Mike O’Brien is a true numbers’ guy.
The retired chartered accountant enjoyed a distinguished run dallying with digits.
“It’s working with numbers, problem solving,’’ he said in explaining his passion for a career that included serving seven years as deputy provincial treasurer.
“I just always enjoyed economics, accounting and finance.’’
O’Brien, 72, who lives in Charlottetown with his wife Pat, has also made an impressive monetary mark as a volunteer.
As vice president of finance and administration for the 1991 Canada Games in P.E.I., he was pivotal in balancing the books on a $35 million capital budget. He also served as president of the United Way of P.E.I., chairman of the audit committee on the Bank of Canada’s Board of Directors, and as vice chair of the Atlantic Lottery Corporation’s board of directors.
Tonight, though, the focus will be on a few numbers that are quite personal to O’Brien: 10, 12 and 2,000,000, to be exact.
Ten was the number O’Brien sported on his football jersey in his four years as a halfback and as a safety with St. Dunstan’s Saints. Twelve was O’Brien’s hockey number while playing defence at the university from 1959 to 1963.
And two million is the amount of dollars, give or take a few bucks, that O’Brien has helped raise as the driving fundraising force behind the Friends of Panther Hockey over the past 30 years.
“There was never enough resources around for athletics and the hockey team,’’ he said.
“There was never enough money to recruit. There was never enough money to look after the needs of the hockey players.’’
So the booster club has stepped up year after year to finance the void.
“It all comes down to putting a good product on the ice,’’ added O’Brien, who makes all the Panthers hockey games unless he is out of the province.
“We have a great booster club...they recruit the right kind of players: the student athlete.’’
Jack Kane, a former Panther coach, describes O’Brien as quietly going about as the face of the booster club.
Kane says a special ceremony tonight at the MacLauchlan Arena in Charlottetown will recognize O’Brien’s considerable contribution to university sport both as a player and as a builder. The ceremony will begin at 6:45 p.m. shortly before puck drop for the game between the Panthers and SMU.
O’Brien is touched by the special tribute.
“I certainly see it as an honour to have that privilege and recognition,’’ he said.
Sport has always been a big part of O’Brien’s life.
Born in Summerside, he grew up in Parkdale the older of two boys (his brother David died in 2006) to the late Claude and Lenore O’Brien.
He played minor hockey.
He played plenty of softball. As pitcher, outfielder and a good hitter in the City Softball League, he helped his team capture a Maritime championship in 1960.
He began driving horses when he was 17 and kept kicking up dirt until 1984. He is considering buying a racehorse in the spring.
He also played football in high school, which, of course, he carried on with in university.
Football proved the most punishing of the lot for this multi-sport man described by Kane simply as a “great athlete.’’
The football beating to his body resulted in O’Brien getting his hip replaced in 2002, something he likely will have to have redone in the near future.
“I really enjoyed football,’’ he said, noting fan support was “really big’’ during his university days.
On the other hand, he only categorized as “not too bad’’ the level of fan backing for hockey at St. Dunstan’s when he and his teammates laced up. These days, the men’s hockey Panthers attract strong crowds each and every game.
Home hockey games for the St. Dunstan’s Saints, he recalls with no affection at all, were played in a rink that fell well short of being a state-of-the-art facility.
“It was a barn and it was cold,’’ he said.
While a good multi-sport athlete, O’Brien knew he could not make it as a professional in any sport.
He graduated from St. Dunstan’s University with a bachelor of commerce degree in 1963 and would go on to become a successful chartered account. He became a general partner in 1974 with chartered accountants R.D. Manning & Co. and from 1980 to 1997 he was general partner and managing partner with the Charlottetown office of Coopers & Lybrand.
“The work was very interesting,’’ he said.
“You were working with small business operators...there are a lot of good success stories...really, really quality people.’’
In 1984, he received his fellowship designation with the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Prince Edward Island.
In 1997, he landed a nice gig with Pat Binns’ Conservative government in no small part, he concedes, to his “very active’’ involvement in the PC Party.
He enjoyed working for government as a steward of the public purse holding down the job of deputy provincial treasurer from 1997 to 2004. Playing a part in making public policy and helping nurture a climate for economic growth, he enthuses, was particularly rewarding.
“We made several decisions to lower tax rates,’’ he said.
O’Brien also played a key role in developing the racinos in Charlottetown and Summerside.
“It is very successful,’’ he said of Red Shores. “It has sustained the harness racing industry...that has definitely worked out.’’
O’Brien retired in November 2012 but he remains on the go.
He keeps busy reading, exercising (he pedals his stationary bike every day), playing golf, and continuing with volunteer work.
And, of course, he takes in plenty of Panthers hockey.