My friend and fellow carpool buddy Fred Turner told me last week that another carpool buddy from my past Toby O’Brien has past away. This news hit me rather hard since Toby was the last Power Plant Man I have seen in person. Toby gave me a call early last year to let me know that he was coming down to the Austin Texas area. He was travelling around in an RV and I drove out to an RV Park to visit him and his wife Trish for a while. I didn’t realize as I drove out of the park that this was going to be the last time I would ever see Toby alive. He died on January 4, 2020 from prostate cancer.
I have written about Toby in a number of posts. The two most memorable are: Toby O’Brien and Doing the Impossible and Toby Teaches Time Management. In these posts I didn’t really indicate what good friends we had become during the time we were driving to and fro from Stillwater to the plant and back. We were so close that after I had not seen him for almost 20 years when I met with him last year, I felt as if nothing had changed. I have always kept him in my mind and I have prayed for his family each day. Because of that I never felt as if we had been far away.
When Fred told me that Toby had died, I felt as if I had just lost a brother. I told my wife that it made me sad to know that Toby had died. I think the reason is that I know he had a son Tim who was about the same age as my daughter and a loving wife that he has left behind. Then this weekend when I was going through some old papers that I was shredding to make more space in my cluttered closet, I found a letter in a folder that was written by Toby.
In September 2000, Toby had written a reference letter for me to use with my resumé as I was preparing to interview for IT jobs. I stopped and stared at the paper in my hand and my face went blank. My wife Kelly knew that something was up right away as I read what Toby had written about me. I finally eked out while trying not to choke on my words “This is a reference letter Toby wrote for me back in 2000.”
I could tell by the way Toby worded his letter that he had taken the time to recommend a true friend. He couldn’t have written a nicer letter about anyone. Needless to say, I set the letter aside a safe distance from the shredder. I brought Toby’s letter to work with me this morning with the intent of pinning it up in my cube as a constant reminder how much Toby continues to mean to me. As I read and re-read his letter this morning, I felt as if I needed to share my thoughts with the rest of the Power Plant family that reads this blog.
In the 20 years that I worked at the Power Plant in North Central Oklahoma, Toby was the smartest and most friendly engineer that we had at our plant. Even during times when we were trying to rile him up, Toby had this way about himself where he would grin and slightly stutter as he was trying to restate the argument so that it showed that he was listening to what was being said, but that he had concerns. Toby taught me that just blowing my top and blurting out how stupid something is, isn’t the best response. Well, I still do that today, but even while I’m saying something like that, I know that Toby would have said that in a better way.
I thought that since Toby had written such a thoughtful Reference letter for me 20 years ago, I should do my best to help him out now, even though I know he doesn’t really need it… so here goes:
FROM: Kevin Breazile
TO: Whom it may concern (St. Peter most likely)
SUBJECT: Reference letter for Thomas A. O’Brien (A stands for Anthony)
I have known Toby since 1990 as we both worked at the OG&E Sooner Power Plant. I know Toby well since we carpooled together for a couple of years. Toby would spend our time together patiently listening as I would read out loud, or comment (or complain) about our daily Power Plant adventures. Toby knows the power of patience and how it improves one’s character.
I always found Toby to be a valuable resource for helping us become inspired to be better in our jobs and in our lives. Toby understood all about friendship and how to apply it in diverse situations. Throughout his time at our Power Plant Toby was well respected by all of the Power Plant Men whether they were mechanics, welders, machinists, electricians, Instrument and Controls workers or operators. He was respected because he would stop and take the time to listen to each of them as if they were just as important as anyone else. This is a rare gift.
Toby was always open to learn new things. Where some people in his position wouldn’t take the time to listen to the regular workers, Toby sought us out and brainstormed with us to find solutions. Toby was an avid user of kindness. He was instrumental in instituting a culture of kindness and respect at our power plant.
Toby has very high morals, is trustworthy and very family oriented. I will be glad to discuss further any specific areas related to Toby’s performance, skills or virtues. Toby will make an excellent new member of the celestial choir and will be greatly missed down here on earth.
Kevin J. Breazile
Former Power Plant Electrician
Sooner Power Plant