Rod was born in Kalamazoo the son of Donald and Evelyn (Graham) O'Brien. He was and a lifelong member of St. Augustine Cathedral and graduated from St Augustine in 1951, where he was class president and captain of the basketball team. He excelled in sports and especially enjoyed sailing, tennis, skiing, bowling, and golf.
After serving our nation driving tanks in Germany during the Korean War and rising to the rank of corporal, he returned from Germany, graduated on GI bill from Parsons Business School and focused on Real Estate. He began selling real estate when he was 24 with Karl Crawford, and by the time he was 28 had founded Rod O'Brien Realtors, now O'Brien Real Estate. He was the longest standing member of the Greater Kalamazoo Association of Realtors, having joined in 1959, and was awarded "Realtor of the Year" in 1981.
He married Elda Helm in 1998, a real estate executive in her own right, and showered her with devotion for the last 20 years of his life.
As with any really talented Realtor, Rod was very social. He loved entertaining, a game of poker, and especially spending time at his lake house and family cottage on Austin Lake. Each and every summer it was a place that family, friends, and soon-to-be friends congregated. There were very few rules, except the no throwing sand rule. You were required to have a good attitude, great food, and plenty of refreshments including--but not limited to--a very fine Manhattan mixed expertly by the master, Rod O’Brien. And if you weren’t having fun “it was your own damn fault”. The summers were perfect for Rod; he had what mattered most around him, his family.
He also enjoyed travelling with his family. Whether it be a European adventure with his wife, Ann, or in a motor home across America and Canada with 5 kids, or annual winter trips to Florida, or to Ireland with his adult kids and 2 ½ grandkids in tow. He made new friends wherever he went.
A true measure of his kind and loving heart was the esteem that his children and their spouses hold for each other and for him. He loved being at his office with his son, Patrick, and Pat never missed a chance to go out to lunch with his Dad. His daughters were the light in his eyes and each held a special place in his heart. The care he received from his children during his illness was second to none. He was a lucky man to have such dedicated caregivers, so it was fitting that he died peacefully surrounded by the ones he held dearest, his kids. His heart beat Irish green and he was the embodiment of the Irish saying: Death leaves a heartache no one can heal, and Love leaves a memory no one can steal.
Rod is lovingly embraced in heaven by his first wife Ann (Murray) O'Brien who passed March 24, 1983, and his son, Daniel, who passed April 27, 1982.
Surviving are his wife, Elda (Helm) O’Brien, and his children: Patrick T & Mary (Crookston) O'Brien of Kalamazoo, Colleen M. & Robert Benjamin of Mattawan, Maureen A O’Brien & Kevin Devlin of River Forest, IL, and Katie O’Brien and Jeff Neverske of Kalamazoo. He will be dearly missed by all his 12 grandchildren: Daniel, Brendan, Kieran, Emilia, Margaret, John, Michael, Liam, Ryan, Parker, Annie, and Eilish.
Also surviving are his siblings: Margaret Johnson, Phyllis Bogren, Mike & Yvonne O'Brien, William & Eileen O'Brien, Robert & Gee O'Brien and Kermit O'Brien and Dennis Yike, his step children: Judy & Gary Eckert, David & Sandra Helm, Cheryl & Scott Sutcliffe and numerous step-grandchildren.
Friends will be received Thursday, November 8, from 5pm to 8pm at Redmond Funeral Home, 4100 South Westnedge Ave. Kalamazoo, with a rosary being recited at 7 pm. Funeral Mass will be celebrated 10 am, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018, at St. Augustine Cathedral, Kalamazoo; Father Tom McNally Celebrant. Burial of cremains will be in Mt. Olivet Cemetery. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to St. Augustine School Legacy and the Parkinson’s Association of SW Michigan. Military Honors provided by the Otsego VFW Post 3030.