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Faith and adventure: A patriarch leads a full life

Published: Thursday, March 1 2012 5:00 a.m. MST

Not many people would fly more than 1,500 miles for a two-hour interview with a reporter. Then again, there aren't many people who approach life like Robert "Robin" O'Brien.

The spur-of-the-moment trip fit O'Brien's track record as a tenacious go-getter. This veteran of the U.S. Army and former Delta Air Lines pilot has traveled the world. He drove his motorcycle from Atlanta to the Arctic Circle on the unpaved ALCAN Highway. He served in multiple church capacities from elders quorum president to temple sealer. And that is just the beginning of his list of accomplishments.

"I've had a very exciting life," he said, putting it mildly.

O'Brien's life has been rife with unique opportunities and achievements that have diversified his personality and strengthened his faith.

Born in 1938 in Arkansas, O'Brien began his adventurous feats early in life. By his early 20s, he had already worked as a gandy dancer for a railroad company and packed horses through Yellowstone Park each summer while living on a remote side of the lake.

Receiving his patriarchal blessing while attending Ricks College devloped O'Brien's testimony of the priesthood. The blessing quoted Doctrine and Covenants 89:21: "And I, the Lord, give unto them a promise, that the destroying angel shall pass by them, as the children of Israel, and not slay them."

"I thought, 'That's kind of cool. All that I have to do is keep the Word of Wisdom and I have a life insurance policy,’ ” O'Brien said.

O'Brien enlisted in the military in 1959 with the words of his blessing in the back of his mind. During his time in the military, he worked in a MASH unit, received a commission as an officer, served as a paratrooper, underwent flight training and flew more than 120 classified reconnaissance missions.

O'Brien's faith in patriarchal blessings flourished while preparing for deployment to Vietnam. He asked for a priesthood blessing from a man whom he had never met. In the blessing, the man quoted the same portion of the Doctrine and Covenants, promising him safety if he kept the commandments.

"It literally came to pass while I was in Vietnam," O'Brien said. "I had times when bullets passed within inches of me, and I was not harmed."

From that point on, O'Brien recognized his blessing as a guidepost in his life, directing him toward paths he may not have otherwise taken. This special witness gives him a unique perspective as he serves as a patriarch in the Atlanta Georgia Stake.

"It has made it far more meaningful to me, and I realize more the value of what it will be to the young," he said. "I'm now aware of what it's going to mean to them in their life."

O'Brien has spent his life beating the odds. He was one of more than a quarter of a million applicants to be commissioned as an officer. Instead of backing down, he took the chance and applied. Only about a fourth of his officer candidate class graduated, and he was part of the small handful selected for flight training. After leaving the military, O'Brien applied for a job as a pilot for Delta Air Lines during a time when 200 men would apply for one position. O'Brien once again conquered the statistics.

"This goes way beyond just sheer dumb luck," he said. "It's what you call divine intervention. Heavenly Father looked after me."

O'Brien and his wife, Julia, settled on a farm outside Atlanta to raise their nine children while he flew for Delta. Between taking their cow into town for show-and-tell at school and playing in the life-size teepee in their backyard, the O'Brien children inherited a love of adventure from their father.

"There was never a dull moment at our house," Julia O'Brien said.

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