Recently Donal “Don” O’Brien III died peacefully, surrounded by his family, on November 24, 2022, after a courageous 10-year battle with a progressive neurological illness. As a former board member, Don was always one of the National Wildlife Refuge Association’s greatest supporters and was instrumental in making the Refuge Association a far more effective and powerful organization. We owe so much to Don for what he accomplished for the National Wildlife Refuge System and our work for it. You can read more and send condolences through his online obituary here or leave a comment below.

Some five years ago I had the privilege of beginning to work with one of those rare people who truly make a positive and persistent impact on one’s life.  Fellow National Wildlife Refuge Association board member Donal (Don) O’Brien’s obvious love, passion, and dedication to nature, wildlife, and its habitat were both unmistakable and infectious.  At that time a neurological illness had begun to impact Don’s ability to speak, though not to think or write.  Such an impediment would have dulled the passion of a lesser man, but Don’s unshakeable courage and fierce determination permitted him to remain a passionate and positive force for the National Wildlife Refuge Association and, in turn, for the National Wildlife Refuge System that it supports.

Don’s tenure with the National Wildlife Refuge Association spanned a period of sixteen years from his board election in early 2005.  He served as its chair from 2008-12, was re-elected to board membership in mid-2015, and served another two three-year terms through mid-2021.  His involvement and commitment extended to service on many board committees including Nominating, Corporate Development, Environmental Education, Friends, Advocacy, Human Resources, Strategic Planning, and Executive, to each of which he gave his time and wisdom.   During his board tenure, Don was instrumental in diversifying its membership to include representatives from the business and financial communities as well as from minority populations.  At the same time, he succeeded in increasing not only the Refuge Association’s endowment but also its public profile.  And all of these achievements were accomplished with the modesty and quiet leadership so characteristic of Don.

In recognition of his achievements, the National Wildlife Refuge Association board established an endowment in 2015 to support “The O’Brien Prize”.  The prize is awarded annually and competitively to Refuge Friends groups:  volunteers who act as supporters, advocates, and ambassadors for their local national wildlife refuge.

On behalf of the entire National Wildlife Refuge Association board and staff, please join me in extending to Don’s family our heartfelt sympathy and prayerful wishes for his recent passing.

Michael J. Baldwin
Board Chair
National Wildlife Refuge Association

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