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Washington State University
Dividend - Fall 2019 Making An Impact

Investor Ed O’Brien’s Support
Helps Carson Cougs Navigate Success

Story by Sue McMurray • Photo courtesy of Ed O'Brien

Ed O’Brien (’62 Bus. Admin.), one of the biggest supporters of The Next Carson Coug initiative and a long-term investor in WSU and Carson College students, wasn’t always so keen on education.

As a youngster with undiagnosed dyslexia, O’Brien disliked school and had no intention of going to college when he graduated from Lake Washington High School in 1957. He instead got a job at Boeing working on the early KC-135 tankers and the first production 707 jetliner for Pan American World Airways. He went to a Boeing-sponsored night school in Renton to study blueprint reading and for the first time in his life, enjoyed learning.

Within six months after starting his job, a reduction of the federal defense budget caused Boeing to enforce massive layoffs, and O’Brien was out of work. During that time he met up with two friends attending WSU, and they convinced him to enroll. While his friends flunked out, O’Brien stayed in school and met three professors whom he says changed his life: H. Paul Castleberry (political science), Harry H. Batey (chemistry), and Eldon Hendricksen (accounting). All inspired O’Brien to apply himself, and he graduated with professional accounting skills and a deep appreciation for clear writing and speaking.

“The ability to write and speak clearly is essential, especially for accounting majors who have to communicate complex financial concepts to their clients,” says O’Brien. “I’m really enthusiastic about Dean Chip Hunter’s effort to enhance the way business education is delivered and the emphasis The Next Carson Coug curriculum places on these skills in particular.”

Making the Grade in the Water Sports Industry

After graduating from WSU, O’Brien spent the next 50 years away from Washington state, serving in the U.S. Navy and working in accounting, finance, and real estate careers, as well as within the family business, O’Brien Water Skis.

O’Brien’s brother, Herb, first launched O’Brien Water Skis in the early ’60s, which became one of the top 50 bestrecognized brands in the world. In early 2006 the O’Briens, their cousin Brian Gardner of Redmond, and fellow team members, including several high-profile athletes as owners, launched Square One Distribution, producer of Ronix wakeboards and Radar water skis, now based in Snoqualmie, Washington. Now retired, Ed lives alongside Radar Lake near Woodinville, where many of the company’s high-end watersports products are developed and later tested by worldclass athletes just outside his home.

Importance of Philanthropy

Throughout his varied career, O’Brien always remembered a long talk he had with his father before he passed away in 1982 about the importance and rewards of philanthropy. It was a turning point that led O’Brien to a conversation with Connie Kravas, then WSU Foundation president, about providing a year’s worth of tuition for a student from each of the three disciplines of professors Castleberry, Batey, and Hendricksen.

Since then, O’Brien has invested in WSU in a variety of ways, including Carson College scholarships and programs, alumni programs, and serving on various councils and a term on the Foundation’s Board of Trustees. Most recently, O’Brien made a significant investment in The Next Carson Coug initiative that launched this fall.

“It takes outside support in addition to state dollars to attract quality professors to WSU and to provide scholarship support for students who have the talent and fortitude to succeed but lack the financial resources,” says O’Brien. “I was the luckiest kid on earth to get a second chance at education, and I want to give current and future students that same chance.”