True Friend, Amazing Leader, Consummate Visionary, and Generous Public Servant

Some of you knew Brian as the General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Parks, or as a powerful voice within many Bay Area conservation organizations. Some knew Brian as a tireless environmental visionary and innovator. Some knew Brian as a highly acclaimed National Park Service leader and an outstanding role model for park executives the world over.

But no matter the context or relationship, whether you knew him for many years or met him only briefly, the impression Brian left was instantaneous and lasting. And it did not take long to realize his impact—on the people and parklands he loved so deeply—is indelible. Brian is as beloved as the Golden Gate National Parks he built.

As the executive director of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy, I write as someone who worked closely with Brian for three decades. Our friendship is long and deep. And our commitment to this park and the people who care for it is equally deep—and something we share with all who celebrate Brian’s memory.

Many people saw Brian as a park maker with an inspired vision. And the Golden Gate National Parks constitute his masterpiece. Everywhere you turn in this national park—Crissy Field, Alcatraz, Fort Baker, the Presidio, and more—we see his amazing handiwork. But he was much more than a park maker; he really was, at the core, a community builder.

He intrinsically knew that any aspiration, any special place, any worthy program—needs a community of people loyal to the vision and committed to one another and their common purpose. Few national parks can match the outpouring of volunteers, donors, members, or visitors who have been inspired by Brian or served by his dedicated National Park staff. Within the National Park Service, at the Parks Conservancy, and through his many pursuits across the country and around the world, Brian gathered special communities of people who shared his vision—people who took such joy in their collective accomplishment and in one another’s company.

Brian described his role as a “friend-raiser” for the Golden Gate National Parks. And he did some amazing friend-raising. I can think of almost 30 distinct circles of friends and communities of people that Brian touched deeply. Those communities range from one end of the Golden Gate National Parks to the other; from northern Marin to southern San Mateo County; from San Francisco to the over 390 national park sites across America; from city halls to houses of Congress; from youth environmental leaders to acclaimed conservationists; from the Bay Area to Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, and points beyond.

And it is so clear why these friendships spanned the globe. Brian’s zest, exuberance, and charisma were legendary. He always saw the best in any situation, in any person, in any challenge. He gave from the heart and led with enthusiasm and humor.

In the days and weeks and months ahead, we have some simple, straightforward things to do that were in Brian’s sincere nature. We must remain kind and supportive to one another as we grieve for this amazing person; and we must remain true to Brian’s strong values that now are embedded in the Golden Gate National Parks—a collection of national park sites that expresses so beautifully his most robust, exuberant, caring, and heartfelt qualities.

That is an enduring thing we can do for Brian and for the great national parks at the Golden Gate. We will treasure these special places in his memory and hold them—his legacy—even more dearly.

Brian is as cherished as our national parks, as treasured as our historic landmarks, and as timeless as the beauty of the fog coming through the Golden Gate to Crissy Field. We will miss him deeply, but know that his spirit is with us. I look forward to seeing all of you, his special friends, out in the national parks. Brian would be very happy knowing that we were enjoying the place he helped create for everyone.

Greg Moore
Executive Director
Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Share Your Memories

Please help us celebrate Brian's life and legacy by leaving your stories and tributes. Click on "Read more..." below and scroll down to post your message. Due to the system configuration, there may be a delay before your posting appears. Thank you for your patience.


  1. Thank you, Brian

    America lost a wonderful, gifted leader yesterday. Brian O’Neill, who put an indelible mark on Golden Gate National Recreation Area, also was a trailblazer for national the parks and recreation movement.

    Brian’s passion, vision and personality have impacted and will continue to impact so many millions of us. You can focus on his central role in gaining designation of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the 1970's and the physical change that has occurred – from the transformation of Alcatraz and the Presidio and Crissy Field and Fort Baker and even more sites. But still more important is to understand how those transformations took place – not through huge investments of taxpayer funds but through partnerships with for-profit and non-profit organizations. You could focus on the growth of visitations to the area during a period of reductions in park visits – and the fact that visitors to Golden Gate National Recreation Area received outstanding services during their visits without big increases in park staff. As Brian proudly explained, over 80% of all visitor services were provided with non-appropriated funds. You could focus on his role in restructuring the National Park Service nationally – as he took on a temporary national role to integrate visitor services, volunteerism, interpretation, tourism and more. Or you could focus on Brian’s talent as an educator. He delivered seminars and presentations across the nation and around the world, creating a new vocabulary and mindset for those in the recreation field who changed tactics and strategy thanks to Brian’s calls for “friendraising” and innovative outreach to volunteers, his dedication to “giving up power to gain collective power,” his creative and successful examples of overcoming obstacles to community involvement like the Federal Advisory Committee Act. You could focus on the awards Brian received and the roles he played in key organizations locally and nationally: ARC’s Legend Award, the Pugsley Medal from the American Academy of Park and Recreation Administration, the Silver Cable Car Award from San Francisco Convention and Visitors Bureau and dozens more.

    But none of those focuses would fully describe the Brian I first met during a visit to Golden Gate National Recreation Area with the President’s Commission on Americans Outdoors – just as he was taking the reins of the then-still-very-young and struggling park unit – and watched for the next 23 years with admiration. Brian was a true friend and mentor to so many, proud of what he was doing but just as enthusiastic about what his network of friends sought to accomplish. Just this February at Partners Outdoors, Brian listened to the challenges facing Maryland’s bright new state park director and generously offered ideas and his time. And just shortly before that, Brian and I has gathered with a few others at the new Cavallo Point inn and conference center to brainstorm about ways to reach all Americans with the benefits derived from time in parks, and about ways to forge partnerships between the NPS and concessioners and recreation businesses.

    Brian loved parks. Brian loved people. And America’s parks and people loved who Brian was. The San Francisco Chronicle article rightly called him “gregarious and hugely popular,” and noted he “was one of the longest tenured superintendents in the National Park Service and perhaps the most influential.” Among those quoted in the story was Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives. Said the Congresswoman, described by the paper as a close friend, “Brian O’Neill was a passionate and dedicated advocate to our National Parks.”

    A friend, admirer and partner of Brian, Terry MacRae, CEO of Hornblower Cruises which provides access to Alcatraz, wrote last night, “He will always be a part of our Park...”

    Brian, you will always be a part of all of America’s parks and special places. Thank you.


    Derrick A. Crandall, President
    American Recreation Coalition

  2. One only need to look around anywhere in the GGNRA to understand what a man of courage, vision and conviction Brian O'Neill was. One only need to conjure up his smile to understand how much he loved and respected all people. Having worked in Fort Mason for the past 24 years as one of the many Park Partners has been a pleasure and a privilege. Working with Brian and the amazing team of people he put together has been inspirational and rewarding. Brian will be missed very, very much by all who knew him. My deepest sympathies to his family, his co-workers and his loved ones.

    Jeanne Comaskey
    Director of San Francisco Operations
    Hostelling International

  3. The National Parks Conservation Association is deeply saddened by the loss of Golden Gate National Recreation Area (GGNRA) superintendent Brian O’Neill. Brian possessed magnetic leadership abilities and was a tireless advocate for the creation, development, and preservation of GGNRA-one of the most exceptional recreation areas in the National Park System.

    Brian’s creative approach to involving community partners was inspiring, as was his ability to engage diverse perspectives to get things done. Under his leadership, GGNRA became a model in the National Park Service for encouraging urban youth and empowering diverse communities to experience our national parks. The national parks will benefit from Brian’s lessons, leadership, and legacy for years to come.

    He will be deeply missed; we extend our sympathy to his family.

    Ron Sundergill
    Pacific Region Director
    National Parks Conservation Association

  4. I was a seasonal park ranger on Alcatraz in 1986, the last year of ranger-led tours. Brian took the time to actually know my name, find out about me. I remember him coming to one of the fun summer parties in the Headlands, where everyone was dancing and socializing, and he was right there with us!

    What a great guy! Even though I haven't seen him in a while, I always felt like I knew him and cared about him. Having worked at a few other national parks, I can say that I never even met the other superintendents, let alone have them know me and my name.

    Sandy Mills
    Pacifica, CA

  5. Brian was among the first park superintendents that I met when I arrived at the Interior Department in 2001. The moment I met him, saw the ever-present twinkle in his eye, the spring in his step, and his indefatible energy, he inspired me. We shared an unwavering commitment to the small "d" democracy that comes from collaboration. Brian, for me, was a mentor. He was a friend. He will be deeply, deeply missed. With others, yesterday, I shared some words of Ralph Waldo Emerson that seemed a fitting tribute to Brian. I share them here: "To laugh often and much, to win the respect of intellifent people and the affection of children, to earn the appreciation of honest critics and endure the betrayal of false friends, to appreciate beauty, to find the best in others, to leave the world a bit better, whether by a healthy child, a garden know even one life has breathed easier because you have lived, this is to have succeeded." Ralph Waldo Emerson

    Brian touched not one, but thousands of lives. He tended not only a garden patch but an entire park. He always found the best in others. He laughed often and much. He had the respect of all who knew him. He appreciated beauty. Indeed, to borrow from a Navaho phrase, he "walked in beauty." Thank you, Brian, for all that you gave during your life.

    Lynn Scarlett

  6. Shine On – The Legacy of Brian O’Neill
    For those of us who sail the uncharted waters of community engagement and forming broad partnerships to promote conservation and outdoor recreation, Brian has always been the bright, shining beacon in the lighthouse. He absolutely radiated light and inspired others to have the courage and confidence to reach out, trust others, and pull together for the greater good of the land and the people who love and enjoy it.
    Suddenly, that light has been extinguished, and we find ourselves on a dark and stormy sea. But Brian has prepared us- many, many, of us- for this day. Only in Brian’s passing will we begin to understand the full magnitude of this man’s contributions. Through our association with Brian, he has equipped us all with emergency candles and hurricane-proof matches. If you were lucky enough to have been associated with Brian, light up the night with the light that he has passed on to us. Hold it high. And look around you, as tens of thousands of family, friends, and colleagues do the same. Together, we will continue the great work he started, and strive to follow the example he set.
    And through you, Brian’s Light will continue to glow brightly to show others the way. Shine On, Brian!
    Rick Potts, Chief
    Conservation & Outdoor Recreation Division
    National Park Service

  7. The Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation Board of Directors and staff are extremely saddened by the loss of our partner, colleague and friend Brian O’Neill.

    The Bridge District is privileged to be situated in the very National Park that Brian shaped so well. As our “landlord”, he worked tirelessly with us at the Golden Gate Bridge District to ensure that the visitor experience, parkland preservation needs, and our Bridge operations could all co-exist in the very best ways possible. No matter the project, whether our massive seismic report project or our efforts to improve visitor access to the Bridge, Brian’s leadership and his commitment to effective partnership were at the foundation of our relationship with him. When working side by side with Brian, we all found a way to reach consensus, forge effective solutions, and simply get things done. He was a true friend to us all. He will be deeply missed.

