“Every day is extremely full, and there is rarely any time just for myself, but I feel best when I believe that I may have made a difference in someone else’s life.”
Burlington County Freeholder Mary Ann O’Brien has deep roots in Burlington County. A Medford resident for 20 years, she was born and raised in Delran. She attended St. Casimir’s Elementary School and Holy Cross High School. She completed her first year of college at Burlington County College.
Today, this prominent attorney and former Medford Councilwoman is serving her third year of a three-year term as Freeholder that began January 1, 2010.
Mary Ann practices law at Crammer, Bishop & O’Brien, P.C. in Medford. She is a member of the Medford Business Association, Friends of the Medford Cultural Arts, and the Medford Historical Society. She lives in Medford with her husband, Tim, and their son, Dan.
Mary Ann is active in her church, and serves as the Director of Music Ministry for Resurrection Parish in Delran. She is also a member of the board of the United Way of Burlington County. Mary Ann O’Brien “The Advocate”
Mary Ann’s responsibilities and initiatives as a Freeholder speak to the needs, and concerns, of women and seniors at every turn. As Freeholder, her main areas of oversight include Health & Human Services, Office on Aging, Public Safety & Emergency Management, and Consumer Affairs/Weights and Measures.
As Director of Health & Human Services she oversees the Burlington County Health Department and that has put her in the position of promoting the County’s flu clinics as well as the Women, Infants and Children (WIC) supplemental food program.
WIC provides nutritious foods, nutrition education (including breastfeeding promotion and support), and referrals to health and other social services for participants at no cost. WIC serves low-income pregnant, postpartum and breastfeeding women, and infants and children up to age 5 who are at nutrition risk.
“What I like best about the Health Department is the dedication of the staff to its preventative health care mission,” said Mary Ann, “and that mission targets the most vulnerable among us.”
The County is able to direct uninsured and underinsured residents to two clinics operated by an independently run non-profit medical organization. One of them is located in Buttonwood Hospital, which the County recently auctioned off to a private operator. The contract with the clinic was renewed, and it will remain in place, at least for the time being.
“It’s important that those who seek medical treatment at the clinic continue to have a ‘home;’ that is, a place where their medical records are kept, and there can be some continuity of care,” she said.
She also assists the Health Department in its campaign to highlight the importance of vaccinations. Vaccines not only help protect vaccinated individuals, but also help protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of infectious disease. “Immunization is a shared responsibility. Families, healthcare professionals, and public health officials must work together to protect the entire community,” she said.
Targeting health and fitness issues facing families across the County, especially women, children and seniors, Mary Ann, an avid runner, unveiled an idea to launch a Sunday “walk in the park.”
Her idea became a program – Sneaker Sundays – which, she hopes, will motivate residents to join her on a summer long schedule of walks on the trails in the various County parks. In the process, they get a guided tour of each park.
“Every doctor will tell you that walking is the best exercise,” said Mary Ann. “Moms with kids, and perhaps older parents to take care of, can bring everyone on to the trails with them. They get to see some nice scenery while practicing healthy exercise habits. Hopefully, this program encourages them to make walking an everyday habit.”
Mary Ann is also the Freeholder assigned to oversee the Office on Aging, an agency with a broad range of services for seniors. One of the most visible of these is the nutrition program that includes Meals on Wheels, a program that provides more than 600 meals daily to homebound seniors.
“Keep in mind that the person delivering that meal is often the only individual that sees that senior on a regular basis,” she said. “One of our employees is credited with saving the life of a woman that she discovered unconscious.”
The Office on Aging also provides senior citizens with information and counseling on other matters such as transportation, legal assistance, home health services, respite care, and adult day care.
As the liaison to Consumer Affairs, Mary Ann is an active participant in the mortgage foreclosure prevention forums aimed at providing homeowners with the information they need to salvage their finances and stay in their homes. The forums feature speakers with county, state, and non-profit agencies that specialize in financial counseling and provide homeowners with instructions on what they can do to avoid foreclosure. “We have held eight of these forums to date, and those who have attended have walked away with a wealth of advice and information on what they can do to avert losing their homes,” she said. “The forums offer free, practical advice, and our panel of experts also respond to specific problems and questions.
“Those who attend find out very quickly that they are not alone, and depending upon their personal situations, there’s often an opportunity to address a pending or anticipated foreclosure action,” she added.
“At the forums, you see individuals of all ages and walks of life, all anxious to do whatever they can to save their homes. But you can’t help noticing that women are often the ones handling the family’s finances during these crisis periods. A woman at one forum was representing not only her own interests, but also the interests of two other family members facing foreclosure,” she said. “Ladies like her always ask the right questions, and they can account for every letter and phone conversation that preceded and followed the formal notice of foreclosure.”
Consumer Affairs also investigates and mediates consumer complaints filed with the department and presents consumer education and public awareness programs to schools, senior citizen clubs, and public and private associations. The department distributes consumer protection pamphlets to the general public and provides a three-year history of consumer complaints filed against a business.
As the Freeholder assigned to the County’s Public Safety Department she is witness to, and an ardent supporter of, the Emergency Management personnel and team that branches out into all 40 municipalities. More than 1,500 male and female first responders answered the call for help when Hurricane Irene swept across Burlington County last summer.
“We have the largest citizen volunteer corps among all the counties in the State. You can’t help but notice the number of husbands and wives who come into the program together,” said Mary Ann.
“We were extremely fortunate that, amid the floods and destruction, no lives were lost. I had the privilege of joining with my fellow freeholders in presenting attractive lapel pins to all those who responded before, during, and after the storm,” she added.
