Thomas Raymond O'Brian

March 15th, 1955November 21st, 2019

On March 15, 1955, a magical event occurred that would blow the world away.
On that day, Thomas Raymond O'Brian was born to Alice C. Carow and Etienne Raymond O'Brian. The world never knew what would hit it until it was too late. Wanting to follow in his father's footsteps, Thomas went to medical school to fill his father's shoes. Unfortunately the father he cherished, passed away while he was pursuing this goal - devastating him, but not stopping him from his goal of making an imprint on the world. He finished his studying in chemistry, gaining a bachelor of science degree at Washburn University in Kansas in 1978. He also discovered a lifelong relationship with a woman studying to be a nurse. Her name came to be Carolyn K. O'Brian in 1979 and they shared a marriage of 39 years until her death in 2018.
While pursuing his education, Tom had to join the Army as a 2nd lieutenant, but decided after 6 months he could not be away from his wife. His next step in life brought him to working towards a PHD in physics, which he was finally able to achieve in 1991, but not before two sons to hold his family name came to berth. One,  Jonathan O'Brian in 1982, and the second in 1989 - David O'Brian.
By the end of 1991, Tom and his family had moved from Wisconsin to Maryland to start a career at an institution that became influenced enough by the character of Tom, so much so that his legacy and tenure at this institution (National Institute of Standards and Technology, NIST) will hardly ever be forgotten, even to the very top of the leadership. 
After feeling like Tom had done what he could in the Gaithersburg, Maryland campus of NIST, he transferred to the Chief of Time and Frequency Division, located in Boulder, CO in 2003 with his family. This job gave him responsibility over the official time of the USA, which he loved the idea of. He later moved on to take the responsibility of two more full time jobs, one being the director of the Boulder, CO NIST campus and the other being the chief of the Quantum Physics Division, a joint NIST and Colorado University research lab.
The ultimate goal of Tom O'Brian was to help and progress as many people as he could in his work life and in his personal life. He largely put his devotion of others too much over his devotion to himself and after the death of his wife of 39 years in 2018, after spending nearly 4 years devoted to caring for his cancer sick wife, his heart could not take it much more and gave out on the eve of November 21, 2019, unfortunately with no one around to help him as he had tried so hard to be there for so many others. His passion to put others over himself is his greatest contribution to the world and humanity. He will sorely be missed by all who knew him.
Thomas Raymond O'Brian is survived by his two sons, Jonathan and David O'Brian, as well as his sisters and brother-in-law, his cousins, aunt, and any other extended family member and friends who wish to survive him. We all hope Tom is at peace and a better place.









I started at NIST in Jan. 1993 in the old Radiometric Physics Division and soon met Tom. Since we were both named Tom (along with lots of other guys) we used to refer to each other as "TO" and "TG". After a few years we went our separate ways. (I moved to the reactor at NIST.) I still recall a conversation with him back in the early 90's where he expressed his desire to support the best research at NIST, which he went on to do in his management positions. He was a great guy and I am so sorry to hear of his passing.
My prayers go out to the extended O'Brian family on the passing of Tom and, a year before, his wife Carolyn. I was Tom's supervisor and mentor for several years in the Office of the Director of the NIST Physics Laboratory and a colleague and friend of his for more than 15 years. Tom worked harder and longer than almost anyone else I knew at NIST, but Tom's unique gift was to be able to understand even the most complicated research and then to explain it and its impact in language that anyone could understand. This ability was one of the keys to his promotions to the Chief of not one, but two NIST Divisions in Boulder, each of which were honored with Nobel Prizes in Physics during Tom's tenure as Division chief. He used this gift in most effectively highlighting the contributions of the scientists in his divisions and promoting their research throughout the scientific community. William R. Ott, Ph.D. Deputy Director, NIST Physics Laboratory (retired)
I am so shocked and sorry to hear of Tom’s passing! I worked with him during his tenure at the NIST Program Office where he was an effective and responsive provider of internal and external program needs! NIST HQ lost this great assistance when he went to Boulder. But NIST gained a passionate and creative leader of Time and Frequency! What great strides were made with this leadership! That he became Director of Boulder Labs and JILA was no surprise—-he was a natural! NIST has lost him way too soon. Susan Zevin
I was deeply saddened to hear of Tom’s passing. I worked with Tom on a number of experiments in optical physics, and also during my tenure in the Program Office when Tom was Deputy Director there. Tom was a fantastic collaborator and an outstanding mentor, he taught me a lot. My thoughts and prayers go out to his family; he was one of a kind. Incredibly smart, thoughtful, compassionate. He left us all too soon. We could all learn from the examples he set. Patrick Looney NIST 1986-2005
Tom has had an incredibly wide-reaching impact on NIST, JILA, and physics. Our deepest condolences to his family and friends. He will not be forgotten.
I was fortunate to get to know Tom although not nearly long enough. When I joined PML as a Division Chief in November 2018, I appreciated the support he gave not only me but my division. Tom was truly an asset to NIST, PML, and certainly the PML management team. His absence has left a big set of shoes to fill. Tom was a class act. RIP Tom. You are sorely missed. Donna Lauren