Madeline Catherine Griffin O'Brien
November 29, 1921 -
May 4, 2013
Culminating a lifetime of service to community, church, family and her profession, Madeline Catherine Griffin O'Brien, 91, passed away peacefully in her sleep on May 4, 2013. A passionate, empathetic and indefatigable humanitarian, a keen listener and mentor, Madeline was involved in fundraising for many deserving Houston-area organizations which exist for the benefit of all people.
She was president of the prominent high-end Houston residential real estate firm Madeline O'Brien, Inc., Realtors, for over thirty-five years. Madeline was a petite, gentle, yet always vivacious woman of faith whose inner strength sustained her and inspired all who knew her.
Madeline was born on November 29, 1921, in Muskogee, Oklahoma. She was the sixth child of Paul Patrick and Nell (Maloney) Griffin, who came from Pennsylvania after the discovery of oil on land belonging to The Indian Nations. Growing up in Tulsa, young Madeline's father, president of Oklahoma Pipeline (acquired by Exxon decades later) taught her the responsibility of community involvement through volunteer work at Catholic Charities (now a United Fund agency).
While a sophomore at Marquette High School in Tulsa, Madeline met Donald Francis O'Brien, a senior, decorated Eagle Scout, and football team captain. They dated for two years while he worked to earn tuition to enroll at The University of Notre Dame. Madeline enrolled at Saint Theresa College in Winona, Minnesota, where she was graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree. She married 1st lieutenant Donald on April 10, 1944, in Tulsa, during his training as a World War II Naval Aviator.
After the War, Madeline and Donald moved to Houston and attended early Mass daily at St. Anne Parish. During the Baby Boom Era, Madeline was busy raising a family of four and continuing her active volunteer work at Catholic Charities and elsewhere. Donald was handling prominent accounts in the advertising business and pursuing his love of flying jet fighters in the U.S. Navy Reserve. In 1957, when construction of State Highway-59 took a swath out of Houston's southwest side, the family moved to the Tanglewood neighborhood and began attending daily Mass at St. Michael Parish.
As Madeline's last teenager was preparing to head off to college in the late 1960s, she obtained her real estate salesperson and broker licenses in short order. With five thousand dollars borrowed from Donald, and no prior sales experience, Madeline opened her own real estate business. Through sheer determination and persistence combined with her boundless energy and enthusiasm, Madeline quickly gained the experience to overcome the initial hard knocks of dealing with the good ol' boy attitudes of mortgage brokers, bankers, attorneys and a few of the Realtors of those days. This unpretentious real estate newcomer soon earned their respect and confidence by the same unyielding principles of fair dealing and upmost service that enabled her to build a growing clientele of satisfied home buyers and sellers.
Looking for new ways to better market her residential listings, Madeline came up with the idea of providing sandwiches and desserts at her weekly open houses to encourage Realtor-competitors to stop by and view her homes. That bit of entreneurship ingenuity was so successful that it caught on with other Realtors and is common practice in the industry today - and gained Madeline more recognition (or notoriety!).
Looking to specialize in the higher end residential market, Madeline persuaded husband Donald in 1973, to take an early retirement from his success in commercial advertising to bring the same sophistication to her style of marketing homes. An expert photographer was hired to enable Madeline's finer homes to be displayed inside and out. Soon, selected distinctive Madeline O'Brien Realtors ads - with Madeline's stylized kelly green signature and circled shamrock - began regularly appearing in regional magazines like "Texas Monthly", national and international magazines - all more Houston real estate firsts for Madeline's firm.
In the booming 1970s she sold a home on four acres to a Saudi buyer. At the time it was the largest sale in River Oaks history.
Despite their busy, demanding schedules, Madeline and Donald, always early risers, were at the first Mass of the day. In fact, after interviewing several of the best real estate attorneys in the city to retain for her firm, Madeline chose the single one who would meet with her once a week at 7 a.m.
She walked daily at 8 a.m., except Sundays, in Memorial Park or in The Galleria with friends and some of her agents.
Madeline was a member of the Junior League of Houston, and a tireless fundraiser for The Charity Guild of Catholic Women, a trustee of The Christus Foundation for Healthcare (formerly St. Joseph Hospital Foundation), and the San Jose Clinic, St. Thomas High School, Strake Jesuit High School, St. Agnes Academy, a board member of St. Pius X High School, The End Hunger Network, Wellsprings Village, Magnificat House, served on served on several boards at St. Michael Catholic Church. Madeline received the Standard of Christ award from the Jesuit Volunteer Corps.
She was an original and long-time director on the board of Riverway National Bank.
She served as director of Shalom Center, The Camp Kappe Youth Center, and as a member of the Financial Advisory Board of Marian High School, as well as for the Catholic Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston.
Madeline was selected as a "Woman of Valor" by the Jewish National Fund in recognition of her outstanding dedication and service to the interfaith community,
She received the Houston YWCA "Woman of the Year" award.
