SIOUX CITY | The honorable Donald Eugene O'Brien, 91, of Sioux City passed away Tuesday, Aug. 18, 2015, at his home.
Services will be 10:30 a.m. Monday at Blessed Sacrament Catholic Church, with the Rev. Daniel Rupp and the Rev. Jerome Cosgrove officiating. Burial will be in Calvary Cemetery, with military rites conducted by the U.S. Army. Visitation will be 4 to 8 p.m. Sunday, with the family present 4 to 8 p.m., and a parish vigil service at 7 p.m., all at the church. Arrangements are under the direction of Meyer Brothers Colonial Chapel. Online condolences may be sent to www.meyerbroschapels.com.
Mr. O'Brien was born on Sept. 30, 1923, in Marcus, Iowa, the son of Michael and Myrtle O'Brien. He graduated from Trinity High School in 1941. He attended Trinity College. In 1942, he voluntarily entered what was then called the U.S. Army Air Force as a cadet. After 18 months, he was made a second lieutenant in the Air Force as a bombardier. He was assigned to a B-17 bomber crew and was sent to England, where he completed 30 bombing missions over Germany. In the last 15 missions, he served as a lead bombardier, leading his group as the person who used the Norden bombsight to calculate just where the bombs were to be released. The other 26 planes dropped their bombs when they saw his bombs were released. He was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross and four air medals during his tour.
After his discharge from the Air Force in 1945, he entered Creighton Law School and graduated as a lawyer in February 1948. He opened a law office in Sioux City, shortly thereafter. In 1949, he was hired as an assistant city prosecutor for the City of Sioux City. He served in that capacity, together with his private practice, through 1954. In 1954, he was elected as Woodbury County Attorney and served in that position for four years. He was appointed a municipal judge for Sioux City, and he served in that position during 1959 and 1960. In 1958 and 1960, O'Brien ran for the United States Congress for the old 8th District, he was defeated both times.
In 1961, President Kennedy nominated O'Brien to be the United States Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa, acting as the Government’s attorney. The U.S. Senate confirmed him, and he served in that position covering some 50 counties in the northern half of Iowa for six years. From 1967 to 1978, O'Brien was in the private practice of law. He represented the Omaha Indian Tribe who had lost several thousand acres when the Missouri River had changed its course during a flood, putting that land in Iowa instead of where it had previously been in Nebraska. After a long, tough lawsuit, the land was given back to the tribe where their casino now sits. They could not have had a casino if they did not own the Iowa land.
In 1978, President Carter nominated O'Brien to be a United States District Court Judge, a position he served until his death. Judge O'Brien was especially appreciative of the fact that the 60 judges from the seven states comprising the 8th Judicial Circuit elected him, and re-elected him, to be their representative on the Judicial Conference of the United States. This meant that he would meet with the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and other judges from around the country, twice a year, and vote on problems that faced the conference. O'Brien served as said representative for seven years. Judge O'Brien ruled on hundreds of matters over the 37 years he served as a judge.
In 1983, a lawsuit was assigned to him which pertained to girls' high school basketball. Prior to that time, each team had six players, three of them played defense only and three of them played on the offense. In 48 states, the girls played on five-member teams as the boys did. There was strong opposition to changing the girls' games. The best argument against the girls' format was that excellent players were not getting college offers because they had only played either offense or defense, and college coaches wanted players who had two or three years playing both. Before the Court ruled, the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union decided that high schools could play either format. There was then no need for a ruling. Within two years, all schools were playing the same game as the boys.
In 1987, he ruled that the State of Iowa must comply with a federal statute requiring removal of juvenile offenders from adult jails. As a result of that decision, Iowa built six facilities located around the state where juveniles are incarcerated. In 1997, he ruled that the sane would have to be incarcerated separately from the insane. As a result, the State built a separate building for the insane on the premises of the Fort Madison prison.
In 1950, O'Brien married the love of his life, Ruth Mahon. They had a great marriage for 61 years. Ruth died in 2011.
Survivors include his daughter, Teresa O’Brien Blair, her husband, Matt Blair, and their children, Ryan Blair (his friend, Ashley and Ryan's children, Calvin and Carter), and their daughter, Bridget O'Brien Blair; his son, Brien, his wife, Mary, and their children, Dan, Tim, Kennedy, and daughter, Irelinn; his son, John O'Brien; and his daughter, Shiuvaun (O'Brien) Hebert, her husband, Johnathon Hebert, and her children, Amber Rothrock (her daughter, Ashley), Aubrey, Annabel, and Alex (his friend, Emi, and his son, Aiden). Other survivors are his sister, Patricia, and her children, a son, Michael Aiken, daughter, Nora Aiken Scott (her granddaughter, Catherine, and her husband, Chris Emerson, and great-grandchildren, Jared, Gavin and Silas). Other survivors are his brother Jack's widow, Doris O'Brien, and their children, Michael, and his children, A.J., Jack, Grace and Jenson, David, his wife, Stacey, and their children, Ansley, Shawn, Tyler and Samara, John, his wife, Brenda, and their children, Cassie, Jacki, and Ellie, daughter, Sharon, her husband, David Bufo, and their daughter, Gail, and Mary Rose Hartnet, her husband, Shane, and their children, Nikki, Kelly and Olivia. A brother, Bob, his wife, Nella, and their children, Robert, Kathline and her children, Kelli Davis, Nate, Kyle, and Matt, Tim his wife, Julie, and their children, Bret, Erin and Stephane Bullock, Patrick, his wife, Sherri, and their children, Ian and Molly Leiting, Collen and her husband, Mark Jackson, Maureen, her husband, Ron Hall. A brother, Tom, his wife, Mary, and their children, Shannon and her husband, Mike Larson, and their children T.J. and Megan, Don O’Brien, his wife, Stacy, and their children, Owen, Katie and Ellie, Tom and his sons, Brad and Tad, Matt, his wife, Christy, Peggy, her husband, Kyle Reit, Mary Ann, and her daughter, Cece. Other survivors are his brother Mike's widow, Gladys, and their children, Daniel, Patrick, Joan, and Jimmy, his wife, Olivia, and their children, Chris, Kevin, Kerry, Rose and Patrick. A sister, Shiuvaun, her husband, Roy Nasypany, and their children, Mary Beth and her husband, Bill Downey, Katie, Barbara and her husband, Joe Davis, and their children, Joe, Henry, and Olivia, and Steve. Other survivors are his brother-in-law, Bob Mahon, his wife, June, their son, Rob, and his children Reilly and Sean.
He was also preceded in death by his brothers, Michael, Jack and Phillip; his brother-in-law, Albert Aiken; his grandson, Shawn Blair; and a nephew, Kevin O’Brien.
Pallbearers will be his grandsons Dan O'Brien, Timothy O'Brien, Kennedy O'Brien, Ryan Blair, Alex Rothrock, and nephews, Robin Mahon and Jimmy O’Brien.
Memorials in his name may be directed to Blessed Sacrament Grade School or Bishop Heelan High School.