True Friend, Amazing Leader, Consummate Visionary, and Generous Public Servant

Some of you knew Brian as the General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Parks, or as a powerful voice within many Bay Area conservation organizations. Some knew Brian as a tireless environmental visionary and innovator. Some knew Brian as a highly acclaimed National Park Service leader and an outstanding role model for park executives the world over.

But no matter the context or relationship, whether you knew him for many years or met him only briefly, the impression Brian left was instantaneous and lasting. And it did not take long to realize his impact—on the people and parklands he loved so deeply—is indelible. Brian is as beloved as the Golden Gate National Parks he built.

As the executive director of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, I write as someone who worked closely with Brian for three decades. Our friendship is long and deep. And our commitment to this park and the people who care for it is equally deep—and something we share with all who celebrate Brian’s memory.

Many people saw Brian as a park maker with an inspired vision. And the Golden Gate National Parks constitute his masterpiece. Everywhere you turn in this national park—Crissy Field, Alcatraz, Fort Baker, the Presidio, and more—we see his amazing handiwork. But he was much more than a park maker; he really was, at the core, a community builder.

He intrinsically knew that any aspiration, any special place, any worthy program—needs a community of people loyal to the vision and committed to one another and their common purpose. Few national parks can match the outpouring of volunteers, donors, members, or visitors who have been inspired by Brian or served by his dedicated National Park staff. Within the National Park Service, at the Parks Conservancy, and through his many pursuits across the country and around the world, Brian gathered special communities of people who shared his vision—people who took such joy in their collective accomplishment and in one another’s company.

Brian described his role as a “friend-raiser” for the Golden Gate National Parks. And he did some amazing friend-raising. I can think of almost 30 distinct circles of friends and communities of people that Brian touched deeply. Those communities range from one end of the Golden Gate National Parks to the other; from northern Marin to southern San Mateo County; from San Francisco to the over 390 national park sites across America; from city halls to houses of Congress; from youth environmental leaders to acclaimed conservationists; from the Bay Area to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and points beyond.

And it is so clear why these friendships spanned the globe. Brian’s zest, exuberance, and charisma were legendary. He always saw the best in any situation, in any person, in any challenge. He gave from the heart and led with enthusiasm and humor.

In the days and weeks and months ahead, we have some simple, straightforward things to do that were in Brian’s sincere nature. We must remain kind and supportive to one another as we grieve for this amazing person; and we must remain true to Brian’s strong values that now are embedded in the Golden Gate National Parks—a collection of national park sites that expresses so beautifully his most robust, exuberant, caring, and heartfelt qualities.

That is an enduring thing we can do for Brian and for the great national parks at the Golden Gate. We will treasure these special places in his memory and hold them—his legacy—even more dearly.

Brian is as cherished as our national parks, as treasured as our historic landmarks, and as timeless as the beauty of the fog coming through the Golden Gate to Crissy Field. We will miss him deeply, but know that his spirit is with us. I look forward to seeing all of you, his special friends, out in the national parks. Brian would be very happy knowing that we were enjoying the place he helped create for everyone.


Greg Moore
Executive Director
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Friday, May 15, 2009

Memories of Brian from his Twin Brother Alan

As Brian's twin brother, I would like to share some personal experiences. Before I do, I would like to point out how parallel both our personal and professional lives have been. We went to the same schools, majored in the same subjects in College, joined the same fraternity, co-operated all our business ventures through college, and worked in the same agencies in our professional careers. The only exception to that is Brian worked for a brief period with the U.S. Geological Services directly out of college. We always had similar jobs at similar grades until I retired from the National Park Service in 2000 to form a non-profit conservation organization called the Outside Las Vegas Foundation. You might conclude that we were hooked at the hip.

One of my first childhood recollections is the language Brian and I developed to communicate so no one else knew what we were talking about. I believe we were almost four years old when we first rolled this language out and it became more sophisticated as we entered kindergarten. It was a form of pig Latin but distinctly our own. I believe this is the reason they placed Brian and I into remedial classes in the first and second grade. We were behind everyone else because we were having so much fun with our own language. To us, it was a game and gave us a sense of independence. It was pretty obvious to all that we were a hand full. Therefore, they would never place us in the same classroom. I suppose my brother and I today would be classified as attention deficit in our early years.

