A tribute to Jim O'Brien

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By Adam Brazeau 
CORNWALL, Ontario - A tribute to the life and career of Jim O'Brien, a renowned professor at St. Lawrence College (SLC), was celebrated in grand style at the Cornwall campus where he taught for 45 years.

SLC staff, family, alumni, and pupils gathered in Aultsville Theatre on Friday to share their fondest memories of a college pioneer.

He was 73.

O'Brien was described as an educator, mathematician, punctual, big brother, uncle, hunter, mentor, and the biggest Canadian fan of the Notre Dame Fighting Irish college football team.

"Jim was an icon at St. Lawrence College," said Don Fairweather, SLC campus dean.

Fairweather said class sizes were never an issue for O'Brien, who came from a large Irish family.

The math and computer teacher was born on October 27, 1941 in Peterborough, the eldest son of James and Muriel O'Brien.

He had five brothers – Shawn, John, Mike, Brian, and Andy and three sisters - Suzie, Adrianne and Patricia. John gave a tearful speech about his big brother, who he considered "a star."

"Jim was a perpetual learner, interested in everything," he said.

O'Brien was further described as a man with a passion for free flowing conversations with his friends, particularly over a good meal and glass of wine.

His dry wit was a constant theme.

Julie Smith, coordinator of the arts and science program, said the campus is full of "Jim-isms." Most comical was referring to his students by the ministry term 'funding units' or FUs.

"He was generous to students, quick to lend a text book to those who can't afford one. Many students have and will continue to benefit from his generous donations," said Smith.

A picture of O'Brien projected on a large screen gave a glimpse into his light-spirited nature. His desk and the tools of his trade, which he used for nearly half a century, were proudly displayed on stage.

"He was famous for being at every class early and greeting his students at the door jamb. Jim's office was also a popular gathering spot for students after class," said Fairweather.

The college estimates O'Brien taught and positively influenced over 7,000 students throughout his career.

When he retired in June 2013, he was the longest continuously serving college faculty member in the province.

"We've all benefitted from his support and instructions. Jim's dedication to teaching never diminished. He's no longer here, but many of us can share memories of his influence in this area. The ripples have not diminished," said Smith.

Organizations: Lawrence College, Aultsville Theatre

Geographic location: Notre Dame, Peterborough

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  • Don Fairweather
    May 03, 2014 - 22:00

    Adam, Thank you for taking the time to highlight Jim O'Brien's life and his contributions to the college.