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Morgan J. O’Brien

Justice of Supreme Court

Centurion, 1899–1937

Full Name Morgan Joseph O’Brien

Born 28 April 1852 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Died 16 June 1937 in New York (Manhattan), New York

Buried Corpus Christi Monastery, Bronx, New York

Proposed by Frederic R. Coudert and Benjamin Perkins

Elected 1 April 1899 at age forty-six

Proposer of:

Century Memorial

It would be difficult to recall many dwellers in this city who have been more respected and beloved than Morgan Joseph O’Brien. He had a talent for friendship; his social gifts were based on a sympathetic and indulgent outlook. Up to the last, his sense of humor never failed him; all who knew him well will remember the rollicking fun of his genial conversation. He was one of the very early golf players, and in the first years of the Shinnecock Golf Club he was a popular figure. Annually, he gave a luncheon to all members of the Club, including a number of people prominent in New York life. O’Brien described those occasions as “Harvest Home Luncheons.” He was usually called upon to sing, in a rather weak tenor voice, various humorous songs, probably composed by himself.

But Judge O’Brien’s part in his community extended also to every phase of civic activity—to charities, to education, to religion, and to the uplifting of the unfortunate. Born in this city twenty years after his father had left Ireland, O’Brien was brought up in an atmosphere of sympathy for Ireland in her troubles; he himself inherited some of the most lovable qualities of the race. After a brief but active practice at the bar he was appointed by Mayor Hewitt as Corporation Counsel, but held that office only for a brief period until he was elected Justice of the Supreme Court at the early age of thirty-six. He was the youngest man ever chosen to that important office. As Judge, he exemplified the quality which suffused a spirit of informality, without abating at all the maintenance of dignity and order. In performance of his judicial functions he was industrious and fair; he had the gift of applying to questions, both of law and fact, a common sense which avoided circuitous or subtle methods of approach. As Presiding Justice of the Appellate Division of the Supreme Court in the First Department, he made high reputation for maintaining the dignity of the court while inspiring confidence, among lawyers and litigants, that their cases would be carefully considered. He had that most valuable quality in a presiding judge, the tact and sense of fairness which was often able to compose seemingly irreconcilable differences among the members of the court.

Alexander Dana Noyes
1938 Century Association Yearbook