    Celia Kupersmith
    General Manager/CEO
    Golden Gate Bridge, Highway and Transportation District

  8. From friends Fred Kent and Kathy Madden across the world:

    It is wonderful how often we remember him by talking about his vision to others around the world. His work and passion is something we use as a benchmark as we help create public spaces all over the world.
    We are now in Perth, Australia and used his name and example for a major park/public space here today. We had not known of his death.
    While we are all certainly saddened by his death, when someone dies who has had such a profound and deep impact on so many people and places, we feel so good about him. He can't possibly die in our mind...he has become so much a part of our psyche. We will soon rejoice in a life we will never lose. Today we mourn a great human being. Thank you Brian for a life of great love.

    Fred Kent and Kathy Madden
    Project for Public Space
    New York City

  9. Brian was larger than life. I first met him through my work with SCA and, over the last 15 or so years, knowing this remarkable guy has brought me great joy. His commitment to diversity, community, creation of harmony in the world, and more, is unsurpassed.

    I'll miss...that great gentle bear hug he used to give me each time I saw him; the smile on his face when he met my students and the glow on theirs as they shook his hand; his devotion to ensuring all people have opportunities to enjoy our parks; and the fact he cared so deeply about humankind in the broadest sense. Brian was one of the most genuine people I've ever had the pleasure of knowing.

    There are many great men who surround us, yes. It is, however, my conviction that we may never see another individual as special and yes, as stated by Derrick Crandall "gifted", as Brian. His wisdom, sincerity, strong values, solid ethics, and sheer determination was unwavering.

    I'm a better person for having known Brian - May his spirit be free, his soul rest in peace, and his family celebrate the beauty and magic of his life.

    Nina Roberts
    Associate Professor
    San Francisco State University

  10. I’ve had the privilege of knowing Brian through my work with Headlands Institute, one of the many park partners Brian nurtured. I’ve always been so impressed with his commitment to access for people of all backgrounds and his ability to bring together people with divergent viewpoints, all with warmth and a smile.

    I’m thinking now of an event at Ocean Beach last year. Brian brought the National Park Service director to see more than 1,000 schoolkids cleaning up the beach. As he and the director strolled across the sand through the joyful chaos, Brian saw me and stopped to give me a kiss on the cheek.

    That was Brian, never too busy to take a moment to be kind.

  11. (on behalf of Peigin Barrett)

    May 14, 2009 7:22 p.m.

    Last night when my phone rang I heard the voice of Ann Bauer, the Director of Education for The Marine Mammal Center. I felt such happiness I began chatting away as the Irish do until Ann stopped me and said,. “ I have very sad news for you and I didn't want you to hear on the TV or in a newspaper -- Brian O'Neill died a few hours ago.”

    In that moment of shock and tears that I am certain most let flow, I realized that Brian had a very powerful influence on my life as someone who was a friend who encouraged me in the early, very scary years of The Marine Mammal Center when The Center was so poor we used our cars to pick up seals and kept an old coffee can for spare change for gas. Most of the government officials - state and federal - who oversaw our permits to rehabilitate marine mammals thought we were a joke that was bound to fail. Brian was our "Boss" as well, first, as Assistant Superintendent and then, as Superintendent of the GGNRA.

    From the very beginning, Brian believed in the dream of an eclectic mix of private citizens who cared about marine mammals and the health of the oceans. With rickety fences holding yelping seals and cargo shipping containers serving as "portable" buildings to cover the federal requirement for no construction on this historic Nike Missile site - the all volunteer Center struggled to survive for many years. We believed that nothing could stop us if we gave our all and we had one very highly placed cheerleader, friend, mentor, supporter, and creative and loving Guardian Angel -- Brian O'Neill.

    Brian often brought special Park visitors to The Center when we still looked "funky" and his enthusiasm and pride for our work caused many visitors to leave praising our accomplishments. Brian always tried to be an active participant in The Center’s projects and he ran in the Run for the Seals often. Brian was proud of The Center and as The Center grew he never stopped helping us, believing in the dream that was understandably hard for some others to envision.

    Brian's spirit will always pervade the Headlands, cheering The Center on. For me, personally, he was a leader I respected, a dear friend I cared deeply for, a cheerleader in the good times, and a confidant and supporter when times were rough.

    As I write, I am looking at a beautiful stained glass work of art that depicts a single seagull with wings outstretched in soaring flight passing by what could be the night moon against an ocean of blue color. The artist - Brian O'Neill. God speed dear friend of so many who are currently reeling in shock but over time will turn tears to fond memories and laughter as they remember all you brought to so many people whose lives you touched and changed for a few moments, a few years, or in my case, a few decades. Brian, you remain vividly alive in our hearts.

    Peigin Barrett

    The Marine Mammal Center 1978 - 1996
    Volunteer, Herring Formula Sous-Chef, Pen Mucker and Executive Director (1982-1996)

  12. (This is posted on our volunteer program blog this morning at

    I was surprised and saddened, this morning, to find a note on our park's electronic bulletin board reporting the sudden passing of Golden Gate National Recreation Area's superintendent, Brian O'Neill. Brian died yesterday of complications following heart surgery.

    Most of you who volunteer at Mount Rainier, I'm sure, have no idea who Brian O'Neill is. But his influence is huge on our volunteer program. Over his tenure at Golden Gate, Brian transformed the role of volunteers from one that was peripheral to a park ranger's daily duties into one that was central to everything they did. I heard him speak several times, and his vision was inspiring. We shouldn't figure out what we're capable of doing by ourselves and then give the leftovers to volunteers, he said; instead, we should identify every possible ways that volunteers can help us, and then organize ourselves in ways that support that. He passionately believed that working with members of the larger community, beyond the physical boundaries and paid personnel roles of the park, improved both our ability to protect the resources of the park and our ability to serve its visitors. Volunteers, he said, are our first and most important partners, and, when needed, are an army of advocates on our behalf.

    Over the years, this vision infused every aspect of Golden Gate's hiring and personnel management. Supervisors were hired, in part, based on their ability and willingness to work with volunteers. Field staff were trained to work alongside volunteers. Field staff are often suspicious of volunteers, fearing that volunteers will replace them; instead, Brian promoted the field staff to leadership positions training and leading volunteers. He established partnerships with the Golden Gate Conservancy, the Garden Conservancy, and many other groups to take on vital projects and work with volunteers to solve them. I saw this philosophy in action when I visited Golden Gate a few months ago, and it was awe-inspiring to see how much work was getting done, and how effectively.

    We have some challenges at Rainier that they don't have at Golden Gate, especially a population base located farther from the physical resources of the park, but we also have some of the same opportunities to develop partnerships with volunteers and volunteer groups, and the same benefits to gain from it. It is based on the Golden Gate template that we chose to work with the Student Conservation Association over the past two years not just to do flood recovery work, but to lead volunteers in doing the recovery work--a tactic that doubled the number of active volunteers in two years. It is based on the model of Golden Gate that we chose to hire volunteer coordinators this summer in four key areas of the park's operation, to enhance our capacity to include volunteers in the vital work of the park.

    Our deepest condolences go to the family and friends of Brian O'Neill, and to the employees of Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Brian's legacy will be long and productive, and reaches well beyond the Golden Gates to the mountains and meadows of Mount Rainier.

  13. Since 1986 and for over 20 years, Brian O'Neill was superintendant of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, a park that is twice as large as San Francisco itself. Under his leadership, GGNRA has become the largest urban park in the United States and one of the largest in the world. This position was exciting but was also frought with challenges that would have sunk most superintendants, and many of his challenges were entirely new to the National Park Service itself. Yet Brian tackled the problems as opportunities to create a new understanding of what a National Park could be. Indeed Brian O'Neill was no ordinary leader. He came to GGNRA with an idea that partnerships, philanthropy, stewardship, and environmental community were the models needed to manage the park's exceptional range of resources for its 7 million visitors a year. GGNRA’s resources include nature and culture in equal measure, from its extensive fragile landscapes along the California coast to its special mandate to preserve and utilize the ten former military installations where most of the park's historic structures are located.

    As a professor at San Francisco State University, I was fortunate to have a growing relationship with Brian and GGNRA over the years. I team teach an internship course for GGNRA, in which San Francisco State University partnered with GGNRA. It was Brian O'Neill who approved the assignment of a GGNRA employee to team teach the course with me, first with Joan Chaplick and then with Lynn Fonfa. He opened all areas of GGNRA for the students to experience: management positions, natural resources, historical studies, museum internships, filmmaking, education, interpretation, and so on. Brian often said that GGNRA was for all the people, and he lived that philosophy. It was Brian who invited me and incorporated our course in the general planning meetings for the development of GGNRA. On a personal note, Brian came to the final presentation that our student interns made about their experiences at GGNRA. Part of his genius was that while his eyes were always on the future of what the park could become, still his feet were on the ground and he daily cared about his staff and the non-GGNRA partners involved in creating his new kind of park.

    I will always be grateful to Brian O'Neill, who was kind and supportive to me personally, and who was a quiet revolutionary in moving to a new vision of what a National Park could be. Brian will be fondly remembered and sadly missed.

    Dr. Lee Davis
    Director, California Studies Program
    San Francisco State University

  14. I got to know Brian through our work together to bring the Presidio into the GGNRA. His creativity, patience, wit and willingness to experiment made him a perfect partner as we entered into the uncharted territory of the Presidio’s post to park endeavor. Over nearly two decades we met and resolved issues together, celebrated park milestones with our partner, Greg Moore, laughed our way through humorous predicaments and marveled at the beauty of the parks and their potential to touch the lives of people throughout our community.

    There were disagreements to be sure, but they tended to melt away in the face of Brian’s infectious enthusiasm and his gift for tackling a thorny issue by first recalling our shared purpose and using it as the vantage point from which to work together in solving the problem. And stewardship of the parks at the Golden Gate was the shared purpose to which Brian gathered in people from all walks of life and of all ages.

    Brian knew that his life’s work would need a constituency to support it after he was gone, and he was determined to build a lasting community for the parks by creating opportunities for people to make their own personal connections to these magical places. In this, he was a visionary – someone who saw beyond the horizon of one lifespan; a person who knew that the greatest legacy would be to sow the parks with seeds of personal connection that would mature over time into a new cast of park advocates who would be ready and willing to take up the mantle of park stewardship and carry it into the next generation.

    As I read the tributes to Brian and I join so many in feeling the terrible emptiness of loss, and as I admire the physical transformations that he presided over at GGNRA, I am truly heartened by the breadth and depth of the outpouring of grief. I see it as evidence that Brian accomplished the thing he knew he had to accomplish; he created the community that, I believe, was at the core of all of his work. Once time helps to dull the pain of his passing, and we are all able to turn back to the satisfying work of securing parklands and bringing people in touch with their beauty and redemptive power, we’ll be doing Brian’s work – and he will be pleased.

