Honoring Tradition.
Celebrating Life.

Dr. Robert O'Brien

October 31, 1922 - July 3, 2019
Grand Rapids, MI



Monday, July 8, 2019
4:00 PM to 8:00 PM EDT
Heritage Life Story Funeral Homes
Alt & Shawmut Chapel
2120 Lake Michigan Dr., N.W.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 453-8263

The Rosary will be prayed at 4 PM

Driving Directions


Tuesday, July 9, 2019
10:00 AM to 11:00 AM EDT
St. James Catholic Church


Tuesday, July 9, 2019
11:00 AM EDT
St. James Church
733 Bridge Street NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504


At the family's request memorial contributions are to be made to those listed below. Please forward payment directly to the memorial of your choice.

St. James Catholic Church
733 Bridge Street NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504

St. Ann's Home
2161 Leonard Street NW
Grand Rapids, MI 49504


Below is the contact information for a florist recommended by the funeral home.

Ball Park Floral
8 Valley Ave.
Grand Rapids, MI 49504
(616) 459-3409
Driving Directions
Web Site

Life Story / Obituary


Perhaps it was the way he made the most of each day or how he so easily connected with people, but in all ways, it was truly a blessing to know and love Bob O’Brien. With unbridled charisma and unwavering love for God and family, Bob made an impression wherever he went. He never met a stranger and through ways all his own, he made everyone feel special. From family to those he met along life’s way, Bob considered each relationship a precious blessing.

A decade of industrial expansion, the Roaring Twenties was an era of prosperity and good fortune. The spirit of America was evident as the Lincoln Memorial was honorably dedicated at a time when prohibition was law of the land. Yet life for Leo and Mary (Page) O’Brien was filled with blessings on October 31, 1922, when they welcomed their little boy, Robert Francis O’Brien into their arms. Born on Halloween in the riverfront city of Grand Rapids, Michigan, his birth day would come to be a source of many great, combined birthday and Halloween parties during his lifetime.

Bob was the fourth-born of seven children in his family. While he experienced some challenges through his childhood, including moving several times between Grand Rapids and the Kalamazoo area, he adapted a positive attitude toward everyone he encountered. Through it all, he made friends easily and developed a wonderful sense of humor. Despite the Great Depression during his youth, Bob and his family banded together during these difficult years. As a kid he loved playing baseball and loved the sport throughout his life. Bob began playing baseball with friends in a neighborhood sandlot. He was a rare and talented “bats left, throws right” ballplayer.. He went on to play as a catcher while attending Grand Rapids Junior College and Aquinas College, and throughout his life he was an avid fan of the Detroit Tigers. His years parenting and grandparenting included heavy doses of Tiger Tales - from Charlie Gehringer to Mickey Cochrane to Bob Feller.

It was during his senior year of high school when Bob’s family took up residence once again in Grand Rapids and he was the first in his family to attend a Catholic School. While in his senior play, Bob met the young woman who would in time take lasting hold of his heart, Virginia “Jinny” Bechtold. Bob graduated from Catholic Central High School and soon enlisted to serve in the U.S. Navy Air Corps where he was a pilot and trainer during World War II. Having served on Naval Air Station Whidbey Island, Washington, a premier naval aviation installation in the Pacific Northwest, Bob returned home following his honorable discharge and reunited with his Jinny.

Bob and Jinny began dating while Bob attended Dental School at the University of Michigan on the GI Bill. Like his father before him, Bob proudly pursued a career in dentistry. While he was still in school, Bob and Jinny shared vows of marriage on June 27, 1947, at St. James Catholic Church. Bob always said that when he married her, he married her family as he loved them as much as her. He always spoke of how wonderfully they treated him. The newlyweds made their first home together in Ann Arbor while Bob finished school. With degree in hand, Bob and Jinny returned to Grand Rapids and started raising their family that would grow to include 11 children. Sadly, one of their sons, Andrew died as a newborn.

Bob began his own dental practice at the office on Coit and Quimby. It would be three days before he would see his first patient. Bob loved his career and was a great dentist. When the kids were young, he went to their kindergarten class to teach a fun lesson on dental care and many of them worked in the office at some point in their lives. He was a member of the American Dental Association and the West Michigan Dental Society, where he served a term as president. In 2010 he was the recipient of the Silent Bell Award. Having a way to make his work painless for his patients was key for Bob and their well being was his priority. In all areas of his life, Bob had a wonderful way of connecting with people, which was clearly evident in his practice. He eventually retired after 44 years.