Freeholder O’Brien is involved in a number of other initiatives. She recently unveiled the Burlington County Animal Shelter’s “Free Pets for Vets” program, through which County veterans may adopt a dog or cat free of charge. The typical cost of adopting from the shelter ranges from $45 to $100. The actual cost depends on whether it is a cat or dog, as well as the age of the animal. All animals are neutered or spayed before being adopted out.
“It is well known that companion animals can help to reduce stress, depression and anxiety,” said Mary Ann. “What we’re doing is reducing the barriers for adopting animals for those who, we believe, will truly appreciate the companionship.
“All county residents in the market for a pet should consider the shelter,” said added. “Visitors are welcomed to walk through the kennels, and acquaint themselves with our ‘occupants’ who are looking for new homes.”
As a board member of the United Way of Burlington County, Mary Ann is working with the locally run volunteer organization, the Burlington County Chamber of Commerce, Burlington County Courts, and local non-profit agencies to collect much needed food to help end hunger in the area.
She recently asked Burlington County employees and Burlington County Courts employees to collect food items for local food pantries. Residents and local businesses are also being asked to continue to donate non-perishable food, money or food gift cards to their local food banks, or to United Way partner agencies Catholic Charities and Christian Caring Centers. These two agencies are distributing collected items to pantries across the County.
“I am asking County residents and local businesses to join our efforts to help stop hunger in Burlington County. Many of our residents are in need of food in these continuingly difficult economic times. We need to make sure all of our neighbors know we are here to support them,” she said. “Together, we hope to fill our local pantries with enough food for everyone.”
Collection boxes are located throughout County buildings. Food banks are most in need of donations during the summer months, when donations are traditionally lower. Food banks are in desperate need of food items or food store gift cards so that they can purchase items that are in more demand.
When asked how she juggles her many roles and responsibilities Mary Ann replied, “I am able to take on a lot more duties between my employment as an attorney, my elected office of Burlington County Freeholder, as well as my position as the Director of Music Ministry at my parish in Delran (where I play the organ and piano and direct the choir) because I am now an ‘empty nester.’ I first ran for office the year after our only son, Dan, started college and began living away at school.
“Also,” Mary Ann continued, “My husband Tim and I met in law school (and have been married for 28 years) and are more used to working together than not working together. Tim is on the local planning board, which has meetings the same night as one of the Freeholder meetings. He is also a member of the choir. So, there are many things that we are able to do together. Many people ask how we can work with each other in our law practice. Tim has a great sense of humor, and we find that we are able to make each other laugh even though much of our days are filled with very hard challenges.” Mary Ann O’Brien “The Woman”
What does a day in your life look like?A typical day starts with a five mile run with two of my girlfriends at about 6:30am. (The three of us began running almost 20 years ago and meet to run about three days a week). I often schedule Freeholder Department meetings to start at 8am on the days I do not run. Then I move on to my law office in Medford, where I can be scheduled for a deposition, a court appearance, or drafting a brief for filing in the Appellate Division or New Jersey Supreme Court. I also receive court appointments to represent persons who have guardianship actions brought against them. Throughout the workweek I may have to address issues of scheduling with regard to my position as Music Director, like talking with brides to compile a list of their wedding music, or with family members who have just lost a loved one and want proper music for their funeral remembrance. Every Wednesday there is a Freeholder Conference meeting at 5pm with a Public Meeting at 7pm on the 2nd and 4th Wednesday of each month.I try to keep a check on my mother, who has been widowed twice and lives alone in Mt. Laurel, seven miles away from my home. At 87, she is still a very good driver and ends up driving many of her friends for various events. She is quite active with her weekly ceramics, card games, water aerobics, church activities, and occasional trips to Atlantic City. Then, when I come home at night, I always have to spend time giving lots of attention to our two Tuxedo cats “Ben” and “Jerry,” who are brothers, and who were rescued from outside. They both run to greet us whenever we come home. Of all your accomplishments, personal and professional, what are you most proud of?Personally, I am very proud of our son Dan, as he has turned out to be quite an honest and righteous adult who loves to make people laugh. I am probably most proud of him achieving the rank of Eagle Scout, as it is the culmination of Scouting, with its emphasis on service and leadership. I am equally proud of his recent acceptance to medical school, which he will start this August at Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia. I hope that I have helped him in some way along that road.Professionally, I would have to say that I was most proud having graduated from law school and passing the bar exam to be able to practice law, especially since I grew up without a father. On a day in April, when he was 51 years old, he went to work and had a massive heart attack at his desk. He could not be revived. I was just nine years old and in 4th grade. I had three older brothers. It was very hard on my mother who was just 42 at the time. Do you have a role model or someone you would like to emulate and why?There are many people whom I admire, mostly for their qualities of “service to others” and “leadership:” my husband, Tim O’Brien; my mother, Marie Kraemer; Benjamin Franklin; former President George H.W. Bush; Mother Teresa. Do you have a favorite motto or quote; something that you believe in, strive for, etc?I always strive to look for the best in everyone. I challenge myself to find what makes each person unique. I try my best to discover every person’s individual inner gifts and talents. Where appropriate, I seek ways to have them utilize such gifts and talents in the best way possible.I also grew up with an article that my father had taped to the inside door of the coat closet, which was entitled: “Laughter is the Best Medicine.” Although my memories of my father are few, they mostly involve remembering him enjoying his family, with much love, and laughter.As seen in Burlington County Woman