'Bob's truck' will be the latest tribute to dedicated community volunteer in Labrador

·4 min read

There's a bit of Bobby everywhere — in the town hall, the church steeple and the boardwalk that reaches the top of the town.

It's not just West St. Modeste either: His sister says practically every home in the region has a bit of carpentry that was touched by the late Robert O'Brien.

So when the new fire truck arrives, bearing his name, it will be yet another reminder of a dedicated community volunteer who gave so much to his town.

"Bob's presence will always be here," said his sister, Roseann Linstead. "There's so much of Bob here."

O'Brien was born in Blanc-Sablon, Que., but dedicated himself to the little town of West St. Modeste. He died in September, more than two years after he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. He was 54.

O'Brien moved to Labrador when he was nine and started school in West St. Modeste. He met his wife, Valerie, who he married when he was 22.

Submitted by Roseann Linstead
Submitted by Roseann Linstead

The rest was history — the couple had three daughters and four grandsons, and they spent their years giving back to the small town where they lived.

Bobby, as he is known, served on the town council and as fire chief in the community. Mayor Agnes Pike said she identified O'Brien as a possible successor, as she is readying to leave municipal politics after more than 40 years.

"It has to be volunteers, and it has to be dedicated people and the right kind of people to do it," Pike in October. "Bob was the kind of guy who would have taken that on."

Fire department leader Delbert Pike called O'Brien determined, hard-working and like "a dog to work."

"He just didn't know how to stop, right from the garden, to the woods. He cut 35 pickup loads of wood [last] winter," said Pike.

"We needed a new fire truck. Bob might make five phone calls a week if he had to," the mayor added. "And that's the kind of person he was, it was no good to say no to Bob. Bob was going to keep moving on things."

Submitted by Roseann Linstead
Submitted by Roseann Linstead

That hard work never faltered, even in the face of a cancer diagnosis and treatments in St. Anthony and in St. John's.

O'Brien fulfilled his dream of opening his own carpentry shop, and in 2019, he took on a contract with the Town of West St. Modeste to restore an aging church in the community.

"If he thought there was a need for something in the community, he fought for it," his sister explained.

In August, just weeks before his death, he walked his oldest daughter down the aisle for her wedding on his front lawn, even though his health had taken a hit. That's what he set to do, so that's what he did.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

"He had an illness, and he fought to the bitter end," Linstead said. "He put up a courageous fight."

That's just who he was, Linstead said. A fighter, who loved deeply.

"Bob was my brother, and my friend," she said. "He was a fisherman, an avid moose hunter, an amazing berry picker, planted potatoes, all of these traits he shared with his children and grandchildren.

"He was big in size, but his heart was twice as big."

Submitted by Roseann Linstead
Submitted by Roseann Linstead

Following his funeral in September, and a visitation held at his carpentry shop, members of the fire department led O'Brien through town in a parade.

The fire department has one more memorial on the way — a new fire truck for the community that will be named in his honour.

Delbert Pike said O'Brien fought for years for the community to get a new truck, to replace the 1987 Chevrolet vehicle they bought for a dollar.

Garrett Barry/CBC
Garrett Barry/CBC

It was just one more thing O'Brien had his hands in. Pike said O'Brien, fortunately, knew the truck was coming.

"He was told before he died, and he also was told that the truck would be named after him. I think that meant a lot to him," said Pike.

"He knew that all his work and everything that he put into it, it did pay off."

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