Rich O’Brien was the dad that never missed anything his kids were involved in and the kind of guy who never met an engine he couldn’t repair.
“He loved to fix anything with an engine, from air conditioners to hot water heaters,” said his brother-in-law Jeff Stewart.
Rich was also a protector.
“His dad died when he was 16, and he stepped up as the protector of his family and later his own family,” Jeff said.
And he was a community protector, working for 27 years as a Cook County Sheriff’s Deputy in Skokie, Ill.
“He was just this cool, calm, laid-back dude who never ruffled any feathers,” said Jessica Cogswell Welsh, Rich’s cousin by marriage. “He came off as a big intimidating guy but was a big old softie at heart — a gentle giant.”
Richard “Rich” William O’Brien, Jr., 53, of Burlington passed away from complications related to the COVID-19 virus on May 3 at Northwestern Hospital in McHenry, Ill.
He is survived by his wife, Cindi O’Brien; children: Katie, Amy and Zachary O’Brien; mother: Bonnie O’Brien; sister: Patty (Larry) Brown; and brothers: John (Cari) O’Brien and Bruce O’Brien. He is further survived by his brother-in-law: Jeff (Val) Stewart; father-in-law Larry (Shirley) Mueller; nieces and nephews.
Rich was born Aug. 12, 1966, in Chicago, the son of Richard William, Sr. and Bonita Ann O’Brien. At age 7 his family moved to Twin Lakes, where he attended local schools.
After graduation from Wilmot High School, he had a series of jobs and eventually became a truck driver of 18-wheelers.
“He loved telling stories about all parts of the country he had driven,” Jeff said.
After he met Cindi Mueller of Twin Lakes, however, Rich gave up driving for a career in law enforcement.
He attended the Chicago Police Academy and began working as a Sheriff’s Deputy in Skokie, Ill.
Rich and Cindi married on July 29, 1995, on the beach of Lake Mary and settled in Rolling Meadows, Ill.
Two years later they moved to Twin Lakes where they raised their children.
“He didn’t talk much about work, but colleagues said he was the hardest worker on the force,” said Rich’s daughter, Katie. “They said he had a particular sense of humor and volunteered to get things done.”
Rich also gave his all as a father. Jeff related that when Rich’s daughter Katie got involved with the Twin Lakes Aquanuts Water Show, Rich got a boat so she could learn to water ski. When she got into snowmobile racing, he made sure she had a snowmobile.
“He was always doing things above and beyond; if Cindi wanted something he’d make it happen,” Jessica said.
“The only time he ever missed work was for his kids’ birthdays or camping,” Jeff said.
“He was a very engaged dad,” Katie said. “He was also very witty and sarcastic in a very loving way.”
Rich made others laugh, but it was hard to get him to crack up laughing, noted Jessica.
“It was a fun challenge for me to try to get him to laugh,” she said. “... He had an awesome, unmistakable laugh.”
Rich especially loved camping trips with his family and Cindi and Jeff’s family at Indian Trails Campground in Pardeeville.
He was known at the campground by wearing his favorite cowboy hat and by his favorite activity: entering the cardboard boat building and racing contest.
“He may have been the world’s best cardboard boat builder — he won about eight years in a row,” Jeff said.
“The cowboy hat was classic Rich,” Jessica said.
A year ago Rich and Cindi moved to Burlington and he continued to commute down to Skokie for work.
Last Thanksgiving Rich began feeling unwell and doctors discovered he had a common form of leukemia. Following two rounds of chemotherapy, he was cleared to return to work.
He was reporting to work daily during the pandemic and on April 5 went to Northwestern Medicine McHenry Hospital, where he was diagnosed with pneumonia and COVID-19.
After 22 days on a ventilator he succumbed to the disease, and family said that saying goodbye under the current restrictions regarding funerals and gatherings has been difficult.
On May 12, a memorial service was held for Rich at KD Park that featured an honorary procession of vehicles from the Cook County Sheriff’s Department and the Chicago Police and Kenosha County Fire departments, as well as a 21-gun salute.
Remembering her father, Amy said, “He was an incredible father and husband who always knew whether you needed a hug, advice, or a ribbing joke to make you feel better and loved.”
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