Joan Mary O'Brien Print E-mail

Joan M. O’Brien
Beloved wife and mother;


Joan M. O’Brien of Westford, MA, passed away at her home in late evening of September 23, 2021 following a long illness.  Joan succumbed to the effects of an autoimmune disease which she had resisted for the past 19 years.

Joan was the loving wife, for over 54 years, of Dr. Arnold L. O’Brien who survives her.

Born in 1941 in Lowell, MA to the late Samuel and Helen (Carey) McDonald she attended Lowell Schools.

Graduating from Lowell State College in 1962 with a BS in Education, Joan was the second person from Lowell to enter the Peace Corps; an action she took against the wishes of her family who feared for her safety. She lived in a nipa hut in the small village of Hagonoy, slept on a bamboo mat and served the Barrio of Guihing, Philippines as teacher and health advisor.

Upon her return she taught several elementary grades in the Lexington Public Schools where she was part of a Harvard University project to improve early education. In Lexington she met Arnold O’Brien whom she married in 1967.

Joan left teaching in Lexington in 1971 when her first child was born but remained active in education. In the early 80’s she served two terms on the Westford School Committee and was appointed by Westford officials to serve on the Nashoba Tech committee – an appointment she held for 20 years.

At the same time, she was serving on the committees, Joan bought and operated three Sylvan Learning Centers in Chelmsford, Acton and Nashua. Through the Centers she provided tutoring and educational support for students who needed more than their local districts could provide. She was a licensed child advocate and used her authority and knowledge of State and Federal programs to further assist her students.

In 2002, Illness caused her to retire from full time work at her Centers but her dedication to students and education drove her to volunteer her time as a tutor at Nashoba Tech. Eventually her progressing illness required her to leave her volunteer work.

For her long service and dedication to education, Joan received many awards and citations. Joan was recognized by the Massachusetts Association of School Committees with a lifetime achievement award for more than 25 years of service to public education; also a joint award from the Mass. Assoc of School Committees and the Nashoba Tech. District (6 Towns) for outstanding commitment to public education. Joan received a citation from the Massachusetts Office for Children in recognition of her “efforts on behalf of children in Massachusetts” and “dedication to the ideals of the office”. Joan also received a Volunteer Service Award from the Non-Profit Alliance of Greater Lowell and citations from the Sylvan Learning Corporation.

A devoted wife and mother who always had time for her family. She loved cooking and provided her family with a variety of foods and occasional exotic recipes.  She was interested in travel and helped arrange several European homestay trips with her husband and school age children. A lover of the Maine seacoast, she made sure her family spent as much time there as possible.

Joan was passionate about life, adventurous and outgoing – traits she used to enrich the lives of her family and friends. In the broadest sense Joan was a builder, using her abundant energy to build family, young lives and institutions.

Besides her husband Arnold, she is survived by her Son Robert and daughter-in-law Kathy O’Brien of Wakefield, MA, by her daughter Susan and son-in-law Lucas Guarino of Springfield, NJ and grandchildren Thomas and Richard O’Brien and Sydney and Nathan Guarino. Also, by her brother David McDonald and his wife Peggy, nephews David, Carey, Tim McDonald and niece Meagan Fleming plus many cousins who live in the Lowell area.

Friends may call at the O’DONNELL FUNERAL HOME 276 PAWTUCKET ST. in LOWELL on Wednesday September 29, 2021, from 3:30 to 7:30 pm. The wearing of masks is encouraged. Relatives and friends are invited to attend her Funeral Mass to be celebrated Thursday morning at SAINT RITA’S CHURCH in LOWELL at 10:00 o’clock. Committal Services will be private. E-condolences/directions at Arrangements by Funeral Director James F. O’Donnell, Jr. 978-458-8768.

