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Who’s on Your Top 10 List?

December 5, 2012
By LINDA COMINS - Life Editor , The Intelligencer / Wheeling News-Register

Longtime sportswriter and author Jim O'Brien of Pittsburgh has become more reflective with the passing years, as evidenced by the title of his new book, "Immaculate Reflections."

The popular author, well known for chronicling Pittsburgh sports teams and athletes, returned to the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling Tuesday, Nov. 27. He spoke to a large audience, mainly baby boomers and older adults, at a Lunch With Books session and he offered several suggestions for the crowd.

O'Brien, now 70, loves history and says he feels like "an old friend" when he visits the library. His family roots are in the Wheeling and Bridgeport areas.

Article Photos

Photo by Linda Comins
Pittsburgh author Jim O’Brien reflects on his life and career, while offering suggestions for an audience at the Ohio County Public Library in Wheeling Tuesday, Nov. 27. He has written 21 books, mainly focusing on athletes and the world of sports.

"Wheeling has a lot of ghosts for me," he remarked, adding that there is "one more than the last time," a reference to his brother, Richard, who died since his last visit.

With the exception of his wife, their two daughters and two granddaughters, O'Brien said, "Everybody in my immediate family is now at Mount Calvary (Cemetery in Wheeling)."

O'Brien quipped that his wife has been twisting his arm for 45 years, which, he joked, is a good thing because "otherwise, I'd be in a penitentiary somewhere."

He offered four tips for dealing with a wife: "Always adore her. Do whatever she wants to do; it's just easier. Never ask what anything costs. If you screw up, beg, beg, beg for her forgiveness."

Regarding another important woman in his life, O'Brien shared a portion of a 1991 story that he wrote about his mother, who had lived in Bridgeport, attended St. Anthony's School there and worked at Wilson Funeral Home. One of O'Brien's daughters observed that he started saying goodbye to his mother when she was 83 and continued until she was 96.

As his mother reached an advanced age, he wondered how he was going to say farewell and pondered "what if it is the last time I say goodbye." With each parting, he hugged his mother longer and longer. "I know she loves those long hugs," he wrote.

In that piece from 1991, O'Brien reflected, "As long as she's alive, I'm still someone's son. I am still thinking of myself as a kid. I like it that way. I don't want to say goodbye."

He suggested to the Wheeling audience that if they have older people in their lives, "Take time to say how important they are."

Noting that he has compiled a top 10 list of people in his life, he remarked, "I think you also have to be open to having others help you."

He related that the late Pittsburgher Frankie Gustine, who is on his top 10 list, "would call me out of the blue on Thanksgiving. I've taken to doing that - I will call people on Thanksgiving."

O'Brien then gave the audience "an assignment," citing three tasks: "Write down 10 people on your top 10 list. Say goodbye to someone. Think of some people you can call on Christmas; you'll be surprised."

Reflecting on sports figures he has known, O'Brien spoke at length about Beano Cook, who died recently at age 81. "Beano Cook changed my life," he said.

O'Brien arrived at the University of Pittsburgh as a student in the fall of 1960, just as the Pirates-Yankees World Series was being played at nearby Forbes Field. Cook, who was Pitt's sports information director, hired O'Brien to write hometown stories about Pitt players. "I got to meet some of the greatest sportwriters in history, thanks to Beano," he said.

As a young man, he asked Howard Cosell how to become a successful writer. Cosell replied, "Kid, you gotta sit down and start writing." It was "the best advice I ever got," O'Brien mused.

O'Brien, a lifelong reader, encourages people, particularly youth, to read. He tells children, "If you don't read, you'll never grow."

The author of 21 books, O'Brien said, "Being a writer is a constant deadline ... I'm already thinking about my next two books."

He thinks his experiences with sports people over the years have been worthwhile. "The older you get, you have a different perspective. You see things differently," he commented.

He remarked that the late author Alex Haley once said, "Every time an old person dies, it is like a library being burned down."

As he reflects on his experiences, O'Brien also views the world with "new" eyes. "Sixteen months ago, I had cataract surgery. If you're thinking about it, do it," he told the audience. "I can now see better than when I was a little kid."

With better vision, O'Brien has resumed playing platform tennis and has rediscovered a competitive streak. "Now I'm undefeated and now I'm feeling stress," he said. "I know I'm one of the oldest players out there, and I want to win. I want to win."

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