I was saddened to learn that Hugh O’Brian passed away on September 5th. Mr. O’Brian was an actor and a veteran, but he also had an indelible impact on my life. Jonn has a good write-up on Mr. O’Brian’s background and military service here, but I’d also like to give some personal reflections.
See, Hugh O’Brian wanted to develop certain skills in America’s young people. Established in 1958, the Hugh O’Brian Youth Foundation, or HOBY as we call it, strove to inspire young people to develop their leadership skills, get involved in their communities, and commit to HOBY’s core values of volunteerism, integrity, excellence, diversity, and community partnership, and it’s been doing so for nearly 60 years. Hugh O’Brian started this organization that allowed young people to lead, to be inspired, and to reach for the stars.
I attended my first CLeW – Community Leadership Workshop – when I was in high school. My best friend and I were selected to attend and interact with other high school freshmen, meet community, business, and civic leaders, develop leadership skills, and network. It was an all day seminar, and did we learn leadership skills that day! In our sophomore year, we planned, directed, and ran our own CLeW. We contacted political, business, community, and civic leaders and invited them to speak. We developed a program for the day that included vital skills like networking, planning for college, and getting involved in your community. It was a pretty big endeavor for two high school sophomores. We wrote letters (no, there was no email back then) to every potential guest inviting them to the seminar, we coordinated and planned panel discussions, we coordinated meals, we worked to create motivational and leadership exercises.
I had never done anything like this. I was always a painfully shy kid (yeah, I know – hard to believe, given the raucous asshole I am today), so this was a pretty big endeavor for me. But what I learned during that time is that I could do it if I put my mind to it. We started from scratch, and we built up a CLeW for high school freshmen, like the one we attended the year before. We made a difference in the lives of other kids, just like CLeW and HOBY made a difference in ours.
It was an experience I’ll remember to this day.
I had no idea what to expect when I walked into that CLeW on one Saturday during my freshman year, but it changed my life. Hey, and I got a pretty stellar letter of recommendation to college from then-Congressman Bob Borski, who graciously agreed to be one of the panelists during our CLeW.
Hugh O’Brian was one of those men who wasn’t satisfied with just being a successful actor. He didn’t just throw money at charities like many millionaire stars do today and call it a day, while his PR people touted just how generous and giving he was.
He wanted to help develop the future, and he did.