O'Brien, Jr., Donal C.
Donal Clare O'Brien, Jr., a conservationist, lawyer, carver and sportsman and, who was a longtime Chairman of the National Audubon Society and the Atlantic Salmon Federation, died on September 8, 2013. He was 79 years old and lived in New Canaan, Connecticut, and Nantucket, Massachusetts.
Mr. O'Brien was a long-time resident of New Canaan where he moved with his parents and three brothers in 1950. He and his wife, Katharine, settled in New Canaan shortly after his graduation from law school in 1959. They raised their family in New Canaan and were active citizens in the community. Mr. O'Brien served for ten years as Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the New Canaan Country School.
Mr. O'Brien had a life long interest in conservation and the environment and served on the board of a number of not-for-profit organizations. His primary commitment was to the National Audubon Society, which he served as a Director from 1976 to 1988 and from 1992 to 2004. He was Chairman of National Audubon from 1983 to 1988 and from 1994 to 2004. Mr. O'Brien has been credited as being largely responsible for leading National Audubon through two critical periods in the Society's history. The first occurred in 1985 when Mr. O'Brien supported the representation of grass roots leaders on the National Board of Directors and the second in 1994, when he was re-elected as Chairman and helped to refocus Audubon's mission on advocacy and public policy for the preservation of birds, other wildlife and their habitat. In 2010, Mr. O'Brien received the Audubon Medal, the highest honor that can be awarded to an individual by the National Audubon Society for lifelong dedication to conservation.
Mr. O'Brien had a long career of public service in his home state of Connecticut. In 1971, he was appointed a member of the Fish and Game Commission by Governor Thomas Meskill, and when the Fish and Game Commission was merged into the Department of Environmental Protection, Governor Meskill appointed Mr. O'Brien as a member of the newly created Council on Environmental Quality. Mr. O'Brien went on to serve on the Council under four Connecticut Governors spanning 23 years, including Governor Lowell Weicker by appointment in 1991. During Governor Weicker's term as Governor, Mr. O'Brien chaired the Governor's Task Force on Hunting and Public Safety in Connecticut. Mr. O'Brien was retained on the Council by Governor John Rowland and was appointed Chairman by Governor Rowland in 1997. Upon Governor Rowland's resignation, he continued to serve as Chairman under Governor Jodi Rell. Mr. O'Brien was the longest serving member of Connecticut's CEQ, past and present.
Mr. O'Brien was Chairman Emeritus of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (U.S.), a United States and Canadian organization dedicated to the conservation and restoration of wild Atlantic salmon throughout the North Atlantic. He was first elected to the Board of Directors of the Atlantic Salmon Federation (U.S.) in 1979. He served as its Chairman for 11 years from 1994 to 2005.
Mr. O'Brien was the Founding Chairman of BirdLife International, a global network of conservation organizations focusing on birds in 110 countries and territories. He was a founding director and the first Chairman of the Board of Trustees of the American Bird Conservancy, a long time Chairman of the Quebec Labrador Foundation, a Vice-Chairman of the Board of Governors of The Nature Conservancy and a member of the governing boards of the American Museum of Natural History, the Waterfowl Research Foundation, the Delta Waterfowl Foundation, the Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology, the Theodore Gordon Flyfisheries, the Connecticut Waterfowlers Association and Jackson Hole Preserve.
Mr. O'Brien was a retired partner in the law firm Milbank, Tweed, Hadley & McCloy, which he joined in 1959. In 1960 he was assigned to work on the estate of John D. Rockefeller, Jr. and, thus, began a relationship which continued until his death. Mr. O'Brien was appointed Chief Counsel to the Rockefeller family in 1967 and remained in this position until his retirement in 2011. During this period, he served as legal advisor to five generations of the Rockefeller family, primarily representing the members of the third generation, their spouses and children.
During his career with the Rockefeller family, he played a key role in many areas, including setting up the Rockefeller Trust Company and overseeing the land division in Pocantico. Mr. O'Brien served as Trustee or Director of many organizations founded or supported by the Rockefeller Family, including The Rockefeller University, the Rockefeller Brothers Fund, the Rockefeller Family Fund, Rockefeller Center, Greenacre Park, the New York Blood Center and the National Urban League.
Mr. O'Brien was a decoy carver and was twice the U.S. National Amateur Champion. His carvings of puffins helped Audubon's programs to return the Atlantic Puffin to the coast of Maine as a breeding species after a 100 year absence.
Mr. O'Brien was an avid outdoorsman, and a skilled sportsman. His special interests included upland bird and waterfowl hunting, fly fishing and surfcasting, bird watching, dog training and wildlife photography.
Donal Clare O'Brien, Jr. was born in New York City, the son of Donal Clare O'Brien, a banker, and Constance Boody O'Brien. He attended the Buckley School in Manhattan and the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut. He graduated from Williams College in 1956 and from the University of Virginia Law School in 1959.
Mr. O'Brien is survived by his wife of 57 years, Katharine Slight O'Brien; a son, Donal C. O'Brien III of New Canaan, Connecticut; three daughters, Constance O'Brien Ashforth, also of New Canaan, Katharine O'Brien Rohn of Darien, Connecticut and Caroline O'Brien Thomas of Cohasset, Massachusetts, eleven grandchildren, two brothers, Jonathan B. O'Brien and Stephen B. O'Brien and a third brother, C. David O'Brien, who predeceased him in 2011.
A memorial service will be held Wednesday, September 18th at 11:00 a.m. in the First Presbyterian Church of New Canaan, 178 Oenoke Road, New Canaan, Connecticut. For directions visit www.hoytfuneralhome.com
In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the National Audubon Society for use by the Chair of Advocacy and Public Policy, currently held by Glenn Olson, the Atlantic Salmon Federation, The Quebec Labrador Foundation, or any of the organizations or causes that Mr. O'Brien was associated with, all of which were important to him throughout his life.