    Craig Middleton
    Executive Director
    The Presidio Trust

  15. Hello all. My name is Kristal Ip and I am a seasonal educational park ranger at Crissy Field and Fort Point. I just want to share a bit about what Brian O’Neill has meant to me.

    I first met Brian at a large meeting that was facilitated by my former employer. I was one of the interns in charge of welcoming the participants. As he signed himself in at my table, I introduced myself and expressed an interest in one day working with youth at the Golden Gate NRA. He made a point to find me after the meeting to hear more about my experience and career goals, and then invited me to keep in touch via email. I saw him again and again at other meetings, during which he completely surprised me by remembering my name and taking the time to talk with me while other, more established people patiently waited for his attention. As a novice in the professional world, I was probably the youngest person at these gatherings, but he consistently made me feel like I was just as important as anyone else in the room. I will always remember his big grin and his winking blue eyes, because they were always so full of life, humor, and good will.

    Brian helped me get my job and for that I will be forever grateful. Working as a ranger has challenged me and helped me grow so much that I know I am a much better person because of it. In my short and waning time here, I have come to love this park as my own home, and I am so proud to be part of the National Park Service family. I am even prouder still to be able to say I knew Brian O’Neill and the kind of person, mentor, teacher, and leader that he was. In his honor, I will continue to serve the park and its people, because that was his life and that was what he brought me here to do, too.

    Thank you, Brian. I’ll keep an eye on the marsh for you.

    Kristal Ip, Park Ranger
    Crissy Field Center
    Golden Gate National Recreation Area

  16. On Wednesday after I learned of Brian’s passing I took my daily run to bridge and back.

    As I was gazing from the north end of Crissy Field, the totality of what Brian accomplished during his tenure came into crystal clear view.

    When Brian first arrived on scene, the whole notion of a National Park Service administered urban recreation area was somewhat of an asterisk. Most of us in parks like Yosemite thought he was midly crazy to take on the seemingly impossible assignment of bringing together all the varied interests groups in a place like San Francisco.

    Well…Brian’s boundless energy and enthusiasm for the mission, through thick and thin, prevailed. And, all the special places we now enjoy so close to our work and home will be a living memorial of one of the country's crown jewels.

    James Sano
    Geographic Expeditions

  17. Brian was my supervisor for twenty years. In an agency that is known for moving people pretty regularly, that’s a long time for a close association that can be like father to son, task master to slave or brother to brother. My relationship with Brian was definitely in the latter mode. Mutual respect and a regular honest interchange of ideas characterized our relationship. In 1981 he introduced himself to me by expressing how much he admired my work at the park. What a way to start a great relationship!

    I can’t begin to compete with the praise being heaped on this amazing person. Maybe, knowing him so well, the best I can say is that all that’s being said is true. Everything you saw of him was genuine. His enthusiasm for the park consumed him. But unlike so many ego-driven managers, Brian also had a heart of gold and a passionate concern for the feelings and welfare of the people he knew and worked with. This guy was overwhelmed with responsibilities. One of them was doing yearly performance appraisals for employees under his supervision. I know this can be terribly time consuming, and many supervisors simply don’t do it. Brian did it without fail and some years exceeded 20 pages of text in extolling my virtues!

    On the other hand Brian never promoted himself. Premier units of the National Park System like Yosemite employ Superintendents who are in the elite Senior Executive Service. Initially Golden Gate was not included in this privileged category. When members of our senior staff began to make waves about this inequity, Brian modestly declined to be any part of it. We respected his wishes and pressed on. Golden Gate is now an SES position despite Brian’s reluctance.

    Even though I have been happily retired for nearly ten years, I am having a really hard time processing Brian’s departure. It is definitely similar to losing a parent (but less intense) who has always been there to reflect your values and beliefs.

    Oddly enough (excuse me for this) one of the things that pop into my mind in the five minute intervals that Brian’s memory hits me are his faults (we do this with our parents too). His biggest one- all of his staff would agree- was his inability to say no and to restrain his enthusiasm to a pace that staffing and funding could keep up with. SO WHAT?!! Look at the incomparable results of that lack of restraint!!

    I only got mad at Brian once. Feeling ignored and disrespected by the “old guard NPS”, on one occasion we were graced by a visit from the Assistant Secretary of Interior for Fish & Wildlife. We anxiously anticipated this as an opportunity for Terri Thomas, our Natural Resource Management Specialist, to dazzle the administration with the importance of our park. Brian was so enthused about this opportunity that he never stopped talking. Terri called me from the Marin Headlands in tears- she never got a word in edgewise. When he got back in the office I literally backed him into a wall and he sheepishly said- “Doug, you have to signal me when I do this! Kick me under the table!” Well I know he loved Terri and would never intentionally hurt her feelings. But he was SO EXCITED about the opportunity at hand that he couldn’t help himself..

    Another one of Brian’s faults was that he wanted to please everyone all the time. One of his trademark idiosyncrasies was that when he was speaking to a crowd he would periodically display his boyish grin regardless of the immediate subject of his speech. On one occasion when the city was contemplating approving the construction of a golf course in the S.F. Watershed I wrote a fiery speech for him to deliver to the PUC or Planning Commission (I don’t remember which). Though not accustomed to giving advice to my bosses, this time I asked Brian NOT to smile during his delivery. “You are mad at them” I told him. I am sure that it was really hard for him to do, but he really acted angry throughout his delivery.

    If there is a Heaven and Hell, I am sure that Brian is in Heaven right now trying to convince the powers that be that Hell is not such a bad place and with a little volunteer work it will make great parkland. By the time I get there it will have safe boardwalks to view the thermal features, clean comfort stations, visitor centers, trails and a friends group to keep it tip-top

    THANKS BOSS FOR EVERYTHING YOU’VE DONE! You can smile all the time now. I am confidant that in between your ethereal lobbying efforts you are sitting on a park bench in some leafy glade side by side with Horace Albright and Steve Mather- keeping watch over the icons of the National Park System- places like Yosemite, Yellowstone and the GOLDEN GATE.

    Doug Nadeau
    Chief, Division of Resource Management and Planning

  18. I could write a book:
    My relationship with Brian goes back about 30 years--from my days as CEO at Ghirardelli Square and my relations with Brian's predecessor, Jack Davis. Jack engaged me to get involved with the NPS in 1980 when we started planning and formulating the CGGNPC. It was then I had the privledge of getting to know Brian and recognizing his potential. I eventually wrote several letters to the NPS in support of his succession to Davis as Superintenent of the GGNRA----which I am proud to say--resulted in his eventual appointment---
    and thankful we all are for that decision!
    What can I say---the perfect man, at the perfect time, with the perfect team, and perfect support to create the perfect urban recreation area--bar none! I was blessed to become the first Chairman, for 11 years, of the most successful NP Cooperating Association ever, the GGNPConservancy, one of some 68 nationwide.
    I commend Brian's endeavors and leadership in helping us acheive our success in becomming the
    preemminent Association nationwide.
    Brian, you were a dear and treasured colleague, friend and inspiring leader---I have shed my tears for your and will always treasure your
    friendship, support and, most of all, my great
    memories of our, mostly your, successes.
    Rest in peace, my friend, you will be sorely missed---
    Virgil Caselli

  19. Brian came to the GGNRA when I was at the beginning of my career here, just returning from a maternity leave after the birth of my daughter,Thea. We had a wonderful, inspired and innovative park team in place - including Greg Moore - that had recently completed the first General Management Plan and were beginning to implement it – with changes planned at Fort Mason to create the Great Meadow – replacing the remains of demolished military buildings that dominated the landscape with a generous and welcoming public space. This was one of the first of many transformations to come.

    We recognized something special in Brian when he arrived here and knew that he would support and expand on the vision and the community engagement that had been so significant in the forming of the park and its first plan and would shape our thinking and vision for its future. We knew that working with Brian would be fun, too. And it was – a fun and exciting time – it never got old, or slowed down, as the park continued to expand and evolve.

    In spite of the many challenges, obstacles and tough times, there are so many successes inspired and supported by Brian – with his ability to inspire others to participate and be part of creating the vision and making it a reality. Crissy Field, the Cliff House, Fort Baker, Lands End, Mori Point and the many Trails Forever projects are among the most significant and visible and there a many other accomplishments woven into the fiber of the park and contributed to by staff at all levels, with our many partners and community collaborators.

    Brian always saw the best in people, including his staff, and had so much faith in our ability to do things well, expand our expectations and accomplish more than we dreamed possible. Always kind and generous, he had an amazing ability to connect on a personal level – knowing and caring about the staff and their families, sharing the pride in our professional and personal accomplishments, and bringing a great sense of humor and intelligence to our work together. Brian would often add a personal note complete with a smiley face on recognitions of work well done. He would be the first on the dance floor and the last to leave it at our holiday parties that had our staff along with the Parks Conservancy and our many other park partners on the dance floor together. On staff volunteer work days, Brian would show up and take on the toughest jobs working up a sweat and reluctant to end. The caliber of our park partners and the amazing contributions of the thousands of park volunteers are a testament to Brian’s belief in partnership and community. What an honor to have worked with Brian for most of my career. What a huge loss, but also an inspiration to continue to work for the values that we shared.

    Nancy Hornor
    GGNRA Planning Division Chief

  20. On behalf of San Bernardino National Forest Association, we were blessed to walk the Park with Brian last fall. His words and wisdom have inspired my career and non-profit organization. He passed down nuggets of advice that we practice daily and we will for generations. It is a hard job. You have to give it everything you got. Brain had a work ethic second to none. When I think of work, I think of Brian. He might not call it work, but when I think of 100% plus, I think of Brian. He was nothing but generous with his time. I will be forever grateful and inspired by his love of the job.

    Sarah Miggins
    Executive Director, SBNFA

  21. mfischetti46@hotmail.comMay 15, 2009 at 7:44 PM

    A wonderful boss and a wonderful man. Kind and generous and caring. When I broke my ankle as a lowly Alcatraz Ranger on loan to Muir Woods Brian and Marti dropped in at my house to make sure I was OK. I will never forget that act of kindness, one of many.
    Rest in peace; your legacy is the GGNRA which is the greatest urban park in the world. I'd say you did yourself proud.
    Marc Fischetti

  22. Brian was such a vibrant personality its hard to believe that he is not with us. I knew Brian since 1987 when I volunteered on the Bay Area Ridge Trail project. My wife Marianne Babal knew Brian from working at Golden Gate bldg. 201. There were reports of Brian's twin brother Alan impersonating Brian and "wreaking havoc" around the park.

    Brian attended our wedding in 1990 and his present to us, a Revere-ware steamer, is the one wedding present we still use almost every day.

    Brian was a wonderful human being. Despite always having a lot on his plate, he was always friendly with his wonderful smile.

    This is both public and a personal loss. Meetings and events at the park will not be the same for a long time.