In elementary school, you really could not tell the two of us apart. My mother seemed to be the only one that would get us right. My father frequently missed the mark. We used this to our advantage. In the third and fourth grades, we would exchange classrooms for a week at a time. We did this about every two months. We pulled this off for over a year until we were finally caught and expelled from school for a period.

One of the really great things about being a twin is that you always had a playmate. We didn't fight much because that would result in losing a playmate. In sports over the years, we had almost identical batting averages or average points scored. Also, our grade point average in school over the years was almost identical. This is a bit unusual because often in twins, there is one that is a little more dominant.

My mother has always had a love affair with the American West, especially those places that make up our nation's National Park System. She has a special connection to the spirit of the west - the freedom, expansiveness, frontier mentality, and the endless horizons. It seemed like the west was always calling her to come, explore and experience. I believe Brian and I were probably no older than four when she corralled us in a station wagon for our first trip to the Rocky Mountain West. This became a routine we did about every other year as kids.

When I reflect back on those trips I am in awe of what my mother actually did. These were not short trips. They were generally three weeks or longer. My dad was not much for camping so would occasionally meet up with us somewhere along the way and spend several days. My mother not only had to do all the driving but had to set up camp and do all the cooking. As young boys, we were too busy exploring the camp surroundings to be of much help. Also, the roads back in the late 1940's and early 50's were not like the roads today. This, however, didn't deter my mother from taking the harrowing mountain passes of the Rockies, Cascades and Sierras. The most frightening pass I remember was over the Bighorn Mountains in North Central Wyoming. I recall Brian and me getting out of the car to walk a section as we were scarred to be in the car driving because of the sheer drop-off of several thousand feet.

Because we didn't have a lot of disposable income back in the early years, we camped 95% of the time on the western trips. We were always trying to stretch the budget to stay a few extra days. I remember one time we didn't quite stretch things enough and landed up broke in Ohio with some 10 hours of driving left plus gas and food to buy. We ended up collecting soda bottles along the highway and turned them in for the deposit which allowed us to recoup just enough money to make it home. Rather than being exercised about the whole situation, my mother took it in stride and treated it as another experience for her memory bank.

My mother always jokes that Brian and I insisted every trip west had to go through Yellowstone. We had a fascination with the bears and wildlife and in those days the bears lined the roads for all to see and enjoy. We have come to understand that that was not good. I remember clearly a time when Brian and I were around 7 or 8 years old camping in Yellowstone and attending one of the campfire programs. This particular program was on bears. We were so enthralled with the program that we declared to our mom after the program that we were going to work for the National Park Service and be the Director or Secretary of the Interior one day.

Brian and I always had little businesses together. We wanted to have our own revenue source, especially to buy clothes. We were clothes horses as early as seven years old. My mother kept insisting that if we were going to buy all these clothes, we needed to start cleaning and ironing them as well. So, we became pretty good at washing and ironing. Those that know Brian well will tell you that he ironed most of his clothes. The only things he sent to the cleaners were his suits and dress pants. He ironed all his shirts and even his tee-shirts if you believe that.

Our first business was making potholders out of jersey loops. There was a frame that was used to weave the jersey loops. I remember selling them for 15 cents each or two for a quarter. We made hundreds and walked around the neighborhood selling them. We would keep an inventory of around 50 potholders so that our customers had a choice of colors and patterns. They were popular items and we never had trouble selling them. Our second business was picking wild blackberries down at Scientists Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay. My parents and grandparents bought two waterfront lots there in 1946 for $1,500 and $1,800. We built a log cabin for $2,500 and this is where we spent most weekends and summers growing up, except when we were on our western trips. We would pick blackberries for four or five hours at a time. We knew where the best blackberry patches were and kept this a secret. We sold them for 40 cents a quart. You talk about ticks. We would come home covered with ticks and had to shower immediately.

