William Robert “Bill” O’Brien, longtime missionary and missions innovator, died Feb. 1. He was 86. O’Brien was born in Fort Worth, graduated with a bachelor’s degree from Hardin-Simmons University in Abilene and earned a master’s degree from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth. He felt the call to serve God early in life, and he served out his calling in many capacities, including as a music minister, pastor, international missionary and writer. Many fondly remember him as a teacher, mentor and friend. Others praised him as a visionary and statesman who challenged Baptists to move beyond a paradigm of isolation and programs to collaborate to reach the spiritually unreached. He and his late wife, Dellanna West O’Brien, were appointed as missionaries to Indonesia in 1962. He served two terms there in the field of music and the arts, taught in the Baptist seminary and directed radio-television efforts for Indonesian Baptists. An internationally recognized missiologist, he taught at Dallas Baptist University, at Baylor University’s Truett Seminary as the inaugural Missions Scholar-in-Residence, and at the John Leland Center for Theological Studies in Arlington, Va. He was founding director of Beeson Divinity School’s Global Center at Samford University, and he also served as missions professor at Beeson Divinity School. He is widely known for his time of service as executive vice president of the Southern Baptist Convention’s Foreign (now International) Mission Board. He founded Bridges of Hope, a community development organization in Indonesia, and he was founder of the Gaston Christian Center, a collaboration of faith-based agencies in Dallas. He served on the board of directors of the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute and was president of the American Society of Missiology. Reflecting on one of his favorite Bible verses, Romans 12:1–3, and his sense of calling, O’Brien said, “The whole idea of becoming a living sacrifice through the transformation of the mind is a daily challenge, not a one-time event.” He was preceded in death by his first wife of 56 years, Dellanna West O’Brien, who served as executive director of national Woman’s Missionary Union. He is survived by his wife of 10 years, Charmaine; children Denise O’Brien Basden and husband Paul; Erin O’Brien Puryear and husband Rick; and Ross O’Brien and wife Lisa; as well as six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren. A celebration of his life will be held Feb. 10 at 1:30 p.m. at Wilshire Baptist Church in Dallas. Donations in his memory can be made to two of the ministries in which he was invested—the Gaston Christian Center and the Pathways Endowment at Wilshire Baptist Church.
Obituary: Bill O’Brien
February 4, 2020