    Our condolences to Brian's family and every one that he touched.

    Doug Nelson
    Marianne Babal

  23. I did not know Brian well, but interacted with him a number of times when I was a clerk in the office of the Director of the National Park Service in 1990-1991, and other times since then. He always exuded kindness, graciousness & humility. You learn a lot from how people treat "hired help." He was the janitors, the clerks, everyone. What a beautiful person,..and what an amazing legacy.

    My heart goes out to his families at home, in his park, and in his communities.

  24. Brian would get my vote for "Handsomest Park Superintendent" except his identical twin Alan--also a park Superintendent (now retired from Lake Mead)--might take exception to that... A former supervisor of mine had a big (innocent) crush on Brian and would blush around him, which made us giggle. There should be more people in the world like him... He didn't just conserve scenery, he was scenery! :-)

  25. Above all else, Brian was just a wonderful human being. He was pure joy and optimism and a friend to all. You couldn't help but smile when you saw him, give him a big hug and join his cause. May we all continue to carry his incredible light in our hearts in memory forever of our dear friend Brian.

  26. I was fortunate to know Brian in my capacity as the former director of the Bay Area Discovery Museum -- a proud "Park Partner" of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. Brian knew that the future viability and success of the GGNRA relies on collaboration -- and a careful balance of ensuring the preservation of natural and cultural resources with the active collaboration and engagement of the community. He loved the Discovery Museum because it connects the youngest Park visitors with the natural world -- "My Place By the Bay." I learned so much from Brian and loved his enthusiasm, passion, and sheer embrace of life. He was a true example of converting one's personal passion into one's life work. He will be greatly missed. I send my condolences to his family -- including his GGNRA and GGNPC family. (Special thoughts for Mai-Liis and Greg -- I can only imagine how hard this must be for you two.)

    In great sadness, but also great celebration of a life well-lived.

    Lori Fogarty
    Former Executive Director, Bay Area Discovery Museum
    Director, Oakland Museum of California

  27. Brian O'Neill created a legacy which will live on for generations. His welcoming spirit touched all who knew him, (either in passing or more intimately).
    On the first anniversary of the September 11th attacks, a tribute ceremony was held in the early morning hours at Crissy Field. Paricipants included a Muslim Imam, Catholic and Protestant Clergy, government and secular speakers as well as a performance by the San Francisco Gay and Lesbian Marching Band.
    Superintendent O'Neill, with his powerful voice, welcomed all to this special event held in a National Park he fought so hard to build.
    His eloquent, reflective, and inclusive thoughts that morning remain a testimony to the loving nature of this innovative and wonderful man.
    His spirit will continue to shape the vision and purpose of his life's work. Thank you, sir.

    Jeffrey Orth
    Flag Man Foundation

  28. Judy Umberger TumminoMay 16, 2009 at 1:51 PM

    I knew Brian and his twin brother from the early years at Scientist's Cliffs. They were slightly older than I was, but were true icons for me at the beach.

    They were always friendly and a lot of fun. It is wonderful reading so many comments about the adult life and contributions that Brian made.

  29. I never met Brian or heard of him until last week. I was training with one of his NPS Park Ranger at The Horace Albrightt Training Center. When word came of his passing seeing how it affected "Big Texas James." You could tell that Brain was very much admired by his personal. I am sure he saw how he was well represent by Big James at Albright. Big James is a gentleman and was a great asset to our class. I am also sure that he would have been proud of Big James. I have been with the NPS Gray and Green family for 4 1/2 years. And I am honored to have met Brian throught Big James words about him.
    Ellen Christensen
    Salem Maritime National Historic Site (SAMA)
    Fellow graduate of Albright Taining Center
    with Big Texas James Golden Gate Park Ranger

  30. Doug BlankinshipMay 16, 2009 at 6:42 PM

    "Of all the questions which can come before this Nation, there is none which compares in importance with the great central task of leaving this land even a better land for our descendants than it is for us." --President Theodore Roosevelt

    Brian O’Neill demonstrated five widely recognized fundamental practices of exemplary leadership during his long service to the Department of the Interior working with the U.S. Geological Survey, Bureau of Outdoor Recreation, Heritage Recreation Conservation Service, and the National Park Service in progressively important positions culminating in being the longest serving General Superintendent of the Golden Gate National Parks. Brian challenged the process, inspired shared visions, enabled others to act, modeled the way, and encouraged the heart. Brian excelled at this leadership challenge at the GGNP in a superior manner by always exhibiting a highly honed caliber of skills, a deep and abiding commitment and passion for the most important natural resource – citizen volunteers!

    Many years ago, another exemplar, Aldo Leopold wrote his seminal work, A Sand County Almanac. In it, Leopold spoke of his personal land ethic and the need for land managers to extend their own ecological conscience to resource decisions. He pointed out that we couldn’t do this important work alone. He advised us to engage different people to partner together for our communities' neighborhood creeks, tree-lined streets, sea-bound rivers, youth camps, playgrounds, parks and forests. Leopold likened community-based conservation projects to the barn risings of old as the means of
    re-connecting people to the land that sustains them and to practice the purest form of democracy – service to one’s country.

    Aldo Leopold's vision and passion was a beacon that Brian O’Neill in his storied leadership role has followed to help guide others in our collective journey to engage the American public in shared stewardship of our Nation’s many treasures. Leopold said, "there are two things that interest me: the relationship of people to their land and the relationship of people to each other." These two things not only interested Brian O’Neill they defined him and his many contributions to the National Park Service and way beyond the Golden Gate National Recreation Area – indeed the World.

    Brian O’Neill was a role model – an exemplar of professionalism, dedication, and noble service. His colleagues from around the Nation will sorely miss his humor, collaborative spirit, and friendship. The Federal Interagency Team on Volunteerism (FITV) salutes his long and superlative service to America!

    Doug Blankinship, for The FITV

  31. Brian was such a wise, compassionate, and visionary person that he hardly seems from this age. His humor and kindness was interwoven with discipline and skill; his eagerness to learn seemed to me unbounded. He saw so far into the future of possibilities, and at the same time drew wonder from small things and modest acts of progress. I always felt enthused in his presence.

    Jonas Salk once said "Our greatest responsibility is to be good ancestors." Brian surely was a good ancestor to those future generations still awaiting.

    Gary Machlis
    Moscow, Idaho

  32. It has been my priviledge to be Brian's secretary for over 10 years. He was my "boss" but he was never bossy. He was a perfect model and blend of kindness, humility, determination, hard work,and fun. When I first began as his secretary, I was astounded by his daily schedule and how hard Brian worked every day. He never seemed to get tired. His travel schedule was also heavy because he was counted on by so many for his wise council and for speaking engagements. It has been difficult keeping up with Brian but I have treasured being able to help out such a wonderful person. He never failed to express gratitude and appreciation to me and many others for our work. When I hear anyone at high levels speaking about "community involvement" or "volunteering", I hear his voice because I know how much he contributed to that dialogue and work. He met with all levels of people, from high school teens working on a school report to high level officials. They all left his office beaming with enthusiasm and thanked me too as if I had given them a special gift by setting up the meeting. Whenever he travelled to an event to speak, we heard how wonderful and inspiring it was. I can honestly say that I never saw Brian angry even when people were rude to him (and there have been some very rude people). He taught me exactly how to "turn the other cheek." Whenever there was a rare break in his schedule he would come out of his office and share a laugh. It will be difficult to recover from this profound loss and not see him coming down the hallway or in his office. I can at least give thanks that I had the opportunity to know and serve such a great man!

  33. I had the honor of meeting Brian O'Neill through a stewardship class I took at CSU Chico. Emilyn Sheffield arranged for Brian to speak to us at the Chrissy Fields Center. I've never been more inspired! To have even hear him speak was an honor. He's a man who truly loved what he did for a living.

  34. Those of you that already have commented captured the essence of Brian's leadership of GGNRA. He is definitly Mr. Golden Gate National Recreation Area. This is a recognition that he alone will and should carry. GGNRA became Brian's mission in life which combined wilh his unequaled ability to bring diverse interest together toward the success of this wonderful place made the park what it is today.

    He was my assistant during the four years I was Supeintendent. What a positive contrast in personalities! I always felt we worked well together as a team. Now and then it was necessary to temper his ethusiasm with the reality of the finacial resources of the moment. He became a genius at leveraging a few modest donations into real money.

    Then there was the time we had many racoons who made their home in the south wall of our headquarters. Some of you will remember this situation. Brian decided it was time to change this place of residence for these nocturnal creatures. He arranged to have their access to the building sealed off at midnight. Two of the raccons did not leave that nignt and greeted
    Brian and others the next morning in the second
    story hallway. An interesting scramble took place as the coons went down the stairs and out the front door.

    The greatest tribute to Brian's billiant carrer can be seen in the smiling faces of thousands who visit GGNRA daily. Brian will be missed but how fortunate he came this way.

    Jack Davis
    Associate Director, NPS

  35. I met Brian about 20 years ago through involvement with the Bay Area Ridge Trail. I was a founding board member. The executive board met quarterly and we had numerous retreats, workshops and trail dedications. I was an elementary school teacher in Santa Rosa. Our board meetings were at 4 pm in San Francisco. Making the meetings on time was a challenge. On meeting days I needed to be ready to leave Santa Rosa after hurrying the last student out the door. Rushing out the door, sprinting to my car, driving through traffic, finding a parking space in a garage, parking my car and rushing to the meeting I would be greeted by a smiling, calm, cool & collected, sparkling blue eyed, Brian (always neatly dressed). He most likely would have had a full day at work also. But he always looked like he just returned from a spa vacation. All my stress and tension would just flow away in his presence.
    I am so thankful for Alan’s memories of his twin brother. I had been crying my eyes out over the sad news of Brian’s passing, as I was sure he would make it through the setbacks in his recovery. After reading Alan’s words, a peace came over me. Alan’s telling of their childhood certainly cleared up many impressions I had of Brian. Telling of ironing shirts, camping out, being mischievous, early hard work ethic, all explain to me how Brian became the person I met long ago.
    After thinking about all my memories of Brian, one stood out. In Nov. of 1996 I organized a Bay Area Ridge Trail dedication in Jack London State Park in Sonoma County. I chose to have it behind Jack London’s cottage and was lucky to have a Jack London impersonator be the MC. The background for the speakers was a heritage oak tree, fall color vineyards, and Sonoma Mountain. Brian was a speaker and his theme was “Bridging the Gaps”. I took a picture of this moment. Brian wore this fantastic sweater that could have been painted by a famous artist. The sweater was modern art in all the fall colors. Behind Brian was the heritage oak tree and the vineyard in bright fall splendor. So there was Brian, and “Jack London” blending with nature on a beautiful fall day in a park. Brian’s words were inspirational and passionate. That is how I will remember him.
    Brian made a deep impact on so many people. He was sincere, had strong values, an indefatigable energy and was a true visionary.
    My deepest condolences and love go to the family.
    Carol Vellutini
    Former Bay Area Ridge Trail board member
    Redwood Chapter Sierra Club Outings Chair

  36. Brian was quick to recognize the possibilities and was always inclusive. He quickly became a supporter of the Dipsea Race and Foundation.