We next got into the lawn and yard maintenance business as well as window washing and house painting. We had quite a business going with dozens of regular clients at Scientists Cliffs. We made good money at this and were not tied down to a set schedule. This allowed us to take the western trips. We bought our first boat and car with the money we made. Our first car was a Volkswagen Beetle. We shared the driving time and would often double date in that little car. I won't comment on whether we ever switched dates because we agreed never to tell.

Our next business venture was the formation of our own travel company. This was back in 1963 when we were in college at the University of Maryland. We had gone on several summer trips to the west with our high school geography/history teacher. We wanted to offer the opportunity for more students to receive the incredible experience that we did with the trips Phil Jones led. My mother was supportive of what we wanted to do and agreed to serve as President of our "Educational Tours, Inc." Brian and I served as the two Vice-Presidents. We ran very successful summer tours for several years.

We took high school and college kids on camping trips out west. The trips were between 30-45 kids and about five weeks long. We always chartered a Trailways bus and the same driver but took the bus to places where the normal chartered buses feared to go. It wasn't about making money to us; it was about experience and seeing how kids were changed by the exposure to nature. Educating the kids about the special places we visited was our primary motivation. It was natural that my brother and I ended up in conservation work given the experiences we had growing up.

Holidays were very important occasions for our extended family and we celebrate them with great enthusiasm. As a child, I remember the Christmas cookie making parties, Easter eggs coloring parties, and Halloween costume making parties. The house and yard were always appropriately decorated to reflect the occasion and most of the decorations were hand made in the early days.

Christmas is the most special holiday for our family and we always try to gather as an extended family. The family mostly gathers at my mother's house in Scientists Cliffs on the Chesapeake Bay but I have fond memories as well of Christmases in Denver, Glacier National Park and Lake Tahoe. We spend four Christmases at Glacier and Brian would drive all the way from San Francisco in a small Ford Bronco with four people, two dogs, and all the Christmas presents. He rented a U-haul trailer to carry the suit cases and this became quite tricky in the snow. One year, I remember that it started snowing the day Brian arrived and snowed almost non-stop until the day he left. We had almost six feet of snow fall during that time. Brian and I spent the Christmas Holidays together 66 our of our 67 years. This is quite unusual in families today and something we take great pride in.

Brian had two critical roles at Christmas. In the last ten years, he was responsible for decorating my mon's house. This was not an easy task. He would fly back to Maryland in early December and take an entire three day weekend to decorate and prepare the house for our family gathering. Those of you that know my mother, know how much decorating this entailed. She has somewhere around 200 Santa Clauses of all sizes, styles and materials. One of the games we played with the kids over the years was to count the Santa Clauses. These were always very joyous times.

Brian's other role was making breakfast. Nobody dared to intrude in the kitchen when he was making breakfast. That was his domain. He is famous for his home-made biscuits, country gravey and frittata. We all added extra pounds at Christmas. Another tradition that we had for years was the annual ski trip. These ski trips were with college fraternity brothers and their spouses. When we lived back East, we went to Vermont each year, usually to Stowe. Wow, could it ever get cold there. I remember them providing wool pounchos on the cold days that you would throw over your head for the ride up the chair lift. When my family moved to Denver, our ski trip shifted to the west and we went to Aspen for 10 straight years. We had six couples that made that trip together. We would first gather at our house and then drive up to Aspen. Brian would drive up from Albuquerque when he lived there or from San Francisco when he moved there. These were always great times. Towards the end of the 1970's the six couples started bringing the kids as well. This got to be a large undertaking but we have incredibly fond memories of those ski trips.

Some of the best times we ever had were when Brian and his family lived in Albuquerque and my family lived in Denver. We both worked for the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation at the time which later became the Heritage conservation and Recreation Service. Our two offices would have an annual three-day ski weekend and would meet in Crested Butte, Colorado. During the Saturday night of the weekend, each office would put together a skit along the lines of Saturday Night Live. The Albuquerque Office always had the best skits. I remember the last year when we were determined to outdo the Albuquerque Office and practiced for months on our skit, only to have to cancel the ski trip that year for poor snow conditions.

During this time, I also have great memories of the summer camping trips we would take in Colorado. My parents would meet our families and we would go down to the San Juan Mountains for a week camping trip. We had some harrowing experiences on the jeep trails there.

