Barbara Fail O'Brien

    She was in the midst of a career she loved and faced with what could have been an insurmountable situation. The young nurse with sparkling eyes sat thoughtfully seeking a solution. Barbara Fail O'Brien was not about to be defeated. Following in her mother's footsteps as a Navy nurse, Barbara desired to continue her career. "My mom always talked about how she loved the Navy, but shortly after she joined, she met and married my father and immediately lost her job. In the forties, women were mostly in support roles," Barbara explained, "and a female could not be married and on active duty!"
    Thirty years later the Navy had relaxed some rules, so Barbara thought it had possibilities. "I had no idea what I wanted to do, so my folks encouraged me to go to nursing school. My mother talked to me about how she always loved being a Navy nurse and felt I could acquire a great number of skills and practice as she did. Guess my reasons for joining the Navy were not the loftiest," she said, cocking her perky head thoughtfully. "I had nothing else to do! I liked the idea that mom had been in; I loved the uniform and being close to the water. Besides, in 1967, it was the noble thing to do!"
    According to Barbara, in the early '70s, the Navy realized they were losing a number of capable people due to some of their remaining policies; so when she met thoracic surgeon, Dr. Robert O'Brien (O.B. for short) and they married, Barbara knew she could continue in the job she loved. However, she was not prepared for the next challenge. She became pregnant. Navy rules dictated that a pregnant female could not be on active duty in Vietnam. "I wrote a carefully worded letter requesting permission to remain in the Navy, have our baby, and then continue my active duty," recalled Barbara. "My superior came to my defense, emphasizing that I possessed excellent professional knowledge and was receptive to new concepts and innovative approaches in nursing care and management. I was delighted when it was approved; but there were obviously no uniforms for pregnant women, so we had to creatively fashion one! Our son, Kevin, was born in San Diego in 1975, and I happily resumed my career until retirement! O.B. retired from active duty in 1984 when we returned from duty in Naples, Italy, where he was commanding officer of the Navy Hospital. Later we moved to Washington, DC where I was director of nursing at the Naval Hospital, and then assigned to the Pentagon in the number three position in Naval nursing. I handled assigning nearly 3,200 nursing corp officers around the world. I did my best to move them where they requested and advance them upward when deserved. While in DC, I was sent to Saudi Arabia during Desert Storm to meet with the Nursing Corp. It was incredibly interesting to visit these areas and understand how we assisted and what the people were like there."
    Always determined, Barbara said, "The Navy was good to me. I owe a great deal to my parents, my upbringing and how they encouraged me. I learned that once you set your mind to something, you can do it!" This motto was prevalent throughout Barbara's career and carried over into the world of sports, which has claimed many joyous hours of her time. Coupled with her determined motto was the desire to learn correct technique in everything. "It's an important element to be good. I took skiing lessons and felt more confident when O.B. and I traveled to Europe to ski. When I began golf, I took lessons, because I wanted to be the best I could be, and learning the right technique is essential to success! I studied obedience training for dogs, so I could properly train our animals." She paused, grinning. "I even took lessons in parenting and taught classes in it for awhile!"
    After their move to Hilton Head in 2000, the O'Briens jumped into golf with joyful enthusiasm. "Oh, I love the game. It is my job!" declared Barb, swinging her arms as if she held a club. She plays four or five times a week, and offers her managerial expertise to the Women's Golf Association Board and the board of directors of Dolphin Head Golf Club. "Golf is about managing your head and pushing through the trouble spots," she offered. "When I have a problem, I always go back to the basics I was taught. We like something because we do it well, or we do it well because we like it."
    Barbara tackles everything with a precise technique, even her cooking which "I learned from Mom and Dad," she declared. The O'Brien's entertain friends regularly, and Barb whips up something clever and exciting to surprise her guests. "You have to do what you love...and love what you do," said Barb. "Einstein said, 'We do not know where we'll be in 25 years, but those will be happiest who have learned to serve others.'"
    Because of her courage in carving out new frontiers, Barbara was able to serve her country for more than 20 years, dedicating her life to the health profession and a career she loved. "I have always been grateful for what we have and being able to use our abilities to best serve God and our country." Happily married for over 34 years, the O'Brien's share the belief of "giving over 100 percent to each other; loving and liking who you marry; being flexible and deciding to make it together."
    The first Naval nurse to remain on active duty while pregnant and serve until her retirement, Barb is pleased to have been able to "complete for my mom what she was not allowed to do, and proud to have followed in her footsteps."