    Through his vision and the cooperation of the terrific group of people he surrounded himself with,the Dipsea Trail, crossing through the GGNRA, and the Dipsea Traditions will endure for another 100 years.

    Brian will be surely missed but long remembered through the amazing legacy he created.

    Mervyn Regan
    President, Dipsea Race

  37. I had the pleasure to work with Brian in my capacity as Director of the National Recreation Program of the Bureau of Land Management and shared a conference dais with him on a number of occasions. I found him to be a forward looking, out-of-the box thinker, a visionary and a status quo fighter.

    A short example of how Brian has served to inspire others. I served on the Fort Worden State Park Advisory Committee (Port Townsend, WA) over the last 5 years. The park has spent several years working on its vision and long-range plan for the Fort. A delegation from the Fort visited with Brian on his home turf to see his vision manifested. The group returned singing his praises and the praises of what he had accomplished at GGNP. This example served to feed into the long-range plan at Fort Worden. I was honored to serve on a statewide task force appointed to recommend a new governance model for Fort Worden as part of the implementation of its long-range plan. The governance model that Brian visualized and worked hard to bring about at GGNP was the model we eventually recommended and the Washington State Parks Commission chose to put in place at Fort Worden State Park. As we continue to work toward the implementation of that model at the Fort we will have Brian's vision foremost in our minds.

    He will be greatly missed in the ranks of progressives everywhere within the parks field.

    Rodger Schmitt
    BLM National Recreation Program Manager, Retired
    and currently
    Commissioner, Washington State Parks and Recreation Commission

  38. San Francisco has lost a treasure with the passing of Brian O'Neill. His monumental vision in preserving and caretaking the open space along the seashore, as well as the former Army installations along San Francisco and Marin, are magnificent achievements. Brian's welcoming of the San Francisco Blues Festival at the Great Meadow at Fort Mason for over three decades provided everyone who attended not only an opportunity to absorb this uniquely American music form, but to see and hear it in the grandeur of the stunning Golden Gate. Thank you Brian for this extraordinary opportunity to bring the blues to a place as grand as anywhere on earth.

    Tom Mazzolini

  39. We will all miss you Brian. You left us too soon. I was fortunate enough to work for you while working for the NPS. Like many I always figured you would be around GGNRA forever. As an ongoing fan of NPS history, years ago I picked up a book that was completed for the 75th anniversary in 1991. The book highlighted the contribution of individuals that perforemd key roles in making the national parks "the best idea America ever had", and the National Park Service, the most highly regarded agency in the U.S. government. Stephen Mather and Horace Albright were noted as founding fathers, Harold Bryant was noted as the creator of park interpretation programs, George Wright was noted as the early leader in natural sciences and biology, Frank Kowski was noted as the Ranger's Ranger for his work in training and professionalizing the ranger discipline, and Freeman Tilden was noted for his spiritual writings on the essence of national parks. When the NPS centennial is reached in less then a decade in 2016, Brian O'Neill belongs in a subsequent printing of this book, noted as being an innovator and leader in the creation of park partnerships and park management. In this area he stood far and away greater than anyone before him. The last line on a series of bronze markers cast long ago to commemorate the work of Stephen Mather applies to Brian's efforts during his long career, "There will never come an end to the good he has done. . ."

    Paul Bignardi
    San Francisco, CA
    former NPS 1988-94, 2002-06

  40. Brian was my friend, colleague, and a mentor for more than 20 years.

    Under his steady hand, the Golden Gate National Parks grew to welcome millions of visitors to miles of parkland. He wanted all of us to have a great time.

    He looked for ways to give everyone sense of ownership in their national park.

    He saw the best in people, even when it wasn't obvious.

    He could disagree without being disagreeable.

    He saw national parks as the pride of America.

    He was corny.

    He wanted parks to inspire us to get involved in caring for our shared history and natural heritage.

    He had a vision for what an urban national park could be.

    He exemplified what a public servant should be.

    He loved the land.

    He loved the job.

    He left the world a better place.

  41. I am saddened beyond words.

    How can such a big heart not be beating.

    Linda Rubio
    Miwok Livery Stables, GGNRA

  42. Farewell my friend, Brian,

    I will miss what I took for granted, the opportunity to talk and visit with Brian at any time. It is a rare and wonderful gift to enjoy a friend that is a visionary, a humanitarian, a mentor, a compatriot, and a great leader. Brian and I first met on separate short-term assignments in Washington, DC, in 1995, and over the years enjoyed challenging the federal system. After retiring from the Forest Service and coming to work for San Mateo County, I was excited to again be working with Brian on issues across the Peninsula.

    Brian taught me a great deal about the value of community, partnerships and volunteerism. He had an uncanny ability to honor the past, be in the present, and keep the promise to the future. I am reminded of a quote about leaders, “A good leader inspires people to have confidence in him; a great leader inspires them to have confidence in themselves.” Brian was certainly a great leader!

    Brian, I will deeply miss your friendship, and I celebrate your life and legacy to the public!

    May God bless and be with your family during this time of sorrow.

    Dave Holland
    San Mateo County Parks

  43. As so many have said here - we will miss you Brian. You left us way too soon. I work as a consultant, working on park and open space issues so I have had the experience of working with many people whose job title include "land stewards". Brian was special for all the reasons folks have blogged about here, the sparkle in his eyes, his ability to remember you even though you'd not seen him for months. But for me it was the profound understanding Brian had about the connection of people to the land and how important it is for people to have public lands accessible to them in a variety of ways. I am not just speaking about issues of physical access - which he understood - but of the responsibility for us as stewards to create ways of encouraging people to make their parks their own. I know his insistence on an incredibly strong volunteer program was not easy for staff, but it has created a shining example of connecting people to the land, teaching people how to love the land. Thank you Brian, we carry on carrying your memory.

  44. Parks Victoria, AustraliaMay 18, 2009 at 9:16 PM

    The world of park management has a lost a warm, charismatic and visionary friend. Parks Victoria, Australia and its staff who have known Brian for many years sends heart felt condolences to Brian’s family, the Golden Gate National Recreation Area staff and the many friends, volunteers and organisations that this larger than life, personable leader touched.

    At Parks Victoria, we know that we have lost a friend who shared the ideology and sense of innovation and creativity that takes park management forward. Brian was a warm and courageous man whose original and solution based thinking attracted interest from across the globe and encouraged park organisations like ours to look forward with even greater optimism and purpose.

    One of the hallmarks of great leadership is a willingness to exchange ideas and there was no doubt that one of Brian’s gifts was that he never appeared to be so busy that he could not spend some time with international guests and organisational leaders doing just that. Many from Parks Victoria have been privileged to see his work and that of his team and communities of interest first hand while they were visiting San Francisco.

    Brian has left a wonderful legacy not only for future park users, but also for those who gained insight and understanding of the potential of his vision and practice of partnership planning incorporating both the not-for-profit and for-profit sectors. His style and teachings will live on in the work of so many park management professionals.

    The Brian O’Neill Parks Forever Fund under the Golden Gate Conservancy is such a fitting tribute for a man whose life and work touched and influenced many and a man who will long be remembered by those who shared his ideology, vision and passion for parks.

    The Board, Management and Brian’s friends from Parks Victoria, Australia.

  45. I will forever remember the twinkle in Brian‘s eye and his uncanny ability to achieve mighty and challenging goals. Brian believed that ‘your’ pet project was important... to him. And, when Brian needed to say ‘no’ …he did it with such warmth and concern that you just knew that ‘no’ was not really ‘the end’. You accepted his word and promised yourself that you would not nag him, at least no more than once a month!

    One of the projects I cared about inspired me to write, phone and generally ‘contact’ Brian with over 25 letters, phone calls, meetings. That project-- restoration of the Dias Ridge Trail that connects Panoramic Highway, the Miwok Trail and Highway One at Muir Beach-- is now underway. Thank you, Brian!

    This extraordinary human being with his infectious smile and twinkling eye set the tone for many a meeting. Brian was a cheerleader (ringleader!) for the Bay Area Ridge Trail and many, many other projects which have enabled park visitors to walk and ride the incredible trails that meander through the Marin Headlands.

    Brian had long term vision and I am certain that from across the miles he is keeping his twinkling eyes upon us, reminding us to be patient, be kind, be funny, be a volunteer and get outdoors onto these precious lands he worked throughout his life to preserve. Thank you, Brian!

    And special thanks from the happy and grateful horses that reside at the historic Golden Gate Dairy Stables in Muir Beach, the Miwok Stables and Horse Patrol Barn in Tennessee Valley, and the Presidio Riding Club in Fort Cronkhite-- a chorus of whinnies, neighs and nickers... We love you!
    Barbara Weitz
    Mill Valley

  46. It was a shock to learn of Brian's untimely passing. I had not seen him for years but will never forget our association in the former HCRS when he was my supervisor for a short time. But what a time it was! We were involved in conducting an inventory of potential wild and scenic rivers. Although it was intended to be data gathering with no proposals, it drew skepticism from water, timber and mining interests as they saw it as potential increased regulation or land taking. We were able to somewhat calm fears and get our reports out. But this was no sooner completed when former California Govenor Jerry Brown petitioned the Secretary of the Interior to place the entire state's wild and scenic river system into the national system under a then little used provision of the federal wild and scenic rivers act. Nothing used to that time was this large and prior efforts in western states failed.

    HCRS was made the lead federal agency to review the state's application and prepare the required EIS with a less than six months deadline. Although we had considerable state staff support, the ultimate responsibility was ours. The skepticism shown toward the inventory project immediately erupted into lawsuits, particularly by timber and water interests. They hired two of the biggest law firms in the state plus one in Oregon. Injunctions were filed in almost every federal or state court available to stop the process. It was if we had smeared ourselves with honey and stepped on an ant hill.

    Brian's talent for diplomacy, sense of duty and an ever present sense of humor got us through this task to a sucessful end, improbable as it seemed at the outset. Through all the long days and nights of reviewing, writing and editing, the numerous public meetings, FOI requests and assisting in legal briefs, he was the spark that kept us going. Brian never wore a watch during this period and was always asking the time or whether it was time to,say,eat? In some instances the answer was "no longer for dinner but breakfast may be an option". Now, looking back on it all, Brian's death seems like loosing a foxhole comrade with whom one survived a war--irreplaceable.

    With the absorption of HCRS with the NPS, Brian and I went our separate ways and I had little contact after that time. But based on the above story, there is little wonder he continued in such a remarkable career. My deepest sympathy goes to Brian's family and I trust they will find comfort in reflecting on his life accomplishments.

