Charles Herbert O'Brien was just a common man who by most standards accomplished lofty heights. Thing is, unless you knew The Judge personally, you never knew about these feats. And that was the way he liked it.
Charles O'Brien had rather give you a fish fry or cabbage and beef than tell you he never lost a political election, once defeating a West Tennessean, Winfield Dunn, who later became governor of Tennessee.
He had rather sing you an Irish ditty than tell you about storming the Pacific beaches in WWII or about the Purple Heart for being wounded in battle. Or about his service in Korea. Or about serving with and sharing quarters with Gen. Douglas MacArthur.
The Judge had rather talk to you about his dogs than tell you about being elected to and serving on the Tennessee Court of Criminal Appeals for 17 years, or his service on the Tennessee Supreme Court retiring as Chief Justice of the Tennessee Supreme Court.
He had rather talk to you about being Mr. Anna Belle than talking about his own political experiences in the Tennessee General Assembly.
That's just the way The Judge liked it.
Friends and family, politicians and common folks filled the Lake Tansi Community Church to celebrate the life of Charles Herbert O'Brien and he would have joined in with the laughter as good times were remembered by his pastor, the Rev. Jeff Monday, and The Judge's beloved wife, Miss Anna Belle.
Even Gov. Phil Bredesen and his wife traveled to the little church overlooking Lake Tansi to pay tribute to the common man.
I did not know The Judge as a friend. But I did have memories of sharing the Cumberland County Playhouse with a group of actors portraying the Continental Congress in the musical, 1776! The Judge portrayed Caesar Rodney, a delegate from Delaware, while I portrayed Samuel Chase, a delegate from Maryland.
We shared off-time in the wings and it was there I learned of The Judge's love of music. And his keen sense of humor and the joy a good laugh brought him, even if it were at his own expense.
A memorable moment that will always make me smile occurred on stage during one of those performances back in 1999. Actors enjoy ad libs and as we re-enacted the debates and struggles that went into the framing of the Declaration of Independence, members of the Continental Congress could sometimes become quite vocal and unorderly.
In one scene, Dr. Lyman Hall of Georgia, gives a heart-felt speech about the trouble he was having reaching a decision on whether to support the proposed document, and at the end of his speech, he concludes that he must return to Georgia to find out how his constituents want him to vote.
Bedlam breaks out and everyone is shouting epithets toward the actor playing Hall. Finally the hubbub dies down but The Judge had gotten caught up in the moment. As the ad libs slowly died, this voice from the back of the stage shouts, "Georgia Cracker!"
Silence fell on the theater, and then the actors started squirming, pinching themselves, thinking of losing a beloved pet, all to keep from laughing on stage. As we exited into the wings someone mentioned the gaffe to The Judge.
He grinned and without missing a beat, he said, "Well, the cracker ought to be able to make up his own mind."
There many moments shared in the wings during the production of 1776! I am glad now I got to share them. Otherwise I would have never known Charles Herbert O'Brien as The Judge. He would have simply been a retired supreme court justice.
Mike Moser is the editor of the Crossville Chronicle. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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