Sean O'Brien MBE 1939 - 2013
Sean O’Brien was born in Dungarvan, Waterford, Ireland, on 8 November, 1939, and died at Kingston Hospital, Surrey, on 14th May, 2013. I’ll now try to give you a brief account of Sean’s action packed 73 years.
Sean was born partially sighted and he lost his sight completely by the age of six. He was a pupil at Lindon Lodge School for the Blind, London, where he learned how to play chess. In September 1956 he moved to the Royal Normal College, Shrewsbury, where he continued his interest in chess. Sean met his wife to be, Pat Hewitt, at the college. I started at the college at the same time and was in the same dormitory as Sean and, in fact, slept in the next bed. Little did I know that, many years later, I was destined to sleep in the next bed to Pat? Read on!!
After leaving college in 1960, Sean took a job with the Inland Revenue in London, later moving to the then Ministry of Housing, in London and became a personal secretary and an Executive Officer. Sean and Pat married in 1962 and both became members of the Braille Chess Association in 1972. Sean was awarded the M.B.E. and from that day on a photo of Sean and Pat at Buckingham Palace always stood proudly in their living room. Tragically, Pat died in 1998 and Sean lived on in London alone. Sean played chess in the London League over many years for civil service teams and his local team, Stoneleigh.
Sean and Pat both did a great deal of invaluable work for the Braille Chess Association, e.g. organising tournaments, often in conjunction with Stan and Jan Lovell. Amongst other things, Sean served on the Committee as Chairman and Tournament Director. Sean was always very welcoming to new members. His warm personality and infectious laugh put newcomers at ease. He participated in many chess events and represented Great Britain on numerous occasions. Until about two weeks before he died, Sean was enjoying postal chess.
I’d like to share with you a couple of funny stories involving our joint chess travels. Pat, Sean, Barbara and I were on our way back to the Hook of Holland on one occasion. However, we missed our boat and had to get a night crossing. We were shattered but when we tried to get a couple of cabins we were told there was only a 4 berth one left. We were all so tired that we took it. Hence me sleeping in the next bed to Pat!! On another occasion, Sean and I were participating in a team tournament on the continent. I had a slight edge in my game and my opponent offered a draw. I asked Sean about his position and he told me he was struggling. I told my opponent that, if his team mate would agree a draw on the next board, I would accept his draw offer. Two draws were agreed. Sean played on against his opponent and, yes, you have guessed, Sean won the game. Not my greatest hour!!
Sean’s other big interest was sport in general and he was a regular member of a local quiz team. He was the team’s sporting expert. However, sportwise, his big love was the Fulham football team and for many years he was a season ticket holder at Craven Cottage.
Sean suffered badly healthwise for about a year before his death and it was necessary to amputate part of his left leg. Despite this, about a month before he suffered his heart attack and strokes, he joined Barbara and me at the Lauriston Hotel, Weston-Super-Mare, for a holiday. He was confined to a wheelchair but still thoroughly enjoyed the break. During one of our numerous walks down the chess memory lane, we recalled when we were all at the Lauriston Hotel back in 1981 and participated in the tournament staged there to mark “The Year of the Disabled”. Unfortunately, when Sean and Pat got home, they discovered they had been burgled.
Julie, Barbara and I visited Sean in Kingston Hospital two days before he died, i.e. my birthday, and Sean died on Barbara’s birthday. Naturally, we will never forget this anniversary and we will never forget our friend of over 55 years. Rest in peace old chap and we hope you are now reunited with Pat.
Sean’s funeral was held at Putney Vale Crematorium on Wednesday, 22nd May. Julie, Barbara and I were among the many attendees who gathered to bid him farewell.