By Steve Fantello
I never had the chance to see Eddie O’Brien make a basket for Seattle University or hit a home run for the Pittsburgh Pirates. He was working his magic in athletics long before I was born.
Yet, when I first met him, this passionate little man with the big heart taught me more about kindness, grace and dedication than anyone I’ve ever met.
The story of Eddie O’Brien, who passed away Friday at 83, is about a man who lived a colorful, caring and complete life, touching people everywhere. Even though he was born in New Jersey and played Major League Baseball in Pennsylvania, his story is uniquely Seattle’s.
He made his mark in sports, and yet he made an impact far beyond basketball and baseball.
He was a man that had heart and energy in the true “Jesuit Spirit,” which allowed him to guide and lead people in service for a just, humane world.
Strangely, I can’t recall the first time we met, only countless fun and engaging lunches, pregame and postgame basketball conversations, golf outings and stories between him and his twin brother Johnny. I would nearly fall out of my chair laughing in both happiness and awe of this tremendous and tireless individual. He had such heart, which could be felt with every word, every greeting.
My fondest memory of Eddie was after his wife Terry wanted the recipe for Sichuan beans from Wild Ginger, a restaurant where I was general manager at the time. Instead of giving it away, I offered to cook the dish for them at their home. We sat on their Edmonds deck exchanging priceless stories, then entered the kitchen. As I began cooking, Eddie and Terry hovered over my shoulder.
“Yum!” Eddie said.
“What’s that ingredient?” Terry asked.
“Can’t tell you,” I replied. “It’s a secret.”
Dinner was served, wine glasses were raised, Seattle University history was exchanged between generations. A deep friendship was cemented forever.
One night the O’Brien family came in for dinner at Wild Ginger, and I took their waiter aside.
“You are serving legends,” I told him. “Legends of sports and of this city.”
Legend of sport doesn’t do Eddie O’Brien justice, however. This legend was not only about X’s and O’s and stats. He was about heart, commitment, love and energy, things he gave endlessly back to the community.
I last saw Eddie O’Brien on Thursday night, at a Seattle U men’s home basketball game, of course. His health had been failing but his mood remained upbeat. That was Eddie.
When Edward O’Brien died Friday morning, Seattle – the university and the city – lost an icon.
One Facebook post read: “Basketball and baseball are going to get more colorful and competitive in Heaven!”
God Bless you, Eddie O’Brien.
Steve Fantello attended Seattle University from 1981 to 1985 and was sports editor of the Spectator, the school’s student newspaper.
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