Kelly O'Brien: VP of Philanthropy

Hutch Magazine

Kelly O'Brien

12 questions about life outside the office for Fred Hutch’s new VP of Philanthropy

By Diane Mapes

Photo by Robert Hood / Fred Hutch

KELLY O' BRIEN MOVED across the country in January to take a position leading Philanthropy at Fred Hutch. A dedicated fundraiser, she intimately understands the impact research dollars can make — her father died of pancreatic cancer in 2003. "People want to make a difference," said O'Brien, who spent 15 years at the Philadelphia Museum of Art before coming to Fred Hutch. "And a city like Seattle is primed to understand how donations can rapidly move the needle."

Who is she outside Fred Hutch? Recently, O'Brien sat down to tell us.

Last book read?
I tend to read a few things simultaneously. The last book I read was "When Breath Becomes Air," which was beautiful. Other recent reads include "The Fly Trap" and "Can't Not Do."

Most adventurous thing you've done?
Besides coming here? I started trekking and mountain climbing. I tried Mount Rainier last summer and had to turn around at Disappointment Cleaver, which is at 12,000 feet. The Cleaver is a 1,000-foot climb and it's pretty much all rock. I'd just gotten halfway decent using crampons on ice and snow but rock was really hard. I wanted to continue and I felt energetically like I could continue, but (the guides) were worried about me coming down on the rock, being fatigued and being a little bit slow. I hated turning around. But I'm going back this summer to summit with Fred Hutch's Climb to Fight Cancer.

First job as a kid?
I babysat for our neighbors, who had two children with cystic fibrosis. I was in seventh grade.

First record you bought?
Barry Manilow. It was the big double album, Barry Manilow Live. It's a really great album. I still have it.

What's a small thing that makes you happy?
Water makes me happy. Other people make me happy. Just being around someone who's happy and content and smiling totally boosts my mood.

Favorite morning drink?
Green tea.

Where would you most like to travel?
Antarctica. If I win the lottery.

Cats or dogs?
Dogs. We had a basset hound named Grace who was the world's best dog, so I'm kind of biased.

What did you want to be when you were little?
Oceanographer. I still love whales. There's a resident pod of gray whales in Depoe Bay, Oregon; my husband and I have a house down there. I was down there on a run one day and there was an orca and a baby. She was teaching it to roll over and I got to stand there and watch.

First charity you gave money to?
UNICEF. Collecting pennies at Halloween from first grade on.

Who's your role model?
My mom is awesome. She was a stay-at-home mom while I was growing up. She hadn't gone to college. So she went to nursing school while I was in college. She's always worked in gerontology, nursing homes and that sort of thing. She's the oldest of six so that big sister mentality extends into everything she does. She looks after people but she's also completely no-nonsense.

Favorite Girl Scout cookie?
Thin mints. No doubt about it. Do not even bring me Tagalongs or those coconut things.