Editorial | Photojournalist Frank O’Brien, 82, leaves behind a trove of work—and happy memories in his native Neponset

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Frank O’Brien, a Neponset native who documented the highs and lows of the local sports scene for the Boston Globe for more than 40 years, died on March 29 – his birthday —at age 82. He was buried out of St. Ann’s on Monday after a jam-packed wake in Milton drew bold-faced names from the world of journalism and hundreds of his neighbors past and present from the slopes of Pope’s Hill and the side streets that splinter off Minot and Chickatawbut.

Frank long ago decamped for Canton, but his heart was always in Dot, embedded like a traveling photojournalist tucked into the back of the team bus.

In 1981, one of Frank’s photos graced the cover of the annual Dorchester Day supplement to the now-defunct Argus-Citizen. Compiled by Ed Forry in his pre-Reporter days, the 1981 Dot Day edition included an array of Frank’s already iconic photographs published by the Globe in its broadsheet heyday: Bobby Orr flying through the air after netting his Stanley Cup-winning goal at the Garden back in ’70; Larry Bird puffing on Red Auerbach’s championship victory stogie in May ’81; and the USA men’s Olympic hockey team celebrating their Lake Placid win over the USSR in 1980.

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This capturing of Larry Bird giving the V sign while puffing on Red Auerbach’s NBA championship victory stogie in May ’81 ranks in the top tier of Frank O’Brien’s photo legacy.

But it was one of Frank’s rare non-sports snaps that made page one in his hometown newspaper: The photo was a moody silhouette of St. Ann’s brick steeple as a January sun set in the west. Frank had pulled over on the Southeast Expressway and turned his 300mm lens on the familiar subject.

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The long-defunct Argus-Citizen’s Dot Day edition in 1981 included on its cover this piece of art from Frank O’Brien, a moody silhouette of St. Ann’s brick steeple as a January sun set in the west. He had pulled over on the Southeast Expressway and turned his 300mm lens on what was a familiar subject for him.

In an interview with Ed Forry for that edition, Frank shared the tricks of the trade that made him an award-winning news photographer many times over.

“Always anticipate— think ahead about what might happen…. The thing that makes success is mobility. Be prepared to move around and take different perspective shots.”

By that time, 14 years into a career that began when he volunteered to shoot photos of the 1967 ‘Impossible Dream’ Red Sox team at Fenway— Frank was already nearing legend status in his business— notching six first prize awards from the Boston Press Photographers Association.

He went to work at the old Globe on Morrissey Boulevard right out of Cathedral High in 1958. He started out as a copy boy and fell into photography, though he was never a passionate shutterbug.

“I don’t do it as a hobby, and I never will,” Frank said emphatically. “I do it strictly as a business.”

The O’Brien clan was as well-documented as any other Dot household in those days. They’d pile into the car for a trip to Sears or Caldor for the family portrait.

When dad was off the clock, he was off the clock— and more than likely enjoying a cold one with pals at their private hang-out— The Line Club— on Neponset Avenue. Or, perhaps belting out a musical number with the New Neponset Players, a crew of St. Ann’s faithful who performed shows regularly at the school auditorium back in the ‘70s and ‘80s.

Frank’s family — including Maureen, his wife of 39 years and their four children— eventually grew to count 13 grandkids and one great-grandchild in its ranks.

His is a fine legacy— one that will long be immortalized in the memorable photographs that he has left behind.

As Frank himself said in 1981: “For a kid from Dorchester ending up as a photographer at the Globe? It’s not too shabby.”

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