    Jim Huddlestun, Retired
    NPS Western Regional Office

  47. I ride my bicycle down Polk Street. The Maritime Museum comes into view and there is the flag, wavering at half-mast and I think of Brian.

    I met Brian just a few times but will always remember his warmth, his smile and how at ease he made me feel.

    I am honored that A Home Away from Homelessness is a part of the Park Partnership. The children and youth who have been a part of Home Away these last fifteen years continue to be blessed by the beauty which surrounds and nurtures them. Most of our kids never met Brian but he touched their lives in such a beautiful and profound way. Thank you.

    Alyson Jacks
    Associate Director
    A Home Away from Homelessness

  48. Craig CrutchfieldMay 19, 2009 at 6:42 PM

    Brian was more than just a mentor to me. He taught me to see how parks can mean so much to people and why that connection matters. He taught us all about "friend raising" and how partnerships built on trust can survive almost anything. Brian brought out the best in others. I feel honored to have known this truly remarkable man.

  49. Dear O'Neill Family and NPS Family,

    I was very sorry to hear of Brian's death. He was of all so full of life. I had the opportunity to spend several days "tagging along" with him as he made his rounds in the Bay Area. This was in the late 80"s and I was NPS Chief Ranger in the Ranger Activities Division in Washington. It was truly amazing to watch Brian work/relate to individual constituents, partners, at public meetings and receptions,and even to a few folks who obviously did not agree with something he was trying to accomplish and to realize how many people he personally knew.

    Anyone who had the chance to watch him work with people and to listen to him talk about what was possible in a given situation, could not help but be inspired and enthusiastic.

    He clearly had a great relationship with and respect of his staff because of how he treated them and how he supported them. They also knew the countless hours and days beyond those required, to make GGNRA what it is and them what they have become. My impression was he had high expectations of the staff, he knew everything that was going on, and he let them do their job while he did his.

    Anyway, I have now been gone from NPS for 10 years here in Texas after 30 years in National Parks. I will remember Brian with great warmth and respect and a feeling of friendship that he gave to all even if you were just sort of passing through his world.

    I know your family has lost a dear member as has the National Park family. I am very saddened by this and my thoughts are with you all.


    Walt Dabney

  50. Brian was a dear friend and colleague. Although he was a great leader, he had a silly fun-loving side to him. I wrote this poem to honor that part of Brian.

    Celebrating the Life of Brian

    Brian was a leader with a big heart
    The way he ran this park was a work of art
    He inspired the staff and made us feel smart
    Almost always putting the horse before the cart

    Day to day we worked away
    Developing plans for our parks by the Bay
    Building on the land that’s now here to stay
    And cheered on by Brian we made our way

    Beautiful trails at Lands End and at all the parks we can see
    Brian motivated us with his magnetic personality
    Our success was led by his powerful belief in “WE”
    Now these places are loved because he demanded excellency

    Many thought Brian was a wild and crazy guy
    He shopped at Gene Hiller’s with a keen eye
    He would find a crazy looking sweater to buy
    Or even a whacky out-of-site tie

    Brian thrived on people, places and food
    He smiled when the dog walkers booed
    And – darn him – he was always in a good mood
    He even got over that time we were sued!

    Brian would say we’ve had a set back
    And that we must move forward on a new tack
    He would expect us to lead the NPS pack
    And he would tell us to just pick up the slack

    So let’s charge ahead with our usual precision
    Parks Forever must be our main mission
    Making big plans and brilliant decisions
    We will never forget Brian and his visions

    I will forever think fondly of Brian
    This park, without him, will be tryin’
    And today he would not want us to be cryin’
    Just celebrating the fantastic life of Brian

  51. Brian always made great plans and had great vision. My husband and I were always inspired by his laughter and vision. He made me laugh a few times while I worked at GGNRA.
    I work for California State Parks and he touched many public lands and agencies and helped us become one with a mission.

    Thanks Brian for being spirited and having laughter!!

    Cindi and Mike Whitehead

  52. Brian was a stellar man, a friend, champion, and inspiration to so many. His contributions went well beyond the beautiful accomplishments at Golden Gate. Brian was a creative spirit, an artist creating a body of work and legacy of benefit equally to all. I want to share my appreciation, gratitude, and respect for this inspirational and unique man. I want to offer my humble tribute and say thank you Brian.

    Brian was my introduction to public service and the NPS. I can’t imagine any better. I was fortunate, or as Brian would say, “fortuitous”. He quickly became my role model. He warmly welcomed me to my new home with the NPS. He exemplified and set the professional bar. I stealthily adopted him as my mentor through observation, watching and learning; but he was always freely and enthusiastically a willing mentor to all. I think he always saw the highest potential in all people and circumstances. He was a “Friend Raiser” in more ways than meets the eye. His policy was his door is always open. It sounds cliché and over used, but Brian truly did epitomize the highest calling and the noblest ideals of public service, whose objective was to contribute and leave it all better than he found it for future generations. And he delivered on it. He walked the walk. He set the vision, standards, the ground rules, the quality and commitment to team work and excellence that has guided and evolved Golden Gate National Parks to the beautiful and phenomenal public resource that it is today. Brian is, and will continue to be, a professional inspiration, standard, body of work, and benefit to many for many years to come. I believe Brian had total recall. He had a memory that just amazed me. And talk about being a hard worker, he could work me, and his staff, under the table any day. He was always at his desk by 7:00 am ready to go regardless of the long day and evening before. A 12-hour day was his norm. I had the honor, the professional benefit, and pleasure of working for and with Brian for 5 years. It was indeed fortuitous when I first came to Golden Gate and said hello to Mr. O’Neill in the Fort Mason Great Meadow. Thank you Brian.

    Brian was always a genuinely empathetic, authentic, and true individual. You knew where he was coming from, and it was from a place of integrity. I enjoyed his occasional sly Irish mischievousness, goofiness, sense of humor, and always his creative energy, passion, and brilliance immensely. Brian’s advice on a few occasions was “take the high road”. I quickly learned the view is better from there.

    I recently attended the 90th birthday celebration and tribute to a cultural icon, free speech pioneer, civil rights activist, leader on the forefront of the environmental movement and awakening – another good Irishman Pete Seeger. I’ll tell you, I know he and Brian would be kindred spirits, and in so many ways stand shoulder to shoulder. As part of Bruce Springsteen’s tribute to Mr. Seeger Bruce said, “Don’t let Pete’s kindly presence and grandfatherly demeanor fool you. He will kick your butt. He has a fierce optimism and uncompromising belief and commitment to his core.” Thanks Bruce, let me borrow it from you, I know somebody else that tribute is for.

    Thank you Brian for contributing to my life and world. Thank you for being a role model, a guiding force, a visionary, and a teacher of what really matters most. Mediocrity didn’t dare come near you.

    My thoughts and prayers remain steadfast with Brian’s family, loved ones, close friends and colleagues through this difficult time. Thank you to all for sharing your personal memories and inspirational tributes to Brian. We can all feel closer to Brian and know him better as a result. We all open our hearts together in memory of and tribute to Brian! He would have liked that.

    Brian, so long it’s been good to know you! Thank you for being a friend. Farewell and until we meet again on the high road!

    Whatever you do or dream you can do— begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.
    - Johann Goethe

  53. Thank you, thank you thank you. The parks are the reason I moved to San Francisco and the reason why I remain. And they help to keep us all sane.

  54. He'll always be around us,
    in the trees and leaves that surround us.

    Kinda corny, but so was he.

    I got to know Brian somewhat through my work at (then) GGNPA, but enjoyed him most when we formed that SF City Rec Co-ed Softball Team. That's when I found out he was more than a Super Superintendent, he was a person just like everyone else ... a person whose pants would fall down when he tried to make a play. Brian, you have to tie the tie on your sweatpants!

    I hope he has learned to keep his pants up,
    where ever he's gone to now. =0)


  55. Jim and Linda KuhnsMay 21, 2009 at 1:05 PM

    Brian may not be here, but he will never be gone. His warmth, inspiration, integrity, humility, impact on the Bay Area and the world, and his caring friendship will be with us forever.

  56. The other day I was introducing myself to someone who has worked at the NPS for a long time. He asked me, "So what's your story?"

    "I started at Golden Gate and worked for Brian O'Neill for nine years," I replied. It was the easiest way to explain my place in this National Park Service.

    Like Joe, Lori, Nancy, and so many other people who have posted to this memorial, I benefitted in many ways from working with Brian. There were two things Brian said that I think of every day at work. The first one was, "It's all about good government." We work for our constituency, not the bureaucracy. That is hard to remember and even harder to accomplish, but it will help us change the system instead of letting the system change us.

    The other thing Brian always said was, "Take the high road." I was glad to see that Joe wrote about that too. No matter how obstinate, annoying, or misguided they may be, our opposition always deserves the benefit of the doubt. We must assume that everyone starts with good intentions until they prove otherwise. It is a difficult but ultimately undefeatable tactic in turning conflict into cooperation. It's the secret behind one of his other favorite sayings, "Find a win-win solution."

    Brian was a servant leader who led by example. He was humble, self-effacing, and sincere. He always gave the credit away.

    I was lucky to work with Brian early in my career. After all, he started with the government before I was even born! Among all the superlative natural and cultural resources we protect and promote in this line of work, it's easy to forget our human resources. Brian never had that problem. In addition to polishing the jewels of San Francisco's coastline, like Crissy Field and Fort Baker, Brian left a less visible but perhaps farther-reaching legacy among the people he touched. I am proud to be a part of that living tribute.

    Rudy Evenson
    Fire Communication and Education Specialist
    Southeast Region
    National Park Service

  57. This is not so much a memory, but more of a tribute rich with memories from the absolute pleasure and honor that I had working with Brian over the last few years...

    Only a select few can be called a Hero. Brian is my Hero, as well as a Hero to countless others. I miss you and thank you, Brian. You will always be my guiding inspiration.

    "Don't ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people that have come alive." - Harold Thurman Whitman

    Hugs to you - Denise

    Denise Shea
    Associate Director, Volunteer Management
    Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

  58. I have such great memories of Brian, and he was part of the reason I loved working at the Conservancy. Mostly, I remember him being so nice and approachable. He was a visionary, and very smart smart about people. I appreciated how he could get things done, and had lots of trust in the people around him. I will miss his cheerful presence, but will thank him every time I go for a run or a ride in the parks.

  59. Kristen Appel from the Northern Territory of Australia.

    I met Brian in Costa Rica in 1997 where he gave a truly inspiring talk on Partnerships. I then grabed the opportunity to work with Brian in a volunteer capacity in 2007/08 over a 12 month period and what a time I had.

    Brian is a truly inspirational person and I learnt so much. His generosity opened doors for me that I would not have experienced in a life time and the one main true charactor I saw was that he always made time for people - staff, visitors, they were all equal.

