AUGUSTA — In his five terms on the Augusta City Council and six on the Board of Education, totaling some 24 years, Mark O’Brien won the respect of his peers.

He did so not with a loud voice or by courting controversy, but by being a good listener whose civil and thoughtful approach made his fellow councilors and board members realize that to ignore him would be at their own peril.

Mark O’Brien

O’Brien, who also previously served as chairperson of the charter commission and as interim mayor, recently had his last meeting, at least for now, as a city councilor. He wasn’t reelected in November and a new slate of councilors will take office with the start of the new year.

His fellow councilors said O’Brien is a model of civility and public service.

“You’ve always been a class act and someone who is truly a model for public service,” At-Large Councilor Darek Grant said at O’Brien’s last meeting Dec. 19. “When I first started, 10 years ago, and over those nine years on the council, I’ve always looked to you for guidance and … you were the right colleague to try to follow … and learn from.

“Your questions were always thoughtful; when you spoke, I listened,” he added. “And I never wanted to be on the opposite side of you and felt, if I was, I must be doing something wrong.”

City officials thought so highly of O’Brien that he’s the first-ever recipient of the key to the city, an award Mayor David Rollins said was created to recognize someone whose service to the city has been extraordinary.

“Solid, mature, capable, dedicated leadership in so many roles in this community, over so many years,” City Manager William Bridgeo said of O’Brien. “It’s hard to express, in just a few words, the importance and depth of the contributions Mark has made. And he’s done it as an exemplar of class and decency and civility.”

At the last council meeting before his term ends, O’Brien listed off the names of some 50 people with whom he has served on the council or school board. He said, “… not to reminisce, but to hold them up and shine a light on them.”

“And remind folks of the long line of Augusta citizens who have given their time and talents to make the city the best it can be,” O’Brien said. “And I’m proud to have served with each and every one of them.”

He thanked his family, especially his wife Julie, whom he credited with making him a better person, and hinted he may yet return to public office in Augusta.

“I will miss the work, the people — constituents, council members and city staff. But I’m confident Augusta is in good shape and in good hands,” O’Brien said. “Who knows what the future holds for any of us? I certainly don’t. So, I’m about to turn the page, but I do not close the book. Merry Christmas, happy holidays and may God bless all of you and God bless Augusta.”

O’Brien was a star running back for Cony High School’s football team in his younger days, later becoming a lawyer for the U.S. Small Business Administration, a job he still holds. He and his wife raised five kids in Augusta.

During his time on the city council and board of education he saw extensive commercial development, including expansion of the Marketplace at Augusta and development of Augusta Crossing. In addition, work that took place during his time on those boards also include: expansion and renovation of Lithgow Public Library, creation of the Buker Community Center, construction of the third bridge across the Kennebec River, the ongoing revitalization of downtown, construction of a new MaineGeneral hospital, development of Mill Park on the river, redevelopment of the Cony flatiron building and former Hodgkins Middle School into senior housing, construction of a parking garage downtown, conversion of many city and school buildings to renewable energy sources, and acquiring the property to develop Howard Hill Historical Park.

Bridgeo said O’Brien played a key role in reviewing complex tax increment financing agreements the city has used over many years to help retain businesses, spur development and capture tax revenues. That includes funds generated by the development of natural gas infrastructure, which have paid for roughly $1 million a year in improvements to city streets, the construction of the North Augusta Fire Station, the renovation of Hartford Fire Station, and other capital improvements.

Beyond his elected office roles, O’Brien has also been involved in numerous community activities, including coaching youth sports, serving 11 years as a board member of the Augusta Food Bank, and his current role as president of Capital Area Recreational Association.

Ward 4 Councilor Eric Lind described O’Brien as a quiet, competent leader with high standards of both personal and professional integrity who has often been the “voice of self control” on the council.

“You come at issues with a basis of trust, which I think is imperative for success,” Lind said to O’Brien. “You act on conviction, not impulse. Honest and humble, what I’ve noticed is you have a way of showing that all persons have a fundamental worth. You’re a great listener Mark, and that’s needed now more than ever before.”

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