Although Brian and I are competitive by nature, we were never competitive with each other. We were always excited when something good happened to the other twin. I don't ever remember us being jealous of each other. I take enormous pride in Brian's accomplishments. He was a hero to me as well. He worked hard and created an enormous legacy. Barbara and I took time last week while visiting Brian in the hospital to experience the Golden Gate National Parks and to see the incredible transformation of place that has taken place. I have followed his projects and initiatives and was awed by what had been accomplished. The most telling result was to see the numbers of people of all ages and ethnic backgrounds out enjoying the parks and engaged in a wide variety of activities. I can't tell you how healing it was to see these projets first-hand. Parks are about community and connecting people in meaningful ways to their natural and cultural heritage. Brian and his staff and the Conservancy have developed a model that is the envy of the world.

I can't tell you how much joy we had in being at the hospital last week in San Francisco. It was a time that we could care for Brian. It was a very tender time as Brian allowed us to massage him, rub his head and tend to his needs. This was a little rare for him because he always wanted to help others and was reluctant to accept help himself. We played cards and yatzee and talked about family and his contribution. We told him how much we loved him and what a difference he made to the well-being of the planet. He and I got to share some private moments that I will never forget. We talked soul to soul and had several good cries together. I believe our family was divinely given this window to say goodbye. We didn't realize at the time that it was closure, but it was.

Brian, through his leadership, passion and gregarious personality has left a beautiful legacy. I think it is important that we call these areas the Golden Gate National Parks. For they do represent what is best about the California urban landscape and its colorful history. My hope is that Congress will one day officially change the name from Golden Gate National Recreation Area to Golden Gate National Parks. This would truly honor the work that Brian has done.

Brian leaves behind a truly remarkable family. His wife Marti is an amazingly beautiful human being who overcame her own health challenge with life threatening cancer in the early 1980's. Her fight and recovery is the story for a great book. We all admire her courage and compassion. Kim, his daughter, is one of the most beautiful human beings I have ever met. She is so smart and so wise and so kind and thoughtful. And his son Brent, what an incredibly kind and sensitive person. He is also very wise and has a wonderfully peaceful soul. We all voted him father of the decade. He and his wife Anne, carry on the National Park Service tradition for Brian's side of our family. They both work for the National Park Service in the National Capital Region. Brian also has three wonderful grandchildren, Justin, Kieran and Sean. They are a delight to our extended family. Our mother, Mimi, is still alive and going strong at 97. She has always been the leader of the pack and the inspiration for our family. They truly broke the mold when she arrived on the planet. Her legacy is legendary.

Alan O’Neill

20 comments:

  1. It is so amazing to read all the wonderful words from everyone. It will keep Brian alive in everyone's hearts. Although I have not seen him in a while, I feel so connected to him. God Bless you all and please know you all are in my heart.
    Love, Michelle Lewis

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  2. Alan,
    Thank you for a deeply moving and touching remembrances of Brian. It is so reflective of what Brian was all about. I feel blessed to have known Brian and to have worked for him for a short while while he was the Acting Associate Director for Partnerships in Washington, D.C. a few short years ago. While he was my offical supervisor, he was much more; a trusted friend, a caring and deeply thoughtful individual, a visionary, but most importantly a person who had the ability to connect with everyone he met. He reminds me of the famous statement said by Will Roger, "I never met a man (or a woman) who I didn't like". That was Brian. One favorite story was the time I was talking to him in his office and as his eyes closed and he drifted off, only to open them a few seconds later stating "I wasn't asleep only thinking". That Brian; always thinking even when he looked like he was sleeping.
    All my love to the O'Neill family for sharing Brian all these years. An inspiration for all of us.

    Tom Ross
    Retired HCRS and NPS (1979-2006)

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  3. Woody and I feel honored to have known the O'Neills...we met in college and took many trips together before and after we all started our families. We cherish our memories of college parties, camping trips, the beach house, ski trips and most of all the meaning of friendship and love.