    I have been back in Australia now for 10 months and am putting to pactise what I learnt from Brian and others at the GGNRA.

    It was such a shock to hear what had happened to Brian that I find it hard to believe that Brian will not be around to guide us further.

    Brian has had such a wide influence on the 'Protected Area' community and he has touched us across the seas. I know that I will be furthering his philosphies and GGNRA will be a testimonial to his influence into the future.

    My condolences to the O'Neil family and my thoughts are with you and all the staff and friends I made while at the Park.

    Don't forget to come and visit - we are truly a big family.

    Kristen Appel
    Chief District Ranger
    Nitmiluk National Park

  60. Brian O'Neil lived partnerships! As an organizational consultant for 35 years I've seen many leaders talk about collaboration, empowerment and partnering, but few modeled it like Brian. I worked him for the first time as the board chairman of the fledgling Headlands Center for the Arts in the early 1980s. Brian was the Superintendent, and we needed his approval to be accepted as a "Park Partner." We soon learned something fundamental about Brian and about the park. No-one was in a hurry. "The National Park Service is programmed to geologic time," we'd say. As frustrating as this was at first, I saw this approach weeding out the fainthearted, leaving the GGNRA with Park Partners that are 100% committed to their various endeavors. HCA's vision of exploring the relationship between natural and human creative processes was a vibrant one and found a responsive partner in Brian. He showed up at our events, encouraged us when things slowed down, and linked us with others who could help. HCA is now a nationally recognized artist in residence institution with 13 renovated buildings at Fort Barry.

    This first experience led to a long relationship with Brian and the GGNRA. I and The Grove subsequently helped facilitate charettes for the Discovery Museum, public visioning for the Presidio conversion, mediation sessions for Alcatraz, and transportation planning in West Marin. I learned how Brian would hold an idea, nudge others, wrap everything in good humor, and persist. A memory that continues to inspire me was a special meeting he convened at the time the Marin Community Foundation was looking for some big ideas they could fund with the Buck Trust.

    Brian and the top staff of GGNRA, the GGNPC plus many of the Park Partners gathered out at Fort Cronkhite for a two-day brainstorming session. We came to the realization that the GGNRA was home to a great concentrations of gifted environmental educators. These people were the staff of the Marine Mammal Center, the YMCA, the Headlands Institute, the Discovery Museum, the Headlands Center for the Arts, Crissy Field, and Fort Mason. Most worked hard just to make ends meet, and few had resources for additional activities. The idea of establishing a Marin Education Park emerged, illustrated as a drip irrigation system, where a constant, but modest funding stream would support cross-Partner developmental and communication activities, and support the flourishing of the park's community of experiential educators. I remember how excited Brian got when this idea emerged full flower. We didn't get the grant (a geriatric center was chosen), but this idea germinated and may yet come to fruit in the GGNRA's latest development, the Institute at the Golden Gate at Cavallo Point.
    Brian didn't just talk partnership. He actively cultivated a culture of partnering. It has emerged as a shining example of how a diversity of relationships makes an organizational eco-system strong and resilient. It represents the hard-to-assess, beating heart of this great community of stewards.

    I'm only two years younger than Brian, and am experiencing an increasing number of friends who are passing on. Yes, it's a tragedy—for 67 is still young to our generation. Yes—it's very, very sad to see a radiant life end. But a small miracle occurs when people like Brian pass. For now his spark, his inspiration, and his dedication to partnership is ours to continue. He would be the last to see himself as source of all that has flourished in the GGNRA. His gift was being a mirror, a container, and a truly receptive open space into which partnership energy could flow. And he did not hold it as his, but ours. He knew this was something alive, and would respond to love and nurture, which is what he provided.

    My prayer is that we let his example light the fire of true public service in all the rest of us. That would be the tribute that will leave him smiling deep inside.

    Thank you Brian, for your example. David Sibbet. President, The Grove Consultants International

  61. I was extremely fortunate to work closely with Brian over the past three years to help build capacity for collaboration and partnerships within the Department of the Interior. Brian was a great role model - always enthusiastic, always open to new ideas and innovative approaches. He was a true champion for partnerships and it was a joy to watch him work his magic. Brian had the gift of showing real interest in people - in understanding who they are and in trying to bring out the best in them. He seemed to see potential in everyone. Brian took a special interest in our identical twin sons and was anxious to show them Golden Gate. Thankfully, we did not put off the visit. In early April, we took the boys to San Francisco over spring break and Brian showered them with attention. I will always be grateful for getting to spend that time with him. One of our boys is autistic and rarely speaks. But, after meeting Brian, he blurted out, "I really like that guy!" This was Brian's great gift - the ability to connect with people - especially children. It was several days before I could bring myself to tell the boys that Brian had passed away. In a way that children can often surprise you, the other twin said he thinks Brian will be reincarnated as a bald eagle. He is comforted in the thought that Brian will soar over America and its special places, the national parks. Somehow, I think Brian would have liked that idea. I know that I will forever search the skies in hopes of seeing that eagle.

    With appreciation,
    Olivia Barton Ferriter
    Director, Conservation, Partnerships and Management Policy
    U.S. Department of the Interior

  62. The testimony to Brian's life and career is already before you. Much could be added, yet not much more can be said that is not repetitive. All that has been said and written says it all so well. For me, I am deeply grateful to have known Brian well, to have worked with him as a peer, to have learned from his example, and to have basked in the optimism he projected. He added value to my life and to my career. Thank you Brian for giving so much and allowing me to receive. Your next journey will be as exciting and dramatic as the one you just completed. Go in peace!
    Rob Arnberger

  63. Maureen Pinto - Ocean RidersMay 26, 2009 at 12:30 PM

    Brian, we will miss you....
    William Shakespeare said "One touch of nature makes the whole world kin". Brian's vision of creating an urban park so ALL could enjoy the wonders of the world of nature has touched so many. By bringing people together through park partnerships to help preserve the balance of nature, history, and recreation, he has created a 'family' of committed people who are collaberatively invested in this diverse mission. One of our proudest days was when Ocean Riders earned the right to become a Park Partner and work with Brian's dedicated staff to be part of this challenging and ongoing process.

    My mother's favorite song was "When Irish Eyes are Smiling". Brians eyes were always smiling and encouraging, but they also challenged and inspired us to always consider what he liked to call "the win-win"....the situation that benefits everyone. His heart was as big as the great outdoors he oversaw. He wanted everyone to win! Every hike or ride we take in this magnificient park we will feel Brian's eyes smiling on what he's created, and be eternally grateful to work in any way we can to help carry on this great man's legacy for future generations.

    Maureen Pinto
    for Ocean Riders
    at the Golden Gate Dairy Stables

  64. Brian was such a strong presence in our community, and it is nice to hear that many people have been drawn to places that he helped create and support in the last two weeks. It reminds me of the word Querencia, often refered to by the Center for Whole Communities. Querencia means home but with a sense of self and meaning that is stronger than anything in our language. Nothing connects us to who we are and the community we are a part of in the way that the land we are on does. Brian grew deep roots for us to grow from, and hopefully the work we all do will create further roots for future branches to grwo from-- just like I imagine there was a foundation for Brian's work to grow from, before he came our foundation.

    Suzanne Beahrs
    Bay Area Open Space Council

  65. I first met Brian O'Neill when I had recently joined the Pacifica Land Trust Board of Directors. I was incredibly impressed by his personality and charisma, and by the question he posed to me: "What should we do next in Pacifica?" That was Brian -- always planning ahead.

    Brian was a steadfast friend to the Pacifica Land Trust and open space advocates in San Mateo County. Without his solid leadership, key coastal parklands and endangered species habitats such as Milagra Ridge, Pedro Point Headlands and Mori Point -- the crown jewel of the Pacifica coastline -- might have been lost to development. Brian had a rare combination of talents. He was both a visionary and a pragmatist. He could see the dream and figure out how to make it happen, politically and financially. Brian was particularly adept at "deal-making," such as the way he engaged the City of Pacifica and PG&E to help preserve a small but important parcel of land in the Crystal Springs Reservoir known as the Gateway to Sweeney Ridge.

    The examples go on and on throughout the Bay Area, and so will his legacy. We lost him way too soon, but will think of him always as we enjoy the incredible beauty that is the GGNRA.

  66. I have been a member of the Board of the Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy since 1996 and served as the board chair for many of those years. The Conservancy is the partner of the GGNRA and we worked very closely with Brian and his wonderful staff. I have been involved with many boards and many community organizations and have never seen a relationship like the one that Brian and Greg made happen. They created a model of how a public/private partnership can work. I spend a lot of my time raising funds for the park and Brian would always say tell me what I can do and he would do it. So many have remarked on how much fun he was and he was but you always knew he was on top of things, the importance of running the park was always there also. I know I speak for all of the Conservancy board members when i say how much we are going to miss him, at our meetings, our parties, just seeing him in the hall. He just never said no to anything we asked and we asked a lot of him. The partnership will continue to be strong, we will continue to build on the legacy of Brian but it really will never be quite the same. I am so glad I had these many years of being part of the Brian O'Neil time, it has been great. Charlene Harvey

  67. Brian brought to us and inspired in us the passion for the Parks and the relationships with friends. He put them together for so many of us and the sense of people and parks inexctricably entwined is one of his great legacies. He taught well how the two can not only coexist, but indeed can enhance each other - the place and the person. GGNRA is a complex community that has continuously generated new programs, projects, benefits and opportunites. In time we've come to realize how exceptional is the GGNRA and to understand how central he was to making it so. It's hard to imagine this place without him, but he will always be central to it in everyone's memory and everyone's personal reflections on the joys of the Parks.

  68. I did not have the pleasure of knowing Brian personally, but I have had the honor and pleasure of working with his staff and associates on a project for the National Japanese American Historical Society and Building 640 in the Presidio. The GGNRA staff and their associates exemplify the best in park interpretation and community involvement. Through them I have come to know what an inspirational leader Brian was, and how we all benefited from his passion and commitment.

    Margaret Kadoyama
    Margaret Kadoyama Consulting
    Adjunct Faculty in Museum Studies, John F. Kennedy University

  69. I offer my heartfelt condolences to Brian’s family, friends, and colleagues.

    I got to know Brian when I served as a director of the Parks Conservancy. I truly valued his friendship, support, and insight – he was an inspiration and we were lucky to share the vision of such a special man.

    All creatures who live in and use the Golden Gate National Parks are beneficiaries of his wonderful legacy.

    Paula Downey
    AAA Northern California, Nevada & Utah

  70. Dear Brian,

    We cannot thank you enough. You have taught us to be so strong and tough. To never let go of asking for the best cup or leanest cut. To always wear that charm and wit despite snuff from a mindless gruff. You shined with class and grace. A bright big lovely face. Honest and a listener, you never disrespected anyone because of their status or snap shot picture. We will never have complete closure, but in a way stories like yours lead us to act with much better composure. Everyday and every hour, us humble civil servants need your memory to transpire away the cruel heartless cowards. Now more than ever, our actions must empower. For the children of tomorrow, for the humanity of our ever lost sorrow, for the sharks teeths left grining amongst an endless river bed of sand.

