R.J. "Obie" O'Brien
by Gary Ouellet
(Reprinted with permission from the Linking Ring, July 1993 Vol. 73 No. 7)
In 1932, in Ottawa, Canada, his parents named him Ronald O'Brien, but to literally thousands of magicians throughout the world, the tall, friendly ambassador of magic is known affectionately by only one word: Obie.
We all love magic, but with the man from Canton, New York, magic is a magnificent obsession. He is everywhere. He hasn't missed a FISM since 1976. He is an Honorary member of Ring 12 in Buffalo, but drives to Canada at least once a month to attend a Ring 151 meeting. It is difficult to name a magic convention he hasn't attended. Name a performer and Obie has seen the act four times. From the greats to the duffers, I think Obie personally knows everyone who ever wore a thumb tip.
He is magicdom's premier organizer, on the Board of Directors of the Vegas Desert Magic Seminar, Rochester's Close Encounters of the Magic Kind, on the I.B.M.'s Board of Trustees and, of course, his greatest creation, Official Chief Forker of Fechter's Finger Flicking Frolic, the most emulated and exclusive close-up convention in the world of conjuring, which he founded with the late Eddie Fechter in 1971.
Where, one wonders, did Obie find the time to pick up a Masters of Science and Masters of Education, plus an A.B.T. in a PhD course? Surely this is the real magic. When did he find time to marry his college sweetheart Anne (herself a Registered Nurse) and father two delightful daughters. Karen and Kelly (both with Masters degrees themselves)? A full fledged math professor for 33 years at the Canton College of technology, somehow he found the time to organize, year after year, convention registrations, dealer halls, and close-up shows, attend countless board meetings of magic organizations, and take in a gazillion magic shows.
If you want something done, the man says, give it to a busy man. Between the double lifts and the double daughters, Obie enjoyed stardom in the hockey world, performing miracles on ice (a member of the renowned Fournier-McLean-O'Brien line at SLU), a member of several North Country teams, and head coach of the champion Canton ATC hockey team. Could there be more than one Obie, for one Obie O'Brien also officiated football for twenty years, hockey for thirty years, and lacrosse for twenty-five? And, for all you armchair jocks who remember the glorious U.S. victory at the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, the official scorer is listed as on Ronald O'Brien.
And now, the I.B.M. has a new head coach, whose abilities we trust to stick-handle our fortunes through the next twelve months.
Our new Prez is no armchair magician. He has performed close-up (his true love) at a host of conventions including Tannen's Abotts's, NYCAN, Magic in the Mountains, the Vegas Desert Seminar, Close Encounters of the Magic Kind - and, in case you missed him, look for the guy with the smile in his eyes at Close Up Gatlinburg '94, Florida State '94 and Magic Hands '94.
You may even own one of his commercially available effects: Kolossal Kolored Kards, or Almost Real Magic, and watch out for a new one - as yet unnamed - which Obie is preparing to fry us with in 1994. And now that he has retired and moved to a new home in Alexandria Bay, N.Y., who knows what jumbo card miracles will don magic dealer shelves in the years to come?
I've known Obie for many years. He is a kind man, and a good friend. And a few years ago, I discovered yet another Obie, an Obie I had yet to meet. It was at the Club Med Magic Convention in Florida, and the program read: "In the tent, afternoon children's show with magic Obie."
Magic Obie? Was this Referee/Organizer/Coach/Professor Obie? Our national Obie doing children's magic? I snuck in the back. Out onto the stage walked my buddy, a fez on his head and a twinkle in his eye. Obie doing children's magic?
And then, for 45 minutes, I saw some fifty children totally entranced. totally mystified, and totally entertained. It was a professional, polished performance by a man who knew exactly what he was doing: bringing joy to children.
Magic Obie. Our Prez.
Ottawa Society of Magicians, Roy Cottee Ring 151 of the International Brotherhood of Magicians