Bette's Home Page

Nancy Chittick O'Brien
August 4, 1930 - September 20, 2011

Nancy and Arthur at Pebble Beach Villas

On the Boat
Patrick, Nancy, and Cara

Nancy and Arthur in Boston Harbor for the Tall Ships


I met Nancy on one of my first dates with Charlie. It was 1971. We had just seen Jacques Brel at the Charles Playhouse and were driving home from Boston. He said, "Do you want to stop at the O'Briens? They're having a party." Even though Charlie had already told me about his friends, Arthur and Nancy, I was a little nervous, but I thought, if he wants me to go there, and they're his friends, why not.

My memories from the 70s can be foggy, but my memories of that evening are clear: The O'Briens' Danvers home is beautiful, the fireplace makes the whole room glow, the leftovers on the table still look inviting, and Nancy and Arthur welcome me. Arthur jokes about our Boston College connection, and Nancy looks as if she's happy to meet a potential new friend. Guests are still lingering. I join a few women discussing a 1970s' hot topic. Nancy isn't in the room. Charlie is somewhere with the men. Listening to the women, I'm thinking, it's odd that Charlie's friends are so conservative, when Charlie definitely is not.

I found out later that terms like conservative or liberal had nothing to do with Nancy. She had no interest in such abstractions. Her interest was in real people. Nancy was real. No affectations. No pretenses. No lies. You knew what she believed, what she thought, and how she felt. Her thoughts, her feelings, and her actions were one. And that is my definition of integrity.

And, Nancy loved REAL people. People without pretenses were one of Nancy's main interests in life. Her motto could have been, Be who you are, and I'll love you. And, like anyone with a passionate interest, Nancy asked questions and listened to answers. She was one of the best listeners I have ever known. And the wonderful thing is, if someone is interested in you, you like being in that person's presence. I loved talking to Nancy because she listened, and she listened because she was interested in what I had to say.

How often do our children really enjoy talking to one of our old friends? Well, our middle daughter Lori, who, of our three daughters, knew Nancy best, was always happy to spend a Sunday on the boat when the O'Briens were onboard because, even as a child, she enjoyed Nancy's company. I've often heard Lori say, "I like Nancy. I like talking to her. She's not boring."

Nancy truly loved her friends and she showed it in so many, many ways. If she ever offended anyone by probing too deep, or asking too many questions, it was only because she cared too much about them and wanted to understand them more.

Nancy's interest in real people did not apply only to friends. She invited me a to a Boston Globe Author/ Book event in Boston, and it was clear to me that Nancy was far more interested in the details of the author's own life than in details from the author's novel. This struck me funny because the author was there to promote, not her real life, but the fake lives of the characters in her novel. Nancy always loved a good novel, but if a real character turned up, she'd put the book down.

A few years ago, Charlie and I, with our 14-year-old granddaughter Molly, visited Nancy and Arthur in Bonita Springs. Nancy took Molly and me shopping. In store after store, dressing-room after dressing-room, Nancy would have Molly come out to model every item she tried on, offering her comment on each. She was as interested in Molly's choices as if she were shopping for a ball gown with Kara or for a skateboard with Aiden. Molly didn't want to leave the O'Brien's. She wanted to spend our whole vacation right there.

When Nancy was on oxygen and lived on Little Neck for a summer, we went to dinner at a different restaurant every other Wednesday, on Arthur and Charlie's poker nights. Invariably, Nancy would meet someone she knew in the restaurant, someone from Brookwood, someone from Hamilton, or an old Governor Dummer friend of Rick's, and those chance meetings delighted her. One time Patrick joined us, and that really made her happy. Another time she enjoyed having Kathy and Lori with us at the Black Cow.

I last saw Nancy in the hospital, about two weeks before she died. She was very ill. She had pains in her legs, the medication was making her drowsy, she was thirsty and couldn't drink the ginger ale because of the horrible thickening they had put in it. Debbie was sitting on the bed holding her hand. Nancy looked up at me, and told me to brush my hair back, off my face. That totally astounded me. The only other person in the world in that condition who would have noticed my hair was my mother. Nancy was dying and still could be interested in a friend. I'll always be grateful for Nancy's friendship. In an ordinary way, Nancy was an extraordinary woman.
--Bette Tsoutsouras
Bette's Home Page