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  4. I too was honored to have known Brian and worked with him on Open Space issues, volunteerism and partnerhsips as a colleague. I was an aspiring young District Ranger at Sandia RD in NM next to Albuquerque when Brian was just starting out in San Francisco. He was my idol and sometimes mentor even when he was not aware of his influence. He was always so great and supportive to be around. He just made me feel better about myself and glad a sparkle in his eye. Sometimes I think he actually might have been one of Santa's helper's here on Earth. I was profoundly rocked to learn of his passing today when I got Pam Gluck's note to a colleague passed on. I had become so wrapped in my own world--what a loss to the whole world of community based conservation and each of us personally. My heart goes out to all his family and especially his twin-Alan.
    Alan/-- your very tender, and personal writng of Brian and your growing up is so sweet and real. I was remined of my last days with my father as he died and your depiction of the special time of closure was recalling so much for me as well. I think it a great and proper tribute to rename his park to the Golden Gate National Parks--, but more importatnly is to remember all the faces he touched and souls that are forever changed to be stewrdships of this earth--because of knowing him, Brian had that kind of effect on me and he lives on now in my memory as a beautiful place.
    Floyd...

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  5. Thank you, Alan, for the beautiful remembrances of growing up with Brian. There's no doubt that having a wonderful brother like you gave Brian great joy his entire life. I don't think any twin relationship was closer than the one you and Brian shared. Those of us who were lucky enough to know Brian for many years also were made to feel part of the extraordinary O'Neill family. Thank you.

    Howard Levitt

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  6. For those of who never had the opportunity to visit SF88, the restored Nike Hercules Missile Base in the Marin Headlands, you must always know that the foresight and vision for this restoration falls on the shoulders of Brian O'Neill. Brian's concerns for the restoration of this historical site has sparked other simular sites thoughout the National Park Service to open their sites for tours and interpretation. Volunteer site restoration teams were keynote accomplishments under Brian. This is only one outstanding accomplishment under his leadership. Thank you Brian, you will be missed.

    Al Kellogg
    President of the Nike Historical Society.

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  7. Bill Mott said

    The loss of Brian to his family, the many people who knew and worked for and with him and the numerous friends he made wherever he appeared, will be felt by many. He leaves all of us with an emptiness and sadness that will be hard to fill.

    My father, William P. Mott Jr., often spoke about Brian and of "passing the baton" to him for the care and management of not only the the Golden Gate National Park, but also the National Park system. We have now lost two great advocates and supporters of the National Parks. It is now up to those many persons Brian inspired to step forward and carry out the programs and work he so enthusiastically embraced.

    Brian will be deeply missed by many but he will always be with us in spirt.

    William P. & Zee Zee Mott, Larie Mott & Jim Flaherty and Brian and Nicole Mott

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  8. How amazingly wonderful!

    Alan, thank you for sharing those priceless stories of yours and Brian's life growing up together. Truly, he was blessed from jump street to have a sibling so much in sync, and parents so loving and supportive. No doubt it contributed to his mellow, loving, expansive personality.

    I had the opportunity to meet Brian at the "Mosaic in Motion" diversity conferences that NPCA and the NPS spearheaded back in the 90s, and confess that I was never quite certain which of the wonderful O'Neil brothers I was experiencing subsequently.... before i received notice of Brian's transition, I was tantalized by the recollection of meeting him quite recently at a function (could it have been the NPCA Annual Dinner in DC just last month?) in which he inquired when we were coming back to volunteer at Golden Gate.

    What a radiant human being! A generous, wonderful, loving person...

    Alan, we will continually be sending out prayers for you, because it is unimaginable to me what it might feel like to miss a lifetime companion such as Brian. I take comfort from the fact that your recollections, like mine and those of his innumerable friends and admirers, attest to a life soo well lived. God Bless you! Brian, we love you, forever!

    love, audrey peterman, atlanta

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  9. Like Richard Nixon and probably thousands of other fans, I fell in love with Brian O’Neill the first time I heard him speak. It was that combination of passion, charm, wit, common sense, intelligence and bottomless warmth that did it for me. I could tell you his subject, but it’s irrelevant. I heard Brian and then wanted to be Brian. To have his zest and spark and life. Not to mention height. Smile. Job. Rolodex. Amazing track record. And (double bonus) Alan for a brother! What an extraordinary guy he was, what a transcendent jewel he made of his life, and how I will miss not just him but the idea of him laughing out there on the West Coast--moving and shaking and making everyone proud.

