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Obituary: O’Brien, John Michael Jr. “Jack”

SUNDAY, SEPT. 29, 2013

O’BRIEN, John Michael Jr. “Jack” To borrow the word that any of Jack’s 39 grandchildren might use, Jack O’Brien had an amazing life.

In his famously humorous way, Jack proclaimed himself “Benevolent Monarch” to his 13 children (of course Mom had full veto power), told them that during the Second World War, he “was in the army with General Eisenhower”, and that he and Bing Crosby “went to the same college together at different times.”

Jack O’Brien was born in a small frame house on East Providence Avenue in Spokane on January 26, 1922.

He would occasionally drive by his birthplace with a carload of kids and ask the kids to check if “they have installed the commemorative bronze plaque in the front yard yet.”

His parents, John M. O’Brien, Sr., from Swansea, Wales, and Jenny McEneany, a school teacher, moved the family to Wenatchee and then Portland Oregon, where Jack graduated from Grant High School.

When the family moved back to Spokane, Jack lived at home and attended Gonzaga College.

Jack was an active student leader at Gonzaga.

He was a manager for the Bulldog basketball team (even playing in one game against Whitworth College when the Gonzaga roster was depleted due to the War), and was president of his senior class.

During his senior year, Jack was called to active duty in the US Army and had to leave school in mid semester, but he passed the tough Philosophy oral exams and Gonzaga awarded him his degree in Business before he left for Ft. Lewis.

(Some 60 years later Gonzaga honored him by inviting him to go through the graduation ceremony since he had missed his own ceremony in 1943.)

Despite his struggles in chemistry class at Gonzaga, the Army assigned Jack to the Chemical Warfare Service, and he attended Officer Candidate School near Baltimore, Maryland.

Jack met his future bride, Charlotte Muth (“Chotsie”) in Baltimore.

After Jack served in Japan, he and Chotsie were married in 1946.

Jack continued to serve in the National Guard from 1948 to 1971, achieving the rank of Captain.

Jack and Chotsie moved back to Washington, where Jack worked for the Standard Oil Company in Spokane and Okanagan.

The couple had five children in six years, and by the fall of 1953, Chotsie was expecting again.

The birth of the O’Brien triplets in September was the biggest thing to ever happen in Okanagan, and the community pitched in to help Jack and Chotsie with their eight children aged six and younger.

Jack’s job later took the family back to Spokane, where their youngest five children were born, making it an even 13.

After 17 years with Standard Oil as a manager, salesman and wholesale distributer, Jack opened a retail paint company in Spokane.

After that short-lived venture he spent four years as business manager for the Inland Register, the newspaper of the Catholic Diocese.

During that time he also worked as a freelance public relations consultant and operated his own photography business, Shamrock Studios.

In 1967, Jack was named manager of the newly formed Spokane office of the State Department of Commerce and Economic Development.

In this capacity, Jack worked with Congressman Tom Foley and Senator Warren Magnuson to secure the federal grant that financed the clearing of the downtown site for Expo ‘74 and eventually created Riverfront Park.

Jack’s office also coordinated the State of Washington’s involvement in Expo ‘74, which resulted in the building of the Spokane Opera House.

Jack was especially proud of his work with the fledgling Washington State wine industry in the 1970’s, and his efforts helped launch what is now a booming business.

One of his last projects for the State was recruiting Hollywood studios to make films in Spokane.

During the shooting of one movie, the director was upset with the jets flying overhead.

Jack promptly called the Spokane Airport and had the air traffic rerouted away from the movie set.

In 1971, Jack fulfilled a lifelong goal by winning election to the Spokane City Council.

He was elected to two terms and was later appointed to a third.

He was deservedly proud of the work that the council did during his time to help make Expo ‘74 a success and to facilitate the renovation of the Davenport Hotel.

After retiring from the State, Jack ran a successful freelance business development consulting service.

Somehow, amidst all these professional accomplishment and while raising 13 children, Jack found time to serve his community as a volunteer.

He was a founding member of Saint Peter’s Parish, and pioneered the athletic program at the newly formed Saint Peter’s school, starting boys’ football, basketball, and baseball teams (he coached baseball) and a girls’ softball team.

Jack and Chotsie were active for many years in the Ferris High School parent group’s “Ham on Regal” performances, where Jack was an inventive scriptwriter and enthusiastic performer.

Jack was preceded in death by his brothers Pat and Tom, his sister, Margaret Fahey, and his daughter Anne Williams.

He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Chotsie, his children Margo Shute (Rodger), John (Angie), Bernie, Tricia Knauss (Jim), Rita Valentine (Jim), Rose Milhem (Bob), Chuck, Larry (Linda), Pete (Carol), Theresa Luciani (Tom), Clare McCracken (Jim), Rob (Jill), his son-in-law and daughter-in-law Tim and Judy Williams, 39 grandchildren and 21 great grandchildren.

Jack’s legacy of service can be seen in the numerous educators, coaches, medical professionals, counselors, and community volunteers among his many “direct descendants.”

The O’Brien family would like to warmly thank the staff at Touchmark, especially the skilled nursing team, for their loving care of Jack these past months.

Viewing will be held on Sunday, September 29, 4:00 pm, followed by the Rosary at 5:00 pm at Hennessey-Smith Funeral Home, 2203 N. Division.

Funeral Mass will be celebrated Monday, September 30, 11:00am at St. Peter Catholic Church, 3520 E. 18th.

In lieu of flowers, please make donations to the Morning Star Foundation or Immaculate Heart Retreat House.

To view Jack’s online memorial, please visit

Arrangements entrusted to


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