Passings: James John O’Brien

Family and friends will gather to celebrate Jim’s life on what would have been his 98th birthday at 4 p.m. on Tuesday, October 17, at Corpus Christi Church, 880 Toyopa. In lieu of flowers, please make donations to The Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley (42-600 Cook St., Palm Desert, CA 92211).

James John O’Brien was born in Oakland, California on October 17, 1919, to James John O’Brien and Sarah Mullins O’Brien. He attended St. Mary’s High School and the University of San Francisco.

Jim was accepted into Stanford Law School but following Pearl Harbor, declined, against his father’s wishes, and joined the Marines in January 1942. Jim served two tours of duty in the South Pacific and was discharged as a Major with numerous commendations. 

James John O’Brien

As part of the Military Officer Placement Program, Jim accepted a job as a USDA agriculture inspector and in 1948 moved to Indio.

In December 1950, Jim purchased his own farm growing carrots, corn, cotton and grapefruit. Working with a major seed company and Cal Poly, Jim developed the first natural hybrid corn seed focused on better taste, size and less kernel damage.

His corn was featured in all Vons and many local grocery chains as “Jimmy O’Brien’s Sweet Corn,” and his carrots were purchased by Beech Nut Baby Food. Over the years, Jim transitioned from farmer to land developer. 

While attending a friend’s wedding in the Bay Area, Jim met Navy nurse Cynthia Murray. In September 1952 they married and within five years had four children.

Jim was a devoted husband and father, serving on school boards, spending many years coaching his children’s little league games, and always making sure Cynthia, who for 62 years he referred to as “my bride,” was well taken care of.

Once their children were grown, Jim and Cynthia purchased a home in Lake Arrowhead, where they spent their summer months.

Following Cynthia’s death in 2014, Jim moved to Pacific Palisades to live with his daughter, Kathy O’Brien Sunderland, where he remained until his passing.

Jim was passionate about giving back to his community. He served as the mayor of Indio and was one of the original founders of the Boys & Girls Club of the Coachella Valley (the Indio club bears his name).

He was a member of the Indio City Council, president of the Indio Chamber of Commerce, chairman of the construction committee for Our Lady of Perpetual Help Church, an active member of the Knights of Columbus, and served on numerous boards, including the United Way, the Farm Bureau and the Blood Bank of the Desert. 

Jim passed away peacefully at home in Pacific Palisades on August 16, surrounded by his loving family. He is survived by children James (Debbie), Kathleen and Thomas (Ginny).

Jim has seven grandchildren, including Monica and Claire Sunderland of the Palisades, and nine great-grandchildren. Jim was preceded in death by his wife Cynthia and his youngest son, John (1993).

Jim O’Brien always had a smile on his face and a funny story to tell. He was truly a selfless man who lived to serve others.

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