City Native Dies: Was Known in Europe and U.S. for Math Pedagogy

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Thomas C. O’Brien, professor emeritus of curriculum and instruction at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a tireless advocate for advanced math studies at the grade school level, died Dec. 6, 2010, at his home in St. Louis after a long illness.

Thomas C. O’Brien, professor emeritus of curriculum and instruction at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and a tireless advocate for advanced math studies at the grade school level, died Dec. 6, 2010, at his home in St. Louis after a long illness. He was 72.

Born in New York City, the son of Thomas C. O’Brien and Dorothy Beers O’Brien, Professor O’Brien was educated by the Irish Christian Brothers at Iona Preparatory School and at Iona College, New Rochelle, N.Y., where he earned a bachelor of science in 1959.

Awarded a New York State Regents Scholarship and a New York State Regents Teaching Fellowship, he earned a master’s at Columbia University in 1960 and a doctorate in 1967 at New York University.

In 1970, O’Brien joined the education faculty at SIU Edwardsville, where he directed The Teachers Center Project, a federally funded program designed to strengthen the teaching and learning of elementary school mathematics. Formerly the senior mathematics editor for the Macmillan Company, he also taught at Iona Prep and Iona College, and at Boston University from 1968 until he came to Edwardsville.

He lectured in the United States, Canada, the U.K., Germany, Hungary, South Africa and Brazil on the development of children’s mathematical thinking, and in 1978 was named the first NATO Senior Research Fellow in Science.

As a curriculum developer, O’Brien authored more than 50 books for children, in the United States, the UK, Germany and Brazil, and wrote more than 80 papers on children's mathematical problem solving. His work has been translated into Hebrew, Portuguese, Icelandic and German. He also developed prizewinning educational software for Sunburst Communications and also Palm.

Active in the educational technology community, he was awarded the Technology in Learning Leadership Award by the Computer Using Educators (CUE) in October 2002.
He is survived by his wife of 49 years, Gail Marshall O’Brien; his son, Thomas C. O’Brien III; his daughter-in-law Shellie Kahane, MD, and granddaughter Molly of Berkeley, Calif.; as well as his daughters Ellen Tankel, of New York City; and Virginia O’Brien, of Asheville, N.C.

A memorial service will be held at 10 a.m. Jan. 21, at St. Anselm Church, 530 South Mason Road, Creve Coeur, Mo.

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to the American Cancer Society; the Holy Trinity/Grand Endeavor Scholarship Fund, c/o St. Anselm Parish, St. Louis, Mo.; or the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra.

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