Donald L. O’Brien, retired reading clinic director at SUNY Buffalo State, longtime football referee - The Buffalo News
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Donald L. O’Brien, retired reading clinic director at SUNY Buffalo State, longtime football referee

April 23, 1934 – Aug. 17, 2013

Donald L. O’Brien, retired director of the reading clinic at SUNY Buffalo State and a longtime football referee and Muny baseball player, died Saturday in his Town of Tonawanda home after a long illness. He was 79.

Mr. O’Brien joined the Buffalo State faculty in 1969 as an associate professor in the elementary education and reading department. As director of the reading clinic, he was instrumental in its success. He became a full professor in 1982 and retired in 1995.

Mr. O’Brien was a member of many local and national reading and education associations, including the Honor Society International Reading Association. He published and spoke on reading topics frequently. He won many awards, including the Buffalo Public Schools Volunteer Award in 1976, 1977 and 1978.

He played professional baseball from 1951 to 1955, primarily with St. Louis Cardinals and Detroit Tigers farm teams. Released by the team in Winnipeg in 1954 after he hurt his hand punching a pitcher who hit him with a pitch, he played with a team in Weyburn, Saskatchewan, where he met his wife.

Born in Buffalo, he attended Kenmore High School but left to play pro ball. Also a boxer, he won the WNY Courier-Express Golden Gloves Middleweight Championship in 1951, scoring a knockout and returning to his job at the Pepsi-Cola bottling plant, all within 45 minutes.

After he was disqualified for advanced management training at Sears for his lack of a college education, he completed his high school equivalency in 1956, then earned a degree in three years from Buffalo State.

Mr. O’Brien taught elementary grades for two years in the Clarence Central Schools, then taught high school from 1961 to 1969. During his final year, he was a reading consultant.

He played Buffalo Muny League baseball until 1983 with the champion Simon Pures, Rich’s Dairy and Eldredge Club teams. He was named Lou DePoe Muny Catcher of the Year in 1969 and was a member of the Eldredge Club team that won the 1974 National Amateur Baseball Federation World Series.

He also played with the Cheektowaga Travelers in the Classic League and managed the Fibber McGees to the state Amateur Baseball Congress championship in 1983. A founding member of the Western New York Baseball Hall of Fame and secretary of its board of directors, he was inducted into the hall in 1998.

Mr. O’Brien served as a high school football official for more than 40 years and was named Referee of the Year in 1999. He also was given Section VI football honors in 2002, the Richard Leous Outstanding Service Award in 2003 and the John Burns Memorial Award in 2005 for outstanding support and devotion to high school football.

He and his wife received the Niagara Frontier League Cornerstone Award in 1980 for their contributions to interscholastic athletics.

Mr. O’Brien was a longtime Brighton Park Golf Club member and won the President’s Cup Class B championship in 1997. He served as co-director of tournaments there in 2005.

He also was an active advocate for the Developmental Disabilities Alliance of Western New York and was a certified in 2001 as a Qualified Irish Whiskey taster at Old Jameson Distillery.

Survivors include his wife of 58 years, the former Vivian Whitell; three sons, D. Patrick, D. Michael and Terrence; two daughters, Colleen Christman and Cathleen O’Brien Romani; two brothers, Raymond and Michael; two sisters, Joanne Canazzi and Carol Davis; and a special nephew, Dennis Hirschfelt.

An Irish wake in his memory will be at 4 p.m. Saturday in Gratwick Fire Hall, 110 Ward Road, North Tonawanda.

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