Condolences (12)
  • Sheila LaCourse  - Special devotion for children
    Dear Arnie, Robbie, and Susan, I was part of the Chelmsford Sylvan “family”. Joan was such a caring and at the same time fun person. As her Director of Education, ( at that time I was Sheila Mason) , I always enjoyed going to work because everyday there was always something new and exciting happening at the center. She made learning and teaching such a great experience. She was full of life and I felt very lucky to attend Sylvan conventions with her. Joan was so enthusiastic and also a bit of a rebel. I found that my time working with Joan was time well spent. Although I haven’t seen her in years, I have often thought of her. Joan was a great educator and always looked out for all children. Joan was truly one of a kind! I am very sorry for your loss.
  • James Whitten  - Professor
    Dear Arnie, I am sorry for your loss. My thoughts and prayers are with you. Jim
  • Judith Klimkiewicz  - Former long time superintendent of Nashoba Tech
    Words cannot describe my feelings and the respect I have felt for and about Joan for the past 25 plus years. As an educator myself I could only measure my devotion to the field by what Joan said and did. Very few, including myself could ever measure up to what she was able to accomplish in her lifetime. She will always be a “hero” to me….Always, Judy
  • Anita Greenwood  - Deepest Sympathy
    Dear Arnie, I am so saddened to read of Joan's passing. I remember her excitement when we met in Plymouth NH at a political rally. I had no idea she had been ill. I am so sorry for your loss, my deepest sympathy goes out to you. Anita
  • Carol Kraeuter
    I met Joan O’Brien at Maritime Cottages, Goose Rocks Beach in the summer of 1974. My first memory of her is sitting on the ground in front of one of the cottages reading Dr Seuss’ Fox in Sox to a group of engrossed children. She was a gifted educator, motivating and inspiring many. She was a second mother to my two boys who adored her, and often asked me, “Why can’t you be more like Mrs. O’Brien?” Joan was a special friend and we shared many smiles, much fun and a lot of laughter. I don’t remember any tears. The Fourth of July kiddie’s bicycle parade was never the same without her! My only regret is that her demise was so drawn out. I am grateful to her family for seeing that she always received the care she deserved. Rest in peace my friend. I shall always treasure the memories we shared.
  • George Joseph  - Condolences from George
    Dear Arnie, Heartfelt condolences for this most important moment of grief in your life. My God be enable you tide through. George
  • Dan Phelps
    Joan loved Nashoba Tech and its students. I always enjoyed my chats with her during her time at the school.
  • Donna Vieweg
    Dear Arnie, I am so sorry for your loss. Reading about your wife she was an amazing person! Sending hugs, prayers and love.
  • Kelly Socia  - Condolences
    Arnie, I'm so sorry to hear about the passing of your wife. I hope you can take the time to care for yourself in this difficult time, and reflect on the good times you had with Joan. My thoughts are with you and your family. Sincerely, Kelly Socia
  • Richard and Mary Margaret Brom  - Arnie, Robbie, Susan and Family
    We are so sadden to hear the passing of Joan. She was an extremely smart and fun loving person. Many years ago allowing me to vacation with her and Arnie in Boston as a young girl. Showing me all the sights a country girl would love about being in the big city. She made such an impression on me that when it came time to marry she was my only choice to be my Matron of Honor. Later on she took on the role of being Kristine’s God Mother. She loved her family with her whole heart as thy love her. A side secret to share she is the one who got me to try beets and to this day I love them! Thanks Joan for all the big and small things that you opened my eyes to. Please rest easy in His Loving Arms. Keeping you all in my prayers and thoughts. She is a gem that will always be in my heart! All our love, Richard and Mary Margaret Bromirski Springfield, GA
  • Ellen Gendreau
    Once you met Joan you couldn’t help but love her. Energetic, easy to talk to and funny. But what made Joan the incredibly special person she was was her love of children. Always advocating for them. Interested in everything they did and wanting the best for each and every kid she met. I am so glad she was part of my children’s’ lives. My heartfelt condolences to her family. I am sure you know that she touched and helped so many students and she will not be forgotten. RIP dear Joan.
  • Johanna Choo  - Condolences from Johanna
    Dear Arnie I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I would like to send you my deepest condolences. We got it over here at MSP, don't worry about us and focus on your well being! Thinking of you. Warmest Regards, Johanna
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