Benedictine College Mourns Former Chairman of the Board Jim O'Brien

Jim O'Brien 1939 - 2018

Former Chairman of the Benedictine College Board of Directors James Thomas O’Brien, Jr., born February 27, 1939, in Buffalo, NY, died December 11, 2018, in Leawood, Kan.

Jim was born to James T. O’Brien Sr. and Mary Whalen O’Brien in Buffalo, NY, and grew up in West Virginia, Ohio, and Texas, attending Laneri High School in Ft. Worth, Texas. He graduated from St. Benedict’s College in Atchison, Kan., in 1960, an event to which he credits his success in life. While there, he played football, was the all-CIC quarterback, and won the Mineral Water Bowl in 1957.

After college, Jim became a teacher and coach for St. Pius X high school where he taught and coached football and other sports. In Kansas City, he met his wife, Kathleen Denise O’Neil. They were married in 1962 and lived in Prairie Village, Kan., followed by stints in Atlanta, GA, San Francisco, CA, Basel, Switzerland, and Berkeley Heights and New Vernon, NJ. Jim and Katie returned to Kansas to settle down for good in 1994.

Jim worked with Sandoz Pharmaceuticals, Inc. from 1963 until 1980, where he served as Vice President of U.S. Marketing and Sales. From 1980 to 1986, he held several divisional presidencies with Revlon Health Care Group, including President of its ethical products division. In 1986, Jim founded O’Brien Pharmaceuticals and served as its President and Chief Executive Officer until 1989. He served as the President and Chief Operating Officer for Elan Corporation from 1989 to 1991. He served as a Director of MedChem Products, Inc., Ashni Naturaceuticals, Inc., Crititech, Inc., PharmQuest, CyDex Pharmaceuticals, and TheraTech, Inc. Jim also served as an Independent Director of Derma Sciences Inc. from 2001 to 2013 He was also a consultant to the pharmaceutical and healthcare industries from 1991 until 2018. He was proud of his successes, and how he could help others through his success.

Jim’s greatest passion came following retirement, in his service to others. Most notably, his love and respect for Benedictine College, his alma mater. After Jim and Katie moved back to Kansas City, and after a visit to Benedictine College, he became motivated to help reinvigorate the school and make it a beacon of excellence. Jim was honored to serve the school as a member and Chairman of their Board of Directors, a time of great growth. He tirelessly worked to find ways to increase opportunities for students and to develop the campus as a better place to learn, live and strengthen their faith.

In recognition of Jim’s commitment to Benedictine College, he was awarded the Kansas Monk Award in 1997, and Jim and Katie received the Cross of the Order of St. Benedict in 2010. Jim and Katie were members of the College's President Circle, Memorare Army, supporters of the football and basketball programs, Scholarship Ball, Capital Campaigns, Benedictine College Fund and Golf Classics. 

Jim was loved and respected by many, touching lives everywhere he landed with a fierce commitment to doing the right thing. He brought positive change that will last for generations and considered himself lucky to be able to help, and proud of what he’d accomplished with the friends he had made at Benedictine.

Jim is survived by his wife, Katie, his sons David (Cindy) O’Brien and Bob (Sarah) O’Brien, and by his 5 grandchildren. He is also survived by his sister Joanne Willis of Chattanooga, TN, his brother Kerry O’Brien of Colorado, as well as numerous beloved nieces and nephews and their children. 

The memorial service will be on December 18, 2018 at Church of the Nativity Leawood, KS. There will be visitation at 10:00 followed by a Funeral Mass at 11:00.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Benedictine College in Jim’s name for the creation of an endowed scholarship.

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