Madeline was a director of the alumna association of her alma mater, The College of St. Theresa, and received its distinguished alumna award.
She was a director and member of the executive committee of the Better Business Bureau of Houston, a director of the Houston realty Breakfast Club, a director of the Houston Board of Realtors (now HAR), a director of the Texas Association of Realtors, and was honored by the Houston Association of Realtors with the John E. Wolf Citizenship Award.
Madeline and Donald were members of the International Realtors (formerly FIABCI) of the National Association of Realtors, where they networked with other real estate brokers from around the globe. These contacts resulted in the sale of her 700 acre Lough Rynn Castle estate listing in Ireland to an investor from Guam through an Australian Realtor.
The Texas Executive Women organization recognized Madeline as one of its 1991 "Women on the Move" for her exceptional contributions as a leader in her field, and her countless hours of volunteer work.
She was president of the Houston Youth Symphony, a director of the C.G. Jung Educational Center, and a fundraiser for Boys Harbor.
Madeline vice president and a board member of The International Delegation for Friendship Among Women, a group of women from across the United States who travel to Third World countries to share experiences with women around the world. She cherished her visits to many countries on its behalf including at least one working meeting and tour with Mother Teresa in Calcutta, India.
Several times with close friends, once with her aged father, and once with Donald and his sister Louise, Madeline thoroughly enjoyed her adventures along the backroads of Ireland.
Madeline served as president and a director of the Irish Society of Houston, and supported the University of St. Thomas in different ways over the years.
She was also president of Teresians International, and was one of the organizers and continued supporters of the Cenacle Retreat House for Women.
Madeline was preceded in death by her grandson Michael Sean Gruber who died shortly after birth on April 20, 1969.
Her loving, creative advertising executive, Realtor, and patriot husband Donald passed away in Houston on May 14, 2002, and was given a U.S. Navy burial at sea on April 7, 2003.
A appreciative Houston commercial Realtor and horticulturist developed a distinctive orchid in honor of Madeline: Rhyncholaeliocattleya Madeline O'Brien, which was registered with The International Orchid Register of the Royal Horticultural Society on January 19, 2004.
On Saturday, May 25, 2013, a Memorial Mass with a touching eulogy was said for Madeline O'Brien by Pastor Reverend Monsignor Frank J. Rossi, S.T.L., at St. Michael Catholic Church, 1801 Sage Road, Houston, Texas. A spirited reception (which included her favorite Irish coffee) followed at the parish Life Center, where many fond memories of Madeline were celebrated.
Madeline O'Brien's private Catholic Rite of Committal took place at the Houston National Cemetery on Friday, June 21, 2013, presided over by Father Rivers Patout, Director of the Seafarers Centers of the Port of Houston, and the Archdiocese of Galveston-Houston. Her sister-in-law, singer Louise O'Brien of New York City, read a recorded version of Madeline's favorite prayer, "An Irish Blessing".
A United States Navy honor guard from Ellington Field and the VFW
Dist. 4 honor team together in a precision ceremony, thanked husband Captain Donald F. O'Brien, U.S.N., Retired, for service to his country with a bugler and a six-gun, three-volley salute. Father Patout, who wore his special Seafarers vestment for the occasion (given to him by John Cardinal DiNardo), then recited the U.S. Navy Catholic prayer by which Donald was committed to sea.
Madeline's standing headstone, in a beautiful, mature section of the cemetery, will have husband Donald memorialized on the opposite side.
Many of the Madeline O'Brien Realtor-associates who worked in her mostly open, bullpen-style offices will recall (now with a smile) Madeline's enforced standing order that each agent's desk always be impeccably neat to reflect the company's same attention to detail in providing excellent client service. From any point in the continuously manicured Houston National Cemetery, and looking in every direction over peaceful lagoons and gently rolling ground, one will not see any of the many thousands of headstones leaning even slightly out of place; Madeline is truly in her most appropriate place of rest!
Madeline's survivors include adult children Don, Mary Anne O'Brien of Austin, Jean Krausse (David) of Austin, and Robert O'Brien of Dripping Springs; grandchildren Andrea O'Brien of Austin, Laura Minze (Lonnie, Jr.) of The Woodlands, Julie Lile (Scott) of The Woodlands, Kelly O'Brien of Los Angeles, Matthew Krausse of Austin, Erin O'Brien of Corpus Christi, and Katherine Krausse of Austin; great-grandchildren Sage O'Brien, Jonathan, Brendan, and Sophia Minze, and Jake and Gracie Lile.
As Madeline was involved with so many charitable organizations, she requested that interested parties may give a donation on her behalf to their own
The memory and enduring spirit of Madeline O'Brien, with hand extended and her infectiously enthusiastic, "Hi, I'm Madeline!" can be recalled through this poem:
Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there; I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sun on ripened grain,
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning's hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circling flight.
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there; I did not die.
Mary Elizabeth Frye, 1932