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Joseph R. O'Brien

May 26, 1938 ~ February 7, 2018 (age 79)

Joseph R. O’Brien, a former news reporter and editor who also served as deputy press secretary to Mayor Ed Koch and communications director for Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), died Wednesday, February 7th, at a hospice facility in Scotch Plains, NJ.  He was 79.

O’Brien, a longtime resident of the Kingsbridge section of the Bronx and former member of Community Board 8, had until recently been treated at Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center in Manhattan. He died at Peggy’s House, a unit of the Center for Hope Hospice and Palliative Care.

Joe was a popular and respected figure in New York media circles for over 40 years.  O’Brien was Koch’s deputy press secretary from 1979 to 1985.  He subsequently served in city and state government as communications director for the Special Services for Children agency within the Human Resources Administration, as well as for the city Department of Transportation and the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.  He also was deputy press secretary for Yonkers, NY, Mayor Terrance Zaleski for two years before joining Congressman Engel’s office in May 1996.  He remained there until he retired in December 2013.  He joined the Community Board in June 2014 and resigned last summer.

O’Brien served in the Army Reserve and graduated from New York University in 1966.  He worked for several newspapers in New Jersey and upstate New York.  In 1967, he joined the United Press International wire service in New York as a reporter on the Local desk, and then as an editor on the International and General desks.

Born May 26, 1938, O’Brien was the youngest of four children of Irish immigrants, Thomas and Margaret O’Brien (nee Coffey), and grew up in the Inwood neighborhood of upper Manhattan.  He married New York Daily News reporter Katherine Vanzi in 1975.  The couple, who had two children, divorced in 1994. 

Joe was known for a lively and quick wit as well as countless, quiet acts of kindness to family and friends over many years.  Survivors include daughter Casey O’Brien Schwarz (Elan) of Springfield, NJ; son Scott O’Brien of Pasadena, CA; three grandchildren: Kaleb and Kaia O’Brien, and Leopold O’Brien Schwarz; and brother Kenneth O’Brien (Kathleen) of Crestwood, NY.  His brother Thomas and sister Marie predeceased him.

A wake was scheduled for Friday, February 9th, from 2 p.m. to 5 p.m. and from 7 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Williams Funeral Home, 5628 Broadway (at 232nd Street), Bronx, NY 10463, followed by burial service at 10 a.m. the following day to begin at the funeral home with interment immediately afterward at St. Raymond’s Cemetery, 2600 Lafayette Ave, Bronx, NY 10465. A memorial service was planned for a date to be determined.

Donations can be made online to The Center for Hope Hospice & Palliaitve Care.  Donations can be made by mail, by phone or online by following the procedures shown on the following web link:

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