Drew O’Brien was honored with the Chancellor’s Medal in a surprise presentation at the 2014 UMass Worcester Commencement-eve dinner held to recognize honorary degree recipients. The dinner feted Cherylann and Leonard Gengel and H. Brownell Wheeler, MD, and keynote speaker U.S. Rep. James McGovern. O’Brien is special representative in the Office of Global Partnerships at the Department of State and a longtime aide to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry.
“You have exhibited an unwavering commitment to public service; a deep and abiding admiration for human dignity; an uncanny ability to connect with people from all backgrounds; a creative intellect geared toward innovative and practical solutions; and principled leadership based upon the tenets of good will, mutual respect and shared goals,” said Chancellor Michael F. Collins in recognizing O’Brien.
O’Brien was instrumental in helping the Gengels navigate the federal bureaucracy in their desperate search for their daughter, Britney, in the aftermath of the deadly earthquake that struck Haiti in 2010.
“You are there to help people, pure and simple. Whether it’s a family from Holden desperately trying to find out what happened to their daughter in the immediate aftermath of an earthquake in Haiti; or a grieving community facing the loss of one of their own in the line of duty here at home or around the world,” said Chancellor Collins. “You expertly navigate the complex and often bewildering intricacies of governments on behalf of those who are relying on it most.”
In accepting the medal from Chancellor Collins, a surprised O’Brien said he was deeply touched by the honor.
“You toil every day to product our finest,” he said of Collins. “You move at lightning speed and change a lot of lives.”
O’Brien said the stories of the Gengels and McGovern are intertwined.
“I think of those kids in Haiti (who now have a home in the orphanage the Gengels started as a tribute to their daughter), and what you’ve done, and it’s incredible,” he said. “It has been a privilege, it has been an honor, to work with people like you.”
O’Brien has spent his entire career in service to the public. He was Senator Kerry’s Massachusetts state director in the Senate for many years, a role that involved him in all policy and legislative congressional matters affecting Massachusetts, including work with small businesses, organized labor, the LGBT community, youth, veterans groups and new immigrants.
O’Brien served as special assistant to Boston Mayor Thomas M. Menino for several years; he then served as executive director of the mayor’s Office of Neighborhood Services, special assistant to the director of the Boston Redevelopment Authority and chief of staff at the Massachusetts State Lottery Commission. O’Brien also worked on Kerry’s 2004 presidential campaign.
O’Brien has deep ties to the University of Massachusetts, having earned his undergraduate degree at UMass Amherst and having served as deputy chancellor of UMass Boston from 2005 to 2007.