October 3, 2022
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Cecilia O’Brien remembered as dedicated advocate for Quad-Cities community | Politics and elections

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Former Rock Island County board member Cecilia O’Brien is being remembered as a respected advocate for the county, organized labor and historic preservation, as well as a dedicated community volunteer. 

O’Brien died of cancer, May 12 at UnityPoint-Trinity Hospital, Rock Island. She was 61.

O’Brien was elected to the county board in November 2016, representing District 10 in Moline. Before her resignation from the board in May, 2019, she was a vocal opponent to the sale of the county-owned nursing home, Hope Creek Care Center, an outspoken advocate for saving the old Rock Island County courthouse — now slated for demolition — and a proponent of downsizing the board. 

Board Chairman Richard Quijas Brunk said O’Brien had a big impact on the community. 

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“I’ve known Cecilia and her husband, Pat, for about 18 years now. She has always been a very a caring and compassionate individual,” Brunk said. “Cecilia always gave 110% whether on the county board, school board, for the labor movement, in the community, or to her family. She was always willing to jump in and give it her all.” 

O’Brien is noted for her community volunteer work, having served on the Moline school board, Rotary Club of Moline, Viva Quad Cities board and the Moline Preservation Society.

County Board Vice Chairman Brian Vyncke said one of the qualities he respected about O’Brien was her professional attitude even if there were occasional disagreements among board members. 

“She was very dedicated and hard working,” Vyncke said. “She came to meetings very well prepared. She always had good speaking points on issues that were dear to her. She was highly respected.

“I was impressed with Cecilia from the first time I met her,” he said. 

O’Brien was hired by United Way Quad Cities in early 2019 and served part-time as liaison to the Quad-City Federation of Labor. United Way Quad Cities President and CEO Rene Gellerman described O’Brien as a “fun-loving, generous, eternally optimistic, collaborative, energetic and kind colleague.”

“Cecilia was a friend to everyone she met. She would go the extra mile for anyone,” Gellerman said. “I talked to her a week or so ago; I was in awe of her courage, optimism and transparency. She had resigned herself to fight the cancer diagnosis and expressed gratitude for available treatments as well as all who cared and prayed for her.”

Gellerman said she and O’Brien first worked together many years ago when they were both staff members for Congressman Lane Evans, D-Illinois. When they reconnected more than 20 years later at United Way Quad Cities, Gellerman said O’Brien still had “the same zest for life and commitment to serve people and make our community better. She always worked hard at all her passions. And, she had many.”

“At UWQC, Cecilia served as our liaison to our labor partners and worked part of her hours with the Quad City Federation of Labor. She was a part of every workplace campaign we conducted that included trades and union members. She wore her heart on her sleeve and advocated for the impact an investment of any size can make with United Way.

County board member Jeff Deppe said he knew O’Brien for 30 years. 

“When she was on the (county) board, she was always informed and knew her facts,” Deppe said. “She would highlight things she had concerns about, like a board member should.”

In addition to the county board, Deppe also worked with O’Brien through his role as Illinois vice president of the Quad-City Federation of Labor. 

“She was always involved, even through her struggle with cancer,” Deppe said. “She loved helping with the Children’s Advocacy Group, she loved helping with United Way, the food banks and anything related to labor. She liked being right out front, helping. That’s what I admired about her — she put everything into anything she was doing.

“She will be missed,” he said. “She was always there with a helping hand, and that’s really what we are going to miss.”


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