Navy captain integral in saving Naval Submarine Base New London dies
By KIMBERLY DRELICH | The Day | Published: February 9, 2019
GROTON, Conn. (Tribune News Service) — Frank "Mick" O'Beirne Jr., a key figure in thwarting attempts to close Naval Submarine Base New London and a long-serving former Town Councilor, died Monday at age 82.
He was remembered this week by community members who spoke about his dedication to both his community and country.
Capt. O'Beirne's 30-year career in the U.S. Navy spanned "command of the George Washington Carver (SSBN 656), command of the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay, Georgia, and leadership of the Trident and Tomahawk missile programs in the Pentagon," according to his obituary.
O'Beirne, a Mystic resident, became integral in local efforts to save the Naval Submarine Base from Base Realignment and Closure proposals, or BRAC. He also served on the Groton Town Council from 1993 to 2012, community members and officials said, as well as a term as mayor, according to his obituary.
"He's the model of what we admire in Connecticut: someone who devotes their whole life to public service even after they leave military service," said Bob Ross, executive director of the Connecticut Office of Military Affairs.
'Effort all the way through'
U.S. Rep. Joe Courtney, D-2nd District, said in a statement that Connecticut "lost a great patriot" with the passing of O'Beirne, who was a "tireless volunteer for Team Connecticut" in blocking BRAC at the base.
"His legacy to the region will live on for generations," Courtney said.
O'Beirne brought expertise about the detailed function of the base, submarines and the quality of life in southeastern Connecticut that was very helpful in building a strategy to save the base, said Stonington First Selectman Rob Simmons, who was serving as U.S. congressman at the time of the 2005 BRAC process.
"There's no question that his involvement helped save the day and helped save the base," Simmons said.
Sam Gejdenson, who was U.S. congressman in 1993, when there was a BRAC proposal to move the submarines from Groton, said O'Beirne was critical to saving the submarine base.
"You don't find a lot of people who come in, volunteer their time and have his confidence, level of ability and effort," he said. "He put in the effort all the way through."
Former Groton Town Manager Mark Oefinger said O'Beirne was integral to the success of the region's fights against BRAC and brought a unique perspective. O'Beirne not only drove submarines but also had commanded the Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay in its early days, and he became a prime spokesman for the group working to save the base in Groton. Calling on his expertise, he was integral to efforts to influence the criteria used in BRAC decisions to be more fair to the submarine base in Groton.
With his white hair and black glasses, looking like the movie star image of a submarine captain, he not only did a magnificent job of putting together the defense of the base, but had a presence about him, Oefinger recalled. When he presented his case before the BRAC commission at a regional hearing in Boston, he had everyone's attention.
"We were all just blown away," Oefinger said. "He did a tremendous job. He was a real presence."
Without people like him and others who led the efforts, the area would be a very different community, Oefinger pointed out.
"It brought this community together in the most remarkable way," said O'Beirne's wife, Kathleen. "I would run into people and they would say: please thank your husband for saving my job."
'An icon of our community'
While running for Town Council, O'Beirne worked really hard at campaigning and knocking on doors — even though it didn't come naturally to him as an introvert — because he felt people needed to be visited by their candidates and needed to have time to say what it was that they really felt strongly about, Kathleen said.
"It wasn’t always what he wanted to hear, but he really felt if you were going to make democracy work, you had to be accessible," she said. Being accessible to people was important to him as a town councilor, as well as using his math skills to carefully analyze the budget each year.
He also was an avid swimmer and diver and a really devoted family man with two children, Heather and Michael, and four grandchildren, Kathleen said.
He also had an "amazingly quick sense of humor" and was an avid reader who visited the library two to three times a week for a breadth of reading materials, she said. He even recited poetry during his interview to be a nuclear officer, at the request of Admiral Hyman Rickover, after O'Beirne mentioned he enjoyed reading poetry and Westerns.
Harry Watson, a former Town Council member and mayor, said that while O'Beirne was serving on the Town Council, as with everything he did, he listened to people, didn't make rash decisions and was a respectful gentleman "you could agree to disagree with." O'Beirne continued to be active in the community, most recently being involved in efforts to vote down charter revisions.
"Mick was an icon of our community," Watson said.
Current Town Mayor Patrice Granatosky said she first met O'Beirne on the Representative Town Meeting in 1995 and remembers going to hearings where he was very kind and patient as she learned the ropes in Groton. Over the years he always took her phone calls when she had questions, she said, and was a wealth of knowledge. He had great attention to detail, was always well-prepared for debates and was fair.
"Mick's passing is a loss to the Town of Groton," she said. "He served our country and our community with great dignity and was held in high esteem."
State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said O'Beirne was a mentor to her and one of the people who convinced her to run for Groton Town Council. She fondly remembered knocking on doors with him while he wore his signature lemon yellow sweater.
The face of the Town Council's efforts to save the base and dedicated to the town, O'Beirne was cool, level-headed, and learned, but also had a silly side and was kind and genuine, she said.
"You couldn’t find a finer human being than Mick," Somers said. "He was a mentor, a leader, a true gentleman, and he will be very missed in our town."