Recipient Biography

Eric W. O’Brien


For nearly five decades, Eric W. O’Brien has been a supporter of the parks and recreation movement. Not only is he the chairman of M.E. O’Brien & Sons, a company dedicated to assisting municipalities, developers, and private organizations design and build park and recreation facilities as well as urban streetscapes, but he has been a staunch leader and citizen volunteer to push the movement forward. Eric is an advocate of open space and is truly passionate about parks and recreation. 

Upon exiting the Navy in 1965, Eric began his career as a sales rep for M.E. O’Brien & Sons, Inc. In 1983, he became the company’s owner and president and worked to grow the business. He developed the company from three salespeople to 18 employees, and focused on expanding its client base—reaching campgrounds, shopping centers, colleges and universities—in addition to the schools, parks and recreation departments, and landscape architects who were already loyal clients. 

Eric’s vision was to offer clients everything they needed to complete their recreation space. To meet this goal, he expanded the company’s offerings to more than 20 product lines, including playground equipment, site furnishings, water play, shelters, athletic equipment, and much more. With this expansion, M.E. O’Brien & Sons became a one-stop shop for outdoor recreation needs in New England. Eric was truly instrumental in the growth and success of the business. 

Not only did he work to create a thriving family business, but he also volunteered his time to promote and develop parks and recreation at local, regional, and national levels. He has been involved with the National Recreation and Park Association since 1985 in such roles as member of the board of trustees (1985-1994), chair of the board of trustees (1995-1999), member of the national forum (2003-2008), and member of the strategic planning committee (2004). Eric was on the board of governors for the National Recreation and Park Foundation to support research, public policy, and public awareness efforts to advance parks, recreation, and environmental conservation (2006-2012). He has served on the board of the Foundation for Sustainable Parks and Recreation since its creation in 2012. He now serves as the foundation’s chair. 

Eric has worked toward the advancement of public parks through his involvement with the Park and Recreation Committee and Open Space and Recreation Planning Committee in the Town of Medfield, Massachusetts. At the statewide level, he served on the Governor’s Blue Ribbon Panel on Land Protection (MA) and the Olmsted Parks State Advisory Board for more than a decade. Eric also served on the City Park Alliance Board of Directors, as trustee on the board of advisors for the National Association of Olmsted Parks, and as a world judge and corporate director for Nations in Bloom, Ltd.

Eric also works to support active, healthy lifestyles and the use of outdoor space. He currently serves as a steering committee member for Clemson University’s U.S. Play Coalition and was on the board of directors for the Säjai Foundation, a nonprofit organization dedicated to teaching children how to live healthier lives by encouraging them to get outdoors, be active and make smart nutrition decisions. 

His activism within the parks and recreation industry has led to many awards and recognitions including the following:

  • 2010 Rhode Island Recreation & Park Association Hall of Fame
  • 2007 New England Park & Recreation Award
  • 2005 APRS Citizen’s Award
  • 1998 Rhode Island Recreation & Park Association John Cronin Award
  • 1998 New England Park & Recreation John F. Howard Award
  • 1992 New England Regional Council Award

In 1985, Eric volunteered to fulfill a 24-month term vacancy on the New England Regional Council. During this opportunity, he realized the value of parks and became a citizen activist. According to Eric, his involvement within the parks and recreation industry goes back to growing up. "My parents taught me that you give back to those who give to you," he explained. "That's what people do when they're able. This profession has been good to me."

Eric has been married for 48 years to Claudette O'Brien and has five children and nine grandchildren. At the age of 75, he is still active in the family business and enjoys golf and being with his family. He is a member of the American Society of Landscape Architects and is also still an active member of many state park and recreation associations. He currently serves as editor of the New England Park Association's quarterly newsletter, The Exchange

What began as a single volunteer opportunity turned into a lifelong passion for Eric. While building a successful family business and supporting a growing family, he has continued to advocate for the parks and recreation movement and all the benefits it brings to communities throughout the country. [October 2014]