    Love to you Alan, and peace.

    Jana Prewitt
    Former Director of External Affairs, DOI

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  10. Dear Alan,

    Thank you so much for sharing your wonderful special memories of Brian
    with all of us. I'm not totally certain that I ever directly met Brian,
    but have attended meetings where he was present. Being in the same line
    work locally, I have certainly felt his presence and first-hand seen and
    experienced the wonder of the many things he achieved in our Bay Region.
    Through your wonderful narrative, I feel that I know him better now,
    even if I did meet him only indirectly.

    I also feel a greater connection with him (and you) since I, too, am a
    twin and so many of the things you write about are startlingly familiar
    to me. When Dan and I were young, before really talking 'real words',
    my mother swore we had our own language that we used to communicate to
    each other. At first, she felt that delayed our language skills and
    ability to socialize with others. They separated us in second grade and
    we'd come home after school and tell each other every detail of what
    happened in our respective classes that day.

    We, too, were identical through grade school. No one could tell us
    apart and my mom, too, had this incredible ability to tell who was who -
    even when our backs were turned to her! To this day, she still can tell
    our voices apart on the phone, even though others often mistake us for
    each other on the phone. We would trade seats in classes because no one
    could tell the difference. One teacher put us on opposite sides of the
    classroom to remember which twin was which, and then couldn't remember
    which twin he'd put where. We delighted in confusing him.

    As twins, we were inseparable. We did most everything together and got
    along famously. We shared a paper delivery route job for years and
    would switch routes every so often to have a change of pace. That way
    we didn't get bored with 'our' route. To this day, I don't think we've
    ever fought with each other. We may have slightly differing opinions,
    though rarely, and if we did it was not an issue. We, too, have never
    felt jealous of each other and take great pride in each other's
    accomplishments.

    Although I never got out West until I was about 10 years out of college,
    my twin and I have always loved parks. We grew up in West Virginia and
    were fortunate to have so many wonderful local and State Parks in our
    area. We'd spent so many hours exploring local creeks, learning trees,
    and hiking through wonderful Eastern Appalachian forests. Going with my
    Granddad to his fishing cabin on the North Fork South Branch of the
    Potomac River was a great opportunity for exploring that we anticipated
    with delight at the announcement of each visit. Later, when my parents
    retired to the Deep Creek Lake area of Maryland, we delighted in skiing
    at Canaan Valley and scouring the area for places such as Cathedral
    State Park and Dolly Sods.

    We thoroughly enjoyed biology as high school students and thought that
    would be our college major. However, after we got in college, we both
    decided we wanted to major in Landscape Architecture mostly because that
    would give us the opportunity to become park planners. That notion was
    even more confirmed when I was fortunate enough to have Ben Howland from
    National Capital Region NPS as a guest lecturer in graduate school at
    UVA. After I graduated, I went to work for Northern Virginia Regional
    Park Authority and he went to work for the West Virginia State Parks.
    Now I am on the West Coast and he is on the East Coast, but we're in
    constant contact with each other via e-mail and cell phones.

    So, Alan, I can very much empathize with your loss of your twin brother
    and appreciate sharing wonderful memories of Brian - his life, his
    family, and his accomplishments. Cherish his memory. The world is a
    better place due to him. . . and no doubt you, as his twin, as well.

    David J. Pierce
    Grants Programs Manager
    Santa Clara County Parks and Recreation Department
    david.pierce@prk.sccgov.org

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  11. What a remarkable person, Mimi O'Neill is, to have raised two remarkable sons like Brian and Alan. I have worked in the same agency with the O'Neill boys for over 20 years, and my respect for them reached its crescendo after Alan's account of the brothers' unabashed admiration and devotion to their remarkable mother. Thank you, Mimi, for giving us not one, but two beautiful men, who played such important roles in our agency, our community, and our planet, but were never self-important to those around them. Mimi, may you continue to live long and thrive. But when you do pass those pearly gates, I'm sure Brian will be waiting there with his infectious smile, with that twinkle in his eyes,and with a heaven decorated with 200 santas.

