Barbara B. O'Brien, teacher, volunteer

3 x 2 obrien obit

Barbara Baker O'Brien, 92, of St. Davids, a mother, teacher, and volunteer, died Oct. 20 of congestive heart failure at Beaumont at Bryn Mawr.

In 1970, Mrs. O'Brien was hired by the Shipley School in Bryn Mawr to lead the art history program, and she remained there for 15 years. Due to her influence, many of her students went on to pursue careers related to art history.

Carla Zambelli, a Chester County blogger and Shipley alumna, recalled going with Mrs. O'Brien on a three-week mini-term trip to Rome in the spring of 1981.

"Mrs. O'Brien was amazing," Zambelli said. "She knew all the museums. She would fill you with her love of the topic. She was the type of teacher that, when you grow up to be an adult, you hope your kids get a teacher like that."

Born and reared in New York City, "Bobbie," as she was known, was the daughter of John H. Baker, president of the National Audubon Society, and Elizabeth Dabney Baker.

She graduated from the Brearley School in Manhattan and Smith College in Northampton, Mass. She lived in San Francisco and Paris before returning stateside to work for Columbia Artists in New York City.

In the spring of 1952, she attended a dance at the Merion Cricket Club in Haverford and met David O'Brien. Smitten, "he called every Barbara Baker in New York City until he found her," the family story goes.

They married in December and moved to the Main Line, where she and her husband, a partner in the law firm of Morgan, Lewis & Bockius, had two daughters.

During that period, Mrs. O'Brien volunteered with Philadelphia's Center for International Visitors. She organized home stays for foreign visitors, resulting in "a constant stream of international guests through the O'Brien household," the family said.

She also volunteered at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and did graduate study in art history at the University of Pennsylvania.

When her husband's law firm asked him to split his time between Philadelphia and New York, Mrs. O'Brien was thrilled to move back to Manhattan and spend a decade teaching at the Brearley School, her alma mater.

"Barbara made it a point to spend time in New York with her children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren, ensuring she passed on her love of the city and her consummate knowledge of its interesting nooks and crannies," her family said.

Despite living at a distance from her grandchildren, Mrs. O'Brien doted on them.

"She saw the Lion King many times on Broadway, so that every child had a chance," the family said.

Mrs. O'Brien's husband, David, died in 1998, and a sister also died earlier.

She is survived by her daughters Christie and Sarah; six grandchildren; and nine great-grandchildren.

A memorial service will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 26 - Thanksgiving weekend - at Beaumont at Bryn Mawr, 601 N. Ithan Ave., Bryn Mawr. Burial is private.

Contributions may be made to Doctors Without Borders USA, Box 5023, Hagerstown, Md. 21741, or Philabundance, 3616 S. Galloway St., Philadelphia 19148.

bcook@phillynews.com

610-313-8102