  71. There have been a few key people whose vision, commitment, and leadership have brought about the restoration of the Immigration Station at Angel Island. Brian O'Neill is one of these champions. Even before the National Historic Landmark designation, Brian understood the national significance of the place and how it could contribute to the national dialogue on being an American, as well as to the richness of this place he loved so well, the San Francisco Bay Area. Brian was a role model, an advocate, a resource, and especially a friend to our work in preserving Angel Island Immigration Station. We will miss his wisdom and guidance. We will miss the twinkle in his eyes when an inspired idea struck the discussion. We will miss our friend and colleague. Thank you Brian for all you did for Angel Island Immigration Station, the GGNRA, for our community, and for the nation.

    Kathy Lim Ko, President
    Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation

  72. We at the International Mountain Bicycling Association are deeply saddened at the unexpected death of our good friend, Brian O’Neill. He was an extraordinary person, who touched the lives of all who had the privilege of knowing him.
    We have worked with Brian for over 20 years, and have always found him to be generous in spirit, exceptionally gregarious, and a person who possessed a wonderful sense of humor.
    Brian was a visionary who was passionately dedicated to creating the best park system possible. He believed deeply in collaboration and community involvement, and left behind legions of volunteers who have been inspired by his leadership, coupled with his willingness to listen to each of their concerns.
    We would like to pass on deep condolences to Brian’s family and many friends, and to the GGNRA staff and many volunteers who had the good fortune to have worked with him.
    Brian was a joy to work with, and will be deeply missed.
    Tom Ward
    International Mountain Bicycling Association

  73. My heartfelt sympathy goes out to Brian's family. I had the opportunity to work with Brian for over 25 years. He was a man of integrity and drive who had a tremendous love of our National Parks. His greatest gift was his people skills. He had this exceptional ability of being able to bring out the best in people.

    We presented together at the World Congress of Parks in Durban six years ago. We had a lot of fun at that meeting and talked about it every time we saw each other.

    Our industry has lost a strong leader and a true champion. Brian made us all better people and the world a better place.

    Brian, thank you for your friendshp and all the gifts you have given us.

  74. Brent O'NeillMay 30, 2009 at 9:49 AM

    Dear Dad,

    On this journey, I have
    Come around again
    To behold you as I have done so many times
    To take in your smiling face
    Your radiance, your joy, the pure goodness of your spirit
    To see the magnificent designs
    Of your soul
    Like a wonderfully intricate web interwoven with vibrant jewels
    To feel your tender side
    Outlined in your large, warm, hands
    To embrace the profile of a man
    An image of a human being
    Whose heart has left such a mark!
    Only love, and the sheer pleasure of living, can leave such a mark!
    As you have…
    On me, our family – and the world

    The delight and enchantment I feel for you
    Seems as vast as the universe itself.
    I find myself looking out
    Upon a cloudless night sky
    Wrapped up in your space and time here on earth
    And it is as if every star represents a part of your being
    Oh! To reach out and grasp the lights
    Let them pour into my hands and carefully place them in my pocket.

    There was a special magic in your being
    A transcending energy
    Reflected everyday in that twinkle in your eyes
    And pouring outward
    A compassionate glow
    That permeated all those
    Who you touched
    For you, it was about friending people
    Oh! The ways you touched our lives
    What gifts bestows a caring soul such as yours.

    There is a special message I hear in your voice
    Resounding boundlessly
    Like an eagle spreading its wings
    Embracing the creative will of others
    Your spirit had to tell us
    “Who’s to say we can’t do everything, well we’ll try”

    Dad, I know your humility
    Tended to soften the glow of your magnificence
    But you shall always remain among the greats!

    Some memories of you now
    Are dearer to me than what
    I can describe
    So dear and so present in me,
    Of recent years
    As I have fathered a family of my own
    Of happy, happy, joyous times
    Walking the beach
    And splashing around the sandbars,
    And looking for fossil shark’s teeth
    At the Chesapeake Bay,
    Of you holding my wife Anne and children, Kieran and Sean
    Who felt your glow and warmth so deeply,
    And loved your buoyant nature,
    To frolic alongside you in child-like glee,
    To cuddle during bedtime stories,
    We all wanted that feeling
    To last forever
    Those short visits
    When you came to us and we to you
    When we had each other
    When we had a precious piece of you.

    From deep within my being
    Where I shall always remain connected to you,
    I want to say
    Thank you!
    Thank you for the magnificence of spirit
    That we share in you
    I love you!

    By Brent O’Neill
    Spoken on Thursday May 29, 2009
    Celebration Event for Brian O’Neill at Crissy Field

  75. I had the honor and privilege of knowing Brian O'Neil as a park professional through my father, William Penn Mott, Jr., and after my Dad passed away working with Brian as a board member of the Mott Memorial Fund. Later in life, I knew Brian as a fellow park professional.

    The consummate gentleman, Brian’s gracious manner, professional competence, and sage advice will be long remembered. I loved his tenacity for furthering the parks mission and building diverse constituencies. He was a real “get it done” type person. His tireless energy and enthusiasm was inspiring and contagious. He touched so many people and had the gift of making me, and many others, feel like his special friend. I loved the twinkle in his eye and the often impish quality of his humor.

    I am grateful in the time and energy that Brian and his staff devoted to compiling the 21 Partnership Success Factors to guide park professionals and park partners toward thriving relationships. These Factors have guided many and are just one small example of how Brian’s spirit and legacy will continue to positively impact communities and the local, state and national level.

    My heart felt condolences to his family who are missing a brother, son, father, uncle, grandfather and best friend. My sincere sympathies to Brian have extended family of park professionals, volunteers, partners and leaders. Thank you Brian for the wonderful gifts and special joys you have given us.

    John D. Mott
    Cooperating Associations Program Manager
    California State Parks

  76. Bob Chandler Said:

    I regret I was unable to attend Brian's Celebration of Life for health reasons.

    After reading the beautiful recollections by Alan and Greg it brought back so many fond memories of Brian and his remarkable park service career. I had known Brian throughout the latter part of my career, and even after my retirement we had a chance to work together on a project in Orange County. His experience and ability to share his knowledge in such an inspiring way provided a service to those looking for ways to emulate the kind of success Golden Gate was known for.

    I had the opportunity to work with Brian for a few years in the mid-ninties as we worked together to manage the transistion on the Presidio from an Army headquarters to an important piece of Brian's "Parks." I know my arrival at the Presidio provided some unsettling times for Brian, but we managed to work together with a spirit of cooperation to get the job done in a successful way. The establishment of the Presidio Trust was a major outcome of that endeavor.

    The idea of connecting people to parks has been one of the key talking points of park people all over the world, but in Brian's case he not only talked, he delivered with outstand success.

    When people remember Brian in years to come his image will, no doubt, be of charming fellow with a Silver Tongue speaking in front of an audience enthralled by his every word! He was truly one of the senior management giants within the National Park Service. He will be greatly missed.

  77. One of our park partners said this about Brian --
    "One of the markers of Brian's greatness is that he had staff around him like you and so many others who are both visionary and hard workers, and "characters" in your own right. One of the things I loved so much about Brian is that he cherished people with actual personalities and trusted them in positions of responsibility."

    And this is something I posted to a number of park partners two weeks ago -

    Just as Brian saw our best selves, so did we rise to that trust and faith in our abilities and created, are creating and will continue to create this incredibly, and indelibly Brian O'Neill parklands experiment that seeks to include and engage absolutely everyone.
    While Brian threw sparks everywhere he went, you are the ones that caught fire.
    Now we must all be more intentional about both fanning the flames and throwing sparks of our own.

    And always, always remembering, and channeling,
    the inclusive and nurturing spirit of this remarkable human being.

  78. My heart goes out to Brian’s family and his large extended NPS family. Brian was a fresh face when I worked at Muir Woods and later, GOGA. He tested the boundaries by doing things in new ways but as a result, he got things done. The tangible and spiritual results of his hard work and love of the park are visible everywhere. He is already greatly missed. Peace, Brian, and peace to all who love him.
    Dan Sealy
    Deputy Chief
    Natural Resrouces & Science
    National Capital Region, NPS

  79. Bob Cirese said...

    I have known Brian for 15 years, six of these working directly with him helping to negotiate Cooperative Agreements with various Partners like the Marine Mammal Center and the Miwok Stables Center.

    Imagine working with Brian after coming to the Park from the Litigation Support Division in the largest accounting and consulting firm in the world, where the culture is extremely "left brained" and analytical. What an eye opener and cultural shock.

    Brian relied on two negotiating principles: (1) Does it pass the "redfaced test"? and (2) Is it in the "rule" book? The latter principle was often superceded by the former.

    I fondly recall the time I invited Brian to speak at the Bankers Club to one of my membership real estate associations. On our way to the Bank of America on Kearny and California, Brian, in full dress uniform, was hailed by a tourist who shouted, "Hey officer, how do we get to Fisherman's Wharf?"

    Not missing a beat, Brian suggested he take a cable car up the hill and transfer at Powell then go downhill to the Wharf. Next Brian suggested that while in town, the tourist should go to Alcatraz as well as Crissy Field. Brian never explained that he was the Superintendent overseeing these attractions.

    Needless to say, Brian's remarks to the real estate professionals at the Bankers Club were very well received and followed by numerous questions.

    Brian also promised to come back next year.

    Bob Cirese
    Business Management Analyst
    Golden Gate National Parks

  80. The Celebration of Brian’s life at Crissy Field was a moving and fitting tribute to a man that so many of us will miss so much. It was really more of a Love-In. It took place under a big tent which is fitting, given Brian’s mission of inclusion.

    I was lucky enough to get to know Brian in his role as a founding Advisory Board member of Rails-to-Trails Conservancy’s Western Region office, based in San Francisco. He was always generous with his time and counsel. I became one of his many disciples, coached on “Friend Raising” and “the Incremental Hook.” I know he also served on many other non-profit boards in addition to his substantial responsibilities within the Park Service; I don’t know how he did it, but he always found the time.

    It has also been a treat to get to know Brian’s identical twin, Alan who, of course, shares all of Brian’s considerable gifts and heartwarming qualities. In doling out twins, we’re sure glad there were two O’Neill brothers, because one just wouldn’t have been enough to go around.

    More than anything, I’m inspired by Brian’s example of a life well-lived; a life of meaning, a life of compassion and service. A life that touched many others, and I’m grateful to be one of the many so blessed. On behalf of all of us at Rails-to-Trails Conservancy – thank you Brian. You will be dearly missed.

    --Laura Cohen
    Director, Western Region
    Rails-to-Trails Conservancy


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