Although Bob worked long days and handled many emergencies, his kids can tell anyone about his theory of “time-motion,” which could be moved from chairside dental practices to anything from taking care of the swimming pool or making lunches for school the next day. His parenting style leaned more toward fun loving than disciplinarian. His kids remember him coming home from work smelling of dental plaster, and despite his work schedule, he also supported his children by attending their school and sporting events. Each summer their family enjoyed a two week vacation at the Bechtold cottage in Grand Haven, which became a place of great family bonding. Fond memories come to mind when recalling how Bob and Jinny would pile the whole crew in the station wagon for pajama rides before bed. They also had fun outings at special local businesses like Ollie’s for colored popcorn, or a Sehler’s Hamburger followed by a double feature at Vista Drive-In.

Family was always important to Bob. Providing a welcoming environment at the family home for his children and later grandchildren and great-grandchildren was a priority. On warm summer days their longtime home on Lake Michigan Drive usually had a driveway full of family cars as cooling off in the backyard pool was a popular pasttime. Numerous, wonderful memories are kept close to heart from these treasured times. Bob was passionate about the game of golf. An annual membership at the Elks provided many years of family foursomes. He also loved to draw and was a particularly good cartoonist. All their married years Bob and Jinny were active members of St. James Catholic Church. They would form many lasting friendships with Priests and married couples alike.

Through the years, Bob and Jinny enjoyed a wonderful relationship. As loving couples will do, he had a way of continuing to pursue her and she knew how to keep the challenge going! Their ever playful bickering made them one of a kind and their love always ran deep. Later in life they did a lot of traveling even though Bob would like to have done more. Their travels took them to Alaska, California, New Mexico, and Fiji. Florida was an annual winter destination that found them usually sharing the drive with the Rademachers, Bechtolds, and other relatives. Bob enjoyed his trip to Ireland where he played golf throughout the country.

With such a large family there would come a time when Bob had so many grandchildren and great-grandchildren an exact count would be elusive. He may have lost track of the exact number, but one thing was sure and that was the fact that he maintained a relationship and knew each one of them. He knew their interests and had a way of crossing the generational barrier not just by telling stories, but by listening to what they had to say.

But that was Bob in every facet of his life. At the very heart of Bob was a people person. He made everyone feel special, family and strangers alike. He was generous and giving with his time, talents, and resources, but he knew how to pinch a penny when needed, too. It was disheartening for Bob to see people struggle. He took people at their word and was himself trustworthy. He lived a life of integrity yet he found a delicate balance of fun along the way. He was charming and exuded a quiet charisma. When Bob was around, the room lit up and once meeting him, those he came in contact with were rarely the same.

When Bob’s beloved Jinny died in 2013 it marked a difficult time for him. Although he missed her deeply, he slowly returned to his “normal” self, living every year as the best year of his life. For Bob, it was never about wishing he could go back to the good old days. While they were some of his best, he counted each new day he was given as a blessing and made the most of every day. Late last summer Bob moved into St. Ann’s Home. It was a difficult move for him for sure, but in true Bob O’Brien form he made many friends there and brought his energy as well, making an undeniable impression as he did wherever he went. After taking a fall last week and spending several days in the hospital, Bob was preparing to return to St. Ann’s when he quite unexpectedly passed away.

There is no greater love than the love given by a nurturing, loving and faith filled man, and Dr. Robert O’Brien filled that very role at every opportunity. An honorable man, Bob lived by his faith and was devoted and dedicated to the family he adored. With a twinkle in his eye, he was a fun loving man who always wore a smile and carried countless quips and puns to produce a good laugh at any given moment. He will be remembered for his love of laughter, generosity, love of people and compassionate heart. Bob lived by way of example and was a wonderful role model for his family. Although he would most certainly shy away from “almost” all of these accolades, he was endearing to many and will be remembered for the truly amazing man he was.

Dr. Robert F. O’Brien, age 96, of Grand Rapids was called to be with his Lord on July 3, 2019. Bob was preceded in death by his wife, Virginia “Jinny” O’Brien; and by his sons, Dr. Patrick O’Brien and Andrew O’Brien. He is survived by his children: Kathleen (Jim) Mathews, Dr. Jon O’Brien, Bob (Ellie) O’Brien, Mick (Tracy) O’Brien, Tim (Laurie) O’Brien, Lori (Ken) Zost, Bill (fiancĂ©e, Kelly Oom) O’Brien, Terry (Colleen) O’Brien, Erin (Jon) Dault; daughter-in-law, Nancy O'Brien; 40 grandchildren and 40+ great-grandchildren; sister, Audrey Witham; brother, Leo O’Brien as well as many nieces, nephews and friends.

Bob’s family would like you to join them for visitation at Heritage Life Story Funeral Home, 2120 Lake Michigan Drive NW on Monday, July 8, 4-8 PM with the Rosary at 4:00 PM. The Funeral Mass will be at 11:00 AM on Tuesday, July 9 at St. James Catholic Church, with visitation beginning at 10:00 AM. Donations may be made to either St. James Catholic Church or St. Ann’s Home. To read more about Bob’s life, to sign his online guest book and to share a favorite memory, please visit www.heritagelifestory.com.