Ronald J. “Obie” O'Brien, 89, passed away peacefully in the comfort of his home on Saturday, September 11, 2021 with his wife Anne at his side.
Obie was a current resident of Hilton Head Island, SC with long standing ties to both the Canton and Redwood, NY communities. No formal funeral arrangements will be held. A Celebration of Life at a future date is being considered.
He is survived by his wife Anne (Grace) O’Brien; daughters Karen of Canton, NY and Kelly of Hilton Head Island, SC; sister Eileen (O’Brien) King of Ottawa, Ontario and brother Brian O’Brien of Windsor, Ontario.
On June 3, 1932, Obie was born in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada. He was the oldest of six children. By his late teens Obie had emerged as one of the capital area’s best young hockey players. He played center for the Junior A division, the highest non-professional league in Canada. His talent for hockey and his academic scores earned him a scholarship to attend St. Lawrence University, Canton, NY.
During Obie’s years at SLU, he became one of the Scarlet and Brown’s leading hockey players and was an All American his senior year. He is one of a handful of players to score five consecutive goals in a game and is the fourth all-time leading scorer at SLU, with 152 points compiled in only three years of varsity competition. As a sophomore, Obie was a member of the renowned Fournier-McLean-O’Brien line (all friends and former playing partners from Ottawa). In 1954-55 the famed trio compiled 156 points, 58 of them coming from Obie’s stick. At the time, it was a St. Lawrence record. The hockey line went on to become the highest scoring line in the University’s history. Obie along with his linemates and classmates Leland “Lee” Fournier and Joe McLean were inducted into the St. Lawrence University Athletic Hall of Fame in 1993. His 1955-56 playing team was also later inducted to the Athletic Hall of Fame.
Obie graduated from SLU in 1957 with a baccalaureate degree in mathematics. During that year he met and married his love Anne Grace, a nurse and local gal from Potsdam, NY. Obie began a teaching career in math at Potsdam High School. This led to his becoming a professor, and eventually Chair, of the mathematics department at Canton Agricultural and Technical College (now SUNY Canton), a position he held from 1961 until his retirement in 1992. Obie founded the College’s first hockey team in 1964, coaching the Northstars for 12 years and capturing two National Junior College Championships. Along the way, he also won seven regional titles and compiled an impressive record of 133-27 in his tenure. Obie was inducted into SUNY Canton’s inaugural Hall of Fame, June 2011.
Many people will recall Obie blowing a whistle and yelling calls as a referee across the Northern Athletic conference in soccer, football, basketball and lacrosse or tending the penalty box at Appleton Arena during SLU hockey games. One of Obie’s most notable experiences occurred during the 1980 Winter Olympics in Lake Placid, NY where Obie had the assignment as Official Scorer for the “Miracle on Ice” win by the United States hockey team over Russia. However, most people will remember Obie as the magician who loved to bring fun, entertainment and laughter.
Introduced to magic by a fellow SLU classmate during his freshman year, Obie was fascinated by the skill involved. His hobby gradually transitioned into a full-blown profession. Over the past 50 years Obie performed many, many magic shows at local civic group events, birthday parties, specialty events as well as became the returning entertainer every Mother’s Day at Cavalerio’s Restaurant, Alexandria Bay, NY. His performances gradually expanded to other areas of the globe: Aruba, Tahiti, Germany, England, Japan and more, bringing him international recognition. As a professional magician, his repertoire included over 1000 tricks and he invented several close-up magic tricks, specifically card tricks. A book for close-up magicians, Fork Full of Appetizers, was also published.
Obie was a member of the International Brotherhood of Magicians and the Society of American Magicians. In 1993-94, he served as the President of the International Brotherhood of Magicians.
Amongst the international magic community, Obie was respected for his talent and expertise. This led to his serving as a judge in several roles for the International Federation of Magic Societies (FISM), one of the most competitive and well-known magic conventions in the world.
Most notably in the magic world though is the magic convention that Obie helped to create back in 1970 with his friend and mentor Eddie Fechter and three other close magician friends. Together they launched the first “original close-up magic convention”, Fechter’s Finger Flicking Frolic, held spring of 1971 at the Forkers Hotel, Buffalo, NY. An exclusive by invitation only event, the 4F convention has now become the most prestigious annual gathering of close-up magicians in the world. For 50 years Obie provided the administrative structure and organization to 4F while becoming a world traveler each year to magic conventions all over the U.S., Canada, Europe and Asia. His goal was specifically to seek out new and up-and-coming talent in the close-up magic world that could be shared at 4F conventions. During his travels Obie often encouraged many magicians to make a breakthrough in their skills and talents, thus changing their lives. He loved gathering with his fellow magician friends to exchange tricks & techniques and share anecdotes. During the 40th anniversary of 4F, Obie as guest of honor was presented by the Board of Directors with a gift, an official renaming of the convention to be Obie’s Fechter Finger Flicking Frolic.
Obie’s finesse and skill as a magician did not go unrecognized by his colleagues, the toughest of magic critics. In 1981 he was presented with the Excelsior Award, an award selected by his peers which acknowledges the person who has contributed the most to the art of close-up magic. His commitment to the magic profession also garnered him a Gold Medal of the French Cultural Influence from “La Renassiance Francaise”, a French cultural organization founded to promote French culture and language. The award is one of the highest awards given by the French State to people who have made significant achievements in the arts, science, literature and culture. Obie is one of less than 10 Americans that have received the honor.
Obie loved life and his enthusiasm for life touched many people. He will be dearly missed. Memorial contributions can be made to the River Hospital, 4 Fuller Street, Alexandria Bay, NY 13607. Condolences and fond memories can also be shared by email at [email protected].