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Community Mourns O'Brien

Hundreds turn out for local man's funeral.

When Herndon Herndon High School's Robotics Team traveled down to Richmond for a state competition about five years ago, there was one team member, Griffen O'Brien, who knew just what was needed to win.

"He had this idea that if we had the [Herndon High School] mascot with us, we would definitely win," said Cathy Bobzien, a math teacher at Herndon High School and the sponsor of the Robotics Team.

The only hang-up was that there was no one to wear the oversized bee costume once they got it to Richmond. Seeing the need of his team to have spirit, Griffen O'Brien knew just what to do, and donned the costume — including the requisite tights.

"It barely fit him. Seeing him walking around, bumping around in that costume in Richmond was just hilarious," Bobzien said as she laughed. "Those competitions are all about spirit and that was what Griffen was all about."

"It was that smile. He just had a way about him where he was able to connect with people wherever he went."

It is that spirit and joyful attitude that Bobzien said she will remember most about him.

Griffen O'Brien, 20, died suddenly at his home in Philadelphia on Monday, Sept. 11 of unknown causes. A 2004 graduate of Herndon High School, he was in Philadelphia studying biomedical engineering at Drexel University.

FOR HERNDON HIGH School band director Richard Bergman, who worked for four years with Griffen O'Brien, a tenor saxophone player, the news came as a shock.

"It's just indescribable, that's all I can say," Bergman said. "People this young aren't supposed to go this early."

Griffen O'Brien's death is a tremendous loss for all of those around him, he said.

"It didn't matter what your mood was, when Griffen was in the room, you smiled, no doubt about it," said Dave Lavery, a NASA program executive who is the lead mentor for the Robotics Team and a close friend of Griffen O'Brien.

Bergman agreed, describing his light-hearted personality as "infectious."

"He was just an outgoing, gregarious kind of kid, a lot of fun to be with," Bergman said. "He was the kid that you just could never really get mad at. Everybody liked him, there was no one that disliked him."

At a meeting last week, the Robotics Team unanimously decided that they would dedicate this year to Griffen O'Brien's memory, Lavery said. There are already efforts underway among family and friends to establish a memorial scholarship fund in Griffen O'Brien's name, he added.

One of the most amazing things about Griffen O'Brien was in the way that he struck a balance between the serious and the comical, Bobzien said.

Despite his often humorous attitude, he never faltered from his responsibilities at school or interrupted class, she added.

"I knew about his personality and I knew that we had a very tight curriculum and that we had to work real hard," said Bobzien of her first impressions when Griffen O'Brien enrolled in her advanced placement calculus class his senior year. "But it never was a problem. We could relax in between [classes], but as soon as that bell rang, he could turn it off and focus on the lesson."

IT WAS GRIFFEN O'Brien's cheerful attitude and comical behavior that was brought to the minds of the several people who spoke to the more than 200 who gathered at the Adams Green Funeral Home in Herndon on Monday for his funeral.

Some remembered the jokes he would say to cheer them up while others recalled his enthusiasm for music and life in general.

"We were very touched by all that Griffen's friends, both here and in Philadelphia had to say about him," said Ellen O'Brien, his mother. "They were very great and showed us just what wonderful friends he has."

The vast number of both students and their families that came out for Griffen O'Brien's funeral is the best testament to how much he meant to so many people, Lavery said.

"Griffen was the type of person that when he would come over and sit in your basement, he wouldn't just stay there, he'd talk to the whole family and connect with everyone," he said. "To see the sheer numbers of people who showed up for a 20-year-old student ... it really shows just what an unbelievable effect that Griffen had on everyone."