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Muriel Faith O'Brien

Pioneering female elected official, tireless volunteer, proud naturalized American

“It is with great sadness we announce that Muriel Faith O’Brien died—her word exactly—November 6, 2018 at the age of 96 to join her husband, Judge Edmond O’Brien and her parents in the next adventure of their lives,” Ms. O’Brien’s friends shared. “Muriel will be remembered for her spirit, commitment and involvement specifically within the communities of La Verne and Claremont among others.”

Muriel was born in Swaffham Prior, Cambridge, England. She attended Ruskin College in Oxford, the London Royal Academy of Music, the Meteorology College of London, and Coventry Technical College (now Warwick University), in Coventry.

Her academic career was put on hold in 1939 when at the outset of World War II she enlisted in the Royal Women’s Land Army, serving until 1941, when she joined the Women’s Auxiliary of the Royal Air Force, where she remained until the end of the war.  She aided in the war effort as a radar operator/technician (due to her meteorology degree), defending England against Nazi bombings.

It was during this fraught time that she met the man who would become her husband, Edmond Emmett O’Brien, who was serving with the American forces in England. They fell in love and were soon married, on May 18, 1946, in the county clerk of Warwickshire’s office.

She became one of the first “war brides” to come to the United States, arriving in her adopted country at New York Harbor, fittingly, on July 4, 1946. Ms. O’Brien fully embraced her new country. She was very proud to have become a naturalized American citizen on January 26, 1949 at the Los Angeles Federal Court, “and from then on never once looked back,” her friends said. She voted in every election she could until her death, and was very proud of that fact, her friends added. 

She soon became fully integrated into the American way of life. Her various jobs included private secretary for Kwikset Lock; executive secretary for the California Walnut Growers Association; legal secretary (for various practicing attorneys) in Huntington Park and Riverside; and legal secretary for William E. Dennis in Claremont until 1974.

As her husband’s law practice and reputation grew, he was first appointed an assistant district attorney and later as a judge for Los Angeles County. During this time Ms. O’Brien became very involved in the local community and donated countless hours and funds to various civic and charitable organizations.

Her political involvement was extensive. She was president of the Huntington Park Democratic Club from 1952 to 1953; chair for Adlai Stevenson for President, 23rd congressional district (assembly districts 52, 5 and 69) in 1952 and 1956; campaign secretary and chair of campaign headquarters for Wilson, Cox and Stevens for Huntington Park city council in 1954; chair of Democratic headquarters presidential campaign in Corona, Riverside County, in 1960; a delegate to the Democratic National Convention, Los Angeles County, in 1960; campaign secretary for Frank G. Bonelli, a candidate in California’s 52nd Assembly District; precinct captain of the campaign for Clyde Doyle, candidate for US congress in the 23rd District; campaign chair for Edmund G. “Pat” Brown for attorney general, 52nd Assembly District; campaign chair, Huntington Park, for Edmund G. “Pat” Brown for governor of California; and campaign administrator for Pat Maloy for district attorney of Riverside County in 1964.

She was also heavily involved in civic and elected offices on her own, including the Los Angeles County Democratic Central Committee from 1958 to 1960; elected director, Three Valleys Municipal Water District, Division III, where she served five four-year terms from 1982 to 2002, and was the organization’s first female president, vice president and secretary of the board of directors.

She was appointed to the San Gabriel Water Quality Commission, the predecessor to the San Gabriel Basin Water Quality Authority. There she was elected vice chair and treasurer, was a board appointed member of the watermaster’s water quality management committee, and was an alternate to San Gabriel Water Quality Authority. She was also a board appointed delegate to the Six Basins Watermaster and the Chino Basin Watermaster.

She served on many boards of directors and committees, including chair of Claremont’s community services commission and police commission; chair and member of the Claremont City Resource Management Committee; La Verne Historical Society; Wildlife Station, Los Angeles County; Sierra Club; Curtain Raisers of the Claremont Colleges; Friends of the Claremont Colleges; Claremont City Water Use Committee; Claremont Chamber of Commerce; La Verne Chamber of Commerce; Daughters of the British Empire, Princess Anne Chapter; Fine Arts Foundation, Claremont Colleges; charter member, women’s division, Huntington Park Chamber of Commerce; Legal Secretaries Association of San Gabriel Valley, past president; Hillside Studies Group League of Women Voters; past vice president, past action chair, League of Women Voters of Claremont; observer and chair, Los Angeles County League of Women Voters; board of directors Claremont Foothill Association.

Other involvement included Recording for the Blind; board of directors Claremont Heritage Foundation; board of directors Pomona Valley Community Theater; president, Citrus Valley Lawyers Wives; secretary, Preservation of Carnegie Library Committee, Corona; charter president, American Field Service, Corona chapter; board member Oak Park Cemetery; board of directors Meals on Wheels; member, 8th Air Force Historical Society and Museum; elected to board of directors David and Margaret Youth and Family Services; Pilgrim Place building and grounds committee; Claremont Museum of Art; founding member, Legal Assistant’s Association; American Museum of Ceramic Art.

During Ms. O’Brien’s active life she worked with many notable political officials and candidates, including former California governor Edmond “Pat” Brown, Sr. (father of the state’s current governor, Jerry Brown), Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court Earl Warren, California Assembly Speaker Jesse Unruh, and many others.

“Muriel Faith O’Brien was a unique individual and will never be forgotten,” her friends wrote. “Her dedication, civic mindedness, honesty, frankness and hard work were an inspiration to all who knew her. The groundbreaking path in water and politics and her tireless efforts will affect generations to come—especially elected women.

We will miss her. We will miss her energy, her common sense and her accent. The communities of Claremont and La Verne have lost a favorite daughter and we have lost a good friend. We drink a toast of saké in your honor, Muriel. Ciao!”