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  12. I worked at Golden Gate NRA from 1976 until my transfer in late 1991. I served as the South District Ranger for 10-year period. During most of my tenure in the South District, Brian was the Superintendent and set the standard. He always expected the best and knew that you could get the job done with class, and along the way make new friends. One of the reasons for everyone's success is that Brian trusted and respected all employees. I would watch Brian stop and give his full attention to a maintenance worker or interpreter or whomever, first by addressing him or her by name and asking something about their spouse or significant other by name or about their child. He always left people with the feeling that they mattered.

    During those formative years, many former and present National Park Service leaders were a part of that incubation and maturation. Jim Milestone, Superintendent of Whiskeytown NRA, started the native plant nursery. Tim Stone, Superintendent of Cowpens NB/Ninety Six NHS oversaw the SF Cleanwater Program work along the Ocean Beach corridor. Tim was able to have the City design and build restrooms on NPS land, along with being the impetus for the VIP program and Habitat restoration program where the district received over 43,000 hours of volunteer time in one year. Brian always encouraged us to do more. Back then we began to partner with the community, starting with our Sutro Heights neighbors. Frank Dean, presently of the WASO office and the former Superintendentof Saratoga NHP/Erie Canal, worked tirelessly on establishing a relationship with the hang gliding community that culminated with an MOU. Other successful people who worked tirelessly were Norah Martinez, Chief Ranger, Wrangell-St. Elias NP; Kevin Cochary, Deputy Chief Ranger, Acadia NP; Stephen Prokop, Superintendent of Kalaupala NHP, who saved numerous lives and is recipient of the DOI's highest award for saving a life along with two Exemplary Act awards; Lee Shenk, former Business Manager, GGNRA; Ricardo Perez, Supervisory park Ranger, National Capital Region and so many more. The major reason for so much personal success and growth is that it starts at the top, and Brian fostered and allowed people to stretch and grow way beyond their pay grade and their imagination. Brian was secure in himself and he always celebrated your success with you. For me Brian was the real deal and it was a blessing and priviledge to have worked with an icon and to be a part of his legacy.

    Brian, we will miss you immensely and thank you from our hearts that our paths have crossed and that each of us were touched by your warmth, encouragement, enthusiasm and love of Parks and what they stand for.

    Godspeed from your Park Service family.

    Steve Gazzano
    Cape Cod, Massachusetts

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  13. Marc and Phyllis KoeningsMay 21, 2009 at 1:48 PM

    So much has been said about Brian’s vision, brilliance in forging partnerships, dedication to the nations resources and improvement of the national park system, kindness to everyone he knew and indefatigable spirit. All are attributes that we know to be true.

    While Brian’s legacy to San Francisco is immense – his contribution to all of NPS is greater. The number of people who were mentored, assisted and encouraged by Brian to go on to be great leaders within the Service is incredible. When we were struggling to put together a Friends group at VINP, Brian and Greg provided the guidance to make it happen. While at Gateway and National Parks of NY Harbor, Brian – with his vast experience in running a huge urban park - was the person I turned to for leadership and encouragement.

    Alan – Thank you so very much for your personal remembrances of Brian. Even though we have been close friends with Brian and his family for 32 years, there are many things about his early years that we loved reading about for the first time.

    Our family has so many unforgettable memories of special times together – Brian making breakfast for everyone on camping trips in his impossibly huge cast iron frying pan; Brian urging us farther and higher on any number of hikes; Brian zipping down the hill ahead of everyone else on ski outings – and then rousing the group to go out and party at the end of the day when all we wanted to do was go home to bed; Brian fearlessly covering the net during mixed doubles tennis matches with his long left-handed reach; Brian washing up the dishes after one of Marti’s delicious Thanksgiving dinners and then ironing his shirts for the next work week; Brian teaching Phyllis how to make stained glass lamps; Brian teasing the kids about girlfriends and boyfriends – but sincerely wanting to know what was going on in their lives; Brian in his Halloween costume going to the hospital to cheer up a friend with a silly practical joke.

