At the 39th Annual O’Brien Children Memorial Fund Lobster Clambake on Oct. 9, there was laughter, hugs, lively conversation, eating and dancing. It looked very much like a party.
John “Chip” Mastrian could only marvel at how Paul and Tina O’Brien have turned a tragedy into an annual celebration of life.
“Paul and Tina did not run away and lose themselves in anger and grief,” said Mastrian, a long-time friend of Paul O’Brien and supporter of the fund. “They became wiser by adversity.”
That adversity was the death of their children Jill, Paul Jr. and Stephanie, and Tina’s mother, Lola.
The couple relives the tragedy every year at the clambake – the first was put on by friends to raise money for the new fund – but also relishes the opportunity to see friends, make new ones and rekindle the spark that led to not only the creation of the O’Brien fund, but to what is now the Community Foundation of Western Pennsylvania and Eastern Ohio.
“It’s fellowship,” O’Brien said. “It’s the people making something that they know is good, and something that’s ever growing.”
The fund stands at $1.5 million in assets, and has given away $2.1 million over the years, mostly to help children and the elderly. This year alone, it has awarded $138,000 in grants, Mastrian said.
Those 39 years have not passed without changes. “We’ve lost a lot of great friends, and we’ve made new friends and new supporters,” O’Brien said.
The fund strives to make the clambake “a first-rate affair,” O’Brien said, and the few empty seats in Tiffany’s Event Center, Brookfield, where it is held, attest to the achievement of that goal.
“A group of 700 people, everyone with smiles on their faces – it’s heartwarming,” he said.
In detailing the fund’s accomplishments, Mastrian challenged the attendees: “Let’s imagine that we can all do something for our community and follow their (O’Brien’s) example.”