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1941 James 2024

James M. O'Brien

September 11, 1941 — March 5, 2024

Obituary - James Martin O’Brien

(Albion) James Martin O’Brien passed from this world to the next on March 5, 2024. He was 82 years young.

James - or Jim or Jimmy or Uncle Jimmy or Coach or Dad or Papa - is survived by his loving wife of over sixty years, Sandy. Together they had two children and four grandchildren and have a great grandchild on the way.

Sandy and Jimmy met as teenagers and married soon thereafter. They went through life as best friends, as all the best marriages do. From family to baseball, from easy times to the not so easy times, from a house full of noise to a house of relative silence, it was always Sandy and her beloved Jimmy. Jimmy and his beloved Sandy. For over 63 years they stood side by side as partners, taking on the world one day at a time. Now Sandy will move forward alone, but we know her beloved Jimmy will always be with her in spirit. In the future, should Sandy ever stumble and fall, and wonder whether she can get up again, she will think of him. And we know he will be watching, smiling, and cheering her on.

The loss Sandy feels today is immeasurable, as anyone in this position all too knowingly understands. To love someone as Sandy loved Jimmy is to know that one day, no matter how hard you try, your heart will be forever broken and never heal. This is the painful price we pay on earth to experience the privilege of true love. Jimmy was Sandy’s true love. And Sandy was Jimmy’s. And what a miraculous gift that was for both.

James’ first child was his daughter Kim. Kim graduated college and graduate school with degrees in speech pathology. She married Kirk Narburgh in 1989 and together, with lots of love and support from Papa, they raised two, now adult, but always amazing, daughters Sarah (Corey) Burrows of Boston, Massachusetts, and Doctor Hannah (Mitch) Dunay of Hampstead, North Carolina. Sarah will miss her Ploppy, a name whose origin is a now mystery to everyone but Sarah. Sarah’s heart will forever have a missing piece. Doctor Hannah and Mitch are expecting a baby girl in May of this year. It breaks our collective hearts that Papa will never hold his great granddaughter - and of course teach her how to play tricks on people at the mall.

James’ second child was his son Mark of Tampa, Florida. Mark graduated from college and law school and lives in Tampa, Florida where he is an attorney. Mark married his wife Katie in 2009 and together they have two sons, Finn James (12) (named after his Papa) and Buckley (10). To Finn and Buck, Papa was nothing more than a big kid, always good for a toss in the pool or a pillow fight on the couch. Like Sarah and Hannah, both O’Brien boys will miss their Papa dearly.

James is survived by his brother David O’Brien of Ripley, New York and his sister Catherine O’Brien who resides in Albion. James and David were the best of friends, as only brothers who saw a little too much a little too soon can be. It was amazing to watch them say so little but do so much for each other for over 80 years.

James lived a life worth celebrating. And celebrate it we shall. Born on September 11, in the year 1941, he hated that evil men did evil things on the day of his birth and during his birth year. James was the opposite of those men. He was decent, kind, and forever in your corner. Those who knew him, knew him to be quick with a wry smile but short on conversation. But those who really knew him, knew that his wry smile would fast become a jolly laugh and that the guy would never really shut up. We all loved that about him.

James loved sports, in particular baseball. He loved watching the Yankees on WPIX Channel 11 (“Holy Cow!”) and later the YES Network. While Dad loved the Yankees, he secretly rooted for the Rays because Mark did. He loved collecting baseball cards with Mark. And he spent hours tracing his (and others’) roots through his love of genealogy. He loved his yearly trips to Myrtle Beach with family and friends. He loved a donut with the gang at Timmy’s. He loved beef on ‘weck (especially at the long since closed Checkerboard of Batavia). He loved playing cards with Uncle Kerm, Aunt Maryellen, and later Rose. He loved beating Smitty on the baseball diamond. He loved telling us old stories about Mort, about Chuck, about his many brothers-in-law, especially our Uncle Jerry (who affectionately called James “The Irishman”), and about a whole bunch of other characters from his past who just like him are gone too soon.

Jimmy loved long Sunday afternoon drives with Sandy and her mother, and later simply Sandy. Papa loved nothing more than beating Kirk at shuffleboard and Katie at mini golf. And was there anything better than hide and seek at Mount Albion Cemetery with Sarah, Hannah, Finn, and Buck? Nope, but that was nothing more than a rhetorical question (it’s an Albion thing - Google it). The best way to sum up Papa is that if a member of his family loved something, he would find a way to love it, too.