    He was a wonderful, loveable man who put his boundless optimism and energy into everything that he did. When you had a conversation with Brian he always made you feel like you were the most important person in the world. How we will miss those impish twinkling eyes and his loving, warm hugs. While his passing is hard for us all to reconcile – I have to agree with Doug, that he isn’t really gone, but has just moved on to the next level to make things better for the rest of us when we follow. He will always be a part of all of us who knew and loved him.

    Marc & Phyllis Koenings

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  14. It was such a pleasure to have had the opportunity to know Brian. He was warm, funny and inspirational. He has made our country and our world better with the life he has lived -- it was an extremely well-lived life. His life is truly a legacy - not just for Golden Gate parks but for all parks - national, state, and city...all public lands. Any special places where friends come to enjoy them and to steward them have his legacy to continue.

    He had a very contagious spirit...one that will live on in anyone who had the privilege of knowing him. Peace to his family. May you find comfort in your memories and in the many thoughts and prayers that are extended to you.

    We certainly will treasure the legacy that Brian's life has given us.

    Kimberlee Riley

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  15. I didn't know Brian O'Neill but I admired him greatly. My deepest condolences and thanks to you and your family.

    -- a lover of the Golden Gate National Parks

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  16. I would met Brian at workshops and conferences over the years. I loves his bright smile and enjoyed our talks about the agencies and the interpretive profession. I knew Brian had a brother, but did not realize he was a twin until I mistook Alan for Brian at a partnership meeting.

    Both brothers have helped agencies with their partnership program. Brian will be greatly missed and I feel fortunate to have met him and Alan. Alan thanks for your write up.
    Amy Galperin
    BLM

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  17. Alan, you and Brian were each enormously influential in helping me make Partners in Parks a successful and satisfying enterprise. You helped me see the possibilities and stretch myself to reach, at least some of them. Brian's heartfelt sermons about the value of partnerships I daresay made my job easier, as over time, park leaders became for receptive to including outside assistance of all kinds. It was truly a sad moment when I read of Brian's passing in the latest issue of "Arrowhead". It is also rather sobering, as we are the same age. So I am reminded of my mortality. While I am no longer engaged in Partners in Parks, there are experiences and memories that will last a lifetime. You and Brian remain in my heart.

    Sarah Bishop
    Paonia, CO

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  18. Alan - Thank you for your brotherly thoughts of shared experiences with Brian from your early childhood days to your precious private moments in the last days at Brian's bedside. Although I was unable to attend Brian's Celebration of Life, my thoughts, prayers and smiles(as Brian would have gently insisted upon), were with him, you and his wonderful famiy on that Day of Celebration.

    As you, Greg and everyone have so eloquently stated, Brian's personal, professional, and character traits put him at the top of America's Park, Recreation and Conservation Giants! Equally as significant is his warm genuine compassion for all people!

    During the past 3 months, since his Celebration, I have had time to reflect on the few times we shared the same space together. Whether it was when we were at meetings in the Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, National Park Service, National Recreation Park Association Conferences & meetings, or just hanging out, Brian is at his best in utilizing his creative and innovation skills in achieving results.

    It is almost 3 years to the day when I was with him last in his Golden Gate Office. Once again, he took his valuable time to set up meetings for my Board Trustee and myself with the Yosemite Institute Leadership. Upon arrival and departure - A Warm Embrace and Twinkle in his eye! You ask why I refer to him in the present - He still and will always be with us!

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  19. Randy Clement, HCRS/NPS RetiredMarch 31, 2010 at 8:58 PM

    I only recently and with great sorrow learned of Brian's passing. Although we had lost touch in recent years I have always felt close to Brian and remember with fondness the times he and I and our families spent together. While I can remember Brian in many ways, for his humanity, his leadership, his dedication, I chose merely to remember Brian as a true friend. My heart goes out to Marti, their daughter and son, and to Alan. I share your loss.

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  20. The Captain went ashore last year and never could be found. We searched the harbor for his smile and left the ship aground. We staggered back and took our posts and went out with the tide but with him gone, the crew dispersed, the ship continued on. I stayed aboard, I don’t know why, while others made the break.
    If he were here he’d cheer me to “go find a better ship” but there isn’t one could take me near the joy we’d felt with him.

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Photos of Brian O'Neill

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