NEWS / FEATURES

Dick O’Brien {1940–2016}

Richard Lewis “Dick” O’Brien passed away at home September 25, 2016, a month after a diagnosis of bile duct cancer.

##Photo by Andrea Johnson.

Alongside Betty, his wife of 49 years, they planted the first five acres of Elton Vineyards in the Eola-Amity Hills in 1983 on land inherited from Betty’s parents, Elton and Peggy Ingram. As the vines matured, the O’Briens became cherished members of the Willamette Valley wine community and their vineyard became well respected, leading to a long-term lease to Willamette Valley Vineyards upon the couple’s retirement in 2007.

Dick was born Nov. 13, 1940, in Harpers Ferry, Iowa, to Mary May and Arlo O’Brien, and spent most of his youth in Alliance, Nebraska. He attended Oregon State University — he was an avid, lifelong Beaver fan, win or lose — and graduated from Oregon College of Education (now Western Oregon University). He served in the U.S. Army Medical Corps, including time in Vietnam.

For nearly 30 years, Dick taught middle school in Salem-Keizer — primarily at Parrish Middle School. In addition to his passion for education, he was an adventurous world traveler and history buff.

Dick, a lover and great supporter of art, volunteered as a carver for Salem’s Riverfront Carousel Project. He served on the board of directors — including president — of the Salem Art Association and was a vital part of the Salem Art Fair & Festival. His dedication to art was reflected in his memorable, whimsical garden filled with flowers and art.

Betty says, “Little made him happier than ‘feeding the soul’ with art in galleries, museums and at home,” especially when he was able to befriend the artists.

Members of the wine industry fondly remember Dick.

Former winegrower Don Byard said, “Dick will be missed at our monthly growers’ meeting at McNary Golf Club. He was a farmer and an artist, a man who was happy to talk about tractor techniques in the vineyard, how to teach our young children in school or how to carve a horse’s head from a block of wood. We always had long conversations about how to improve the Beaver sports teams. I’m going to miss that and him — even if he called me a ‘damn Republican’ with a smile!”

Willamette Valley Vineyards founder Jim Bernau offered, “Above anything else, the most powerful memory of Dick was his love for Betty.”

Mimi Casteel, of the Bethel Heights family and Hope Well Vineyard, shared the following remembrance.

“When we were looking at purchasing the property from Dick and Betty — where I now live with my family and have my vineyard, Hope Well — I already knew them from buying fruit for Bethel Heights from Elton, and the general industry and community get-togethers. But there was a day when Dick offered to drive me around the property we were hoping to buy from them for the vineyard. It would make us fence-line neighbors, so I’m sure Dick wanted to get to know me better as much as he wanted to show me the property.

“We spent the large part of the late morning walking the property that I now call home,” Casteel continued. “Dick told me about the history of Betty’s family in the area, the history of the property itself — which used to grow black cap raspberries for the original Dr. Pepper flavoring! — and inevitably, and so genuinely, back to Dick and Betty, their love story and adventures together.

She added, “Dick spoke so admiringly of Betty. Every story was punctuated by her part in it. Every accomplishment he felt proud of was as much hers as his. And he went on at length about her contributions and work and how inspiring she is. This was a very powerful glimpse of Dick’s soul. Some people will talk at length about how grateful they are for the gifts that they receive in life. Dick’s magic was how he was sharing his gratitude constantly, reflecting his humility and thankfulness with his manner, his kindness, his generosity, and his wonder. Dick was a man who reveled in wonder, and that was an immediate connection I felt with him. And I was so humbled by his adoration and love for Betty and their life together.

“I am a better person having known him. That’s the best way I can put it,” Casteel said.

A public celebration of Dick’s life is planned for St. Patrick’s Day, March 17, 2017, at Willamette Valley Vineyards. Memorial gifts are suggested to Willamette Valley Hospice, Salem Art Association and Salem’s Riverfront Carousel.

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