Jim, as he was known during the work week (and for Jim the work week was Monday through Saturday, resting only for Catholic Mass on Sundays), served as a mail carrier for the United States Postal Service for over 40 years. But his first job, he often told us, was not at the post office but instead at the old Lipton’s plant in Albion packing soup cans in an assembly line. Given an opportunity to get outside and become a mail carrier at age 18, he switched gears and began an important part of his life. Far beyond putting in an honest day’s work for an honest day’s pay, Jim earned both health care and stability for his family. Always one to work overtime on his day off to help his co-workers, as their union representative Jim also stood up for his fellow mail carriers when a wrong needed righting. And delivering the mail was more than just depositing letters into a mailbox for him. Each day Jim was part confidant, part therapist, and one hundred percent friend to every person on his route. Yes, even the dogs. For those in their senior years Jim would “check in”, like a doctor once made house calls, especially for those without close family in town. In essence, Jim was his route’s special caretaker. He looked after the occupants of each house and apartment, in the way that was individually needed at that moment, while expecting nothing in return.

Uncle Jimmy, as he was known to his extended family, was a fixture at Gaylord family gatherings. While most of the uncles, and some of the aunts, hovered near the Genesee Cream Ale keg, Uncle Jimmy was always a man in constant motion, playing with the children or just helping someone do something that needed doing. Sandy was the youngest of ten children, so many of their nieces and nephews were close in age to Uncle Jimmy. As time moved forward and they began to lose their mothers and fathers, it was always Uncle Jimmy who stood quietly by their side before, during, and after their loss. Uncle Jimmy may not have always had the right words, but he always did the right thing.

Uncle Jimmy was also “Coach” to so many. At least once a year, while at a mall or restaurant outside of Albion, a stranger would approach him with a big smile and exclaim, “Hello Coach!” The old ball coach in him would reach back into time long ago and respond, “I can recognize your face, but you are going to have to help me with your name.” And there, while standing in a random store or burger joint, one man would tell an older man what an inspiration he was to him as a child. Coach did not just teach kids the right way to play baseball, he taught them the right way to live life. It should be noted that at one point in Coach’s life he managed three different baseball teams: the Knights of Columbus Little League team, the Knights of Columbus Babe Ruth team, and his beloved American Legion team. The latter played in the New York State championship game at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, New York. (An aside: Coach always said with a sly smile that both Kim and Mark mishandled a few ground balls that touched their gloves back in the day. He was correct of course. If the ball touched their mitts, they should have had ‘em.)

Sandy’s beloved husband was taken from this world too soon. Though he rarely drank alcohol, never smoked a day in his life, exercised daily, and ate well, he contracted the rare disease Guillain-Barré Syndrome shortly after the first of the year. His auto immune system attacked his nervous system rendering his last days extremely difficult. Despite trying his hardest in the Intensive Care Unit of Strong Memorial Hospital for nearly eight weeks, he could not beat this foe. In the end, with family at his side, and at peace, he closed his eyes, and went quietly to God. Our sadness runs deep. And we are forever changed.

However, when you see us, we ask that your wonderful memories of this kind and gentle man be greater than your grief. We promise you this is what he would want. Whether to you he was James, Jim, Jimmy, Uncle Jimmy, or Coach, for us he was and always will be James Martin O’Brien, a man amongst men, in a world increasingly lacking in them.

For 82 years we were all very lucky to have him in our lives, and now heaven is too.

Go n-éiri an bóther leat.
Go raibh an ghaoth go brách ag do chúl.
Go lonrai an ghrian go te ar d'aghaidh.

Until we meet again Papa.


Calling hours will be held at Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home in Albion, New York from 4:00 pm to 7:00 pm on Friday, March 8, 2024.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at Holy Family Catholic Church (formerly Saint Joseph’s Catholic Church) in Albion, New York at 11:00 am on Saturday, March 9, 2024.

A proper Irish Wake will be held immediately following the funeral at a location to be determined (check this website for an update later in the week for the location). Please join us for food and drink and share your stories about James with his family and friends.

In lieu of flowers, memorials in James’ name may be made to either the Francis House of Syracuse, New York ( or the Ryan Callahan Foundation ( Both charitable organizations are nonprofit, close to our family’s heart, and may be found online.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of James M. O'Brien, please visit our flower store.

Service Schedule

Past Services

Calling Hours

Friday, March 8, 2024

4:00 - 7:00 pm (Eastern time)

Christopher Mitchell Funeral Home - Albion

21 West Ave, Albion, NY 14411

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Funeral Mass

Saturday, March 9, 2024

11:00am - 12:00 pm (Eastern time)

Holy Family Parish-St. Joseph's Church

106 South Main Street, Albion, NY 14411

Enter your phone number above to have directions sent via text. Standard text messaging rates apply.


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