Thomas Joseph O’Brien, 83, of Lexington, SC attended his final Change of Command on Saturday, July 29, 2023. Tom, lovingly known as Pop, was born November 15, 1939, in Lynn, MA to James Joseph and Gertrude Moss O’Brien. He was the youngest of three and claimed to be a true delight to his family. Tom attended St. Patrick’s Parochial School, St. Mary’s Boys High School, and then graduated from Lynn Trade High School Machine Tool Course where he learned the trade of tool and dye making. In 1957, he joined the United States Navy and served The United States of America honorably for 39 years.
He served on active duty for 13 years on the USS Sea Devil, USS Sabalo, USS Sterlet, USS Charr, USS Tecumseh, USS Cubera, and USS Sirago. During those years, he spent 8 years, 4 months, and 4 days on sea duty. He wore all the enlisted hats – a Navy Mustang up through the ranks. He was also an instructor at the Fleet Ballistic Missile Submarine Training Center in Charleston. In 1970, he entered the Naval Reserve and continued to move up in the ranks. He retired as a USNR Commander in 1996. His decorations include the Navy Achievement Medal, Meritorious Unit Commendations, Naval Reserve Medal, National Defense Service Medal, Armed Forces Expeditionary Medal, Vietnam Service Medal, Naval Reserve Meritorious Service Medal, and Rifle and Pistol Expert Medals.
Tom graduated from The Citadel (’73) with a BS in Business Administration as a Veteran Student where he was the President of the Veteran Student’s Class while also serving on the President’s Advisory Committee and being named to the Dean’s List several times. He was elected to Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities. While in school, he worked as an insurance salesman, a weekend DJ, and played semi-pro football for the Charleston Sports, all while helping to raise Kelly and Sean. In 1975, he moved his family to Lexington, SC and went to work for the Lutheran Church in America as part of the deployed staff helping to establish new mission congregations and develop stewardship programs for existing congregations. He also earned a Master’s Degree from The University of South Carolina (’82). After 20 years of working for the LCA/ELCA he became Vice President for Business and Financial Affairs at Lutheran Theological Southern Seminary where he retired in 2001. The nuns at St. Mary’s told Tom he would never amount to anything. Won’t they be surprised to see him standing in the glory of God.
Tom was involved in many community activities including serving on the Board of Directors for the Boys and Girls Club of America, being an active member of the Palmetto Base – United States Submarine Veterans, Lexington Citadel Club, Frankie San Foundation, and serving for many years on the Planning Commission for the Town of Lexington. He also loved hunting, fishing, and spending time with his grandchildren, and his grand dog Piper.
Although he had many adventures under the sea and around the world, his greatest adventure was marrying Barbara Rhode in 1963. They met in Wisconsin, and after they married, lived in Rhode Island, Connecticut, Hawaii, and Charleston, SC before settling in Lexington. They traveled the world together and created a beautiful family that included their 3 children, their spouses, and eventually their 5 grandchildren. Pop was a “jack of all trades” and could fix anything! His sense of humor was always present, and it did get him in trouble a few times. He was proud of the legacy he leaves behind and he will never be forgotten. In his own words “Life has been good to me. I didn’t die young. I was not killed in a war. I did most everything I wanted to do and some things I didn’t want to do. I had jobs I liked, a woman I loved, three wonderful children, five grands and a God who used me. Couldn’t ask for more than that.”
Tom is survived by daughter, Kelly O’Brien Hawsey; son, Sean Thomas O’Brien (Marcy); and Shannon O’Brien Burnett (Ashley) all of Lexington; his grandchildren, Ryan (Paige) Hawsey, Madison O’Brien, Luke O’Brien, Alex Burnett, and Abby Burnett. He is also survived by nieces and nephews and Rhode in-laws that he truly loved.
Tom was predeceased by his wife of 56 years, Barbara; his sister and brother-in-law, Rita and Sonny Edmands, his brother and sister-in-law, Jim and Agnes O’Brien, and brothers-in-law Jack Larson and Gunnar Rhode.
The family would like to extend their sincere thanks to Dr. Tanya Seawright and her nurse Joann of Prisma Health Internal Medicine, Dr. Feldman of Prisma Health Cardiology, Dr. McLeod (Neurologist) of Augusta University Health, Right at Home, Home Instead, and Lutheran Hospice for their support over the past year. Without these organizations we would not have been able to keep Pop at home. An extra special thanks to Ms. Ann and Ms. Kenesha who stayed with Pop throughout the day and to Silas, Tangi, and Ashlyn who helped watch over Pop at night.
A service will be held on Tuesday, August 1st, 2023 at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church located at 119 North Church Street, Lexington, SC 29072 with burial to follow in the church cemetery. Visitation will be held before the service in the Social Hall beginning at 9:30 AM with service to follow at 11:00 AM. At the conclusion of the graveside service, we will have an official Irish send-off at O’Hara’s Public House located at 131 E Main Street, Lexington, SC 29072 and invite friends to join the family there.
In lieu of flowers, please consider donating in his memory to St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church, https://www.sslc.org/, the National Alzheimer’s Association, https://www.alz.org/sc, or buy a good bottle of scotch and raise a glass to Pop.