Fund, c/o St. Michael’s College Development Office, One Winooski Park, Colchester, VT 05439.