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thedrifter
02-02-06, 12:18 PM
Actor, youth leader tells his tale to Rotary Club
For Hugh O'Brian, it all started with Dr. Albert Schweitzer in Africa.
By JASON COX
Daily Record/Sunday News
York Daily Record/Sunday News
At bottom: ON THE NET

Feb 2, 2006 — It's been more than 45 years since Hugh O'Brian last played a legendary lawman on TV, but his stance still is straight, his shoulders broad and his voice deep and booming. He walks with a cane, but it's easy even today to picture him on horseback.

O'Brian, 80, stopped by York Wednesday afternoon, not to discuss his celebrity, but rather his decades of humanitarian efforts through his organization, Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership, a group he established in 1958 to promote and recognize leadership skills and values among high school sophomores.

The jovial thespian, who portrayed the title role in the 1950s series "The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp," spoke at The Yorktowne Hotel to a packed room of Rotary Club of York and HOBY members.

"I'm very happy to be here," O'Brian said near the start of his half-hour speech. "Hell, at my age, I'm happy to be anywhere."

O'Brian, a Marine, honored other Marines and World War II veterans present in the room. He went on to discuss his personal and professional history, summing it up in five distinct stages.

"When you do reach a certain point of success ... there are five stages, not just of an actor's life, but anybody's life," he said. "The first stage is who's Hugh O'Brian, the second stage is get me Hugh O'Brian, the third stage is get me a Hugh O'Brian type, the fourth stage is get me a young Hugh O'Brian and the fifth stage is who's Hugh O'Brian."

After the laughter died down, O'Brian settled into more earnest matters, such as the genesis for his philanthropic endeavors.

O'Brian said his life changed in 1958 after a nine-day trip to Gabon in Africa, where he met Dr. Albert Schweitzer, a man running a medical clinic in the poor town of Lambarene. After his experience, O'Brian returned to the states determined to make his own positive impact on the world.

"I was just kind of a glorified volunteer, patting people on the back," he said of his previous charitable efforts.

O'Brian organized HOBY's first leadership seminar for high schoolers before the end of the year. Since its inception, HOBY has grown into an organization with 355,000 alumni and 70 different annual seminars across the country.

Toward the end of the event, O'Brian announced that on Monday he had asked his girlfriend of 25 years to marry him.

"For our honeymoon, Virginia and I are going to London and we're taking a six-week course at Oxford University," he said. "How many people go to college for their honeymoon?"

Andy Miller, director of fundraising for the Central Pennsylvania Hugh O'Brian Youth Leadership Seminar and a 1998 alumni of HOBY, said O'Brian always brings something new to the table with every speech he gives.

"I've heard him speak several times and the thing I like is that I always learn something new about (HOBY)," Miller said. "I've been with it eight years, but it's always interesting to hear his perspective and how he energizes everybody."

After a few minutes of post-speech meeting and greeting, O'Brian took a moment to talk about whether he'd ever consider returning to the big or small screen.

"I've been there and I've done that," he said. "If something comes up, maybe."

O'Brian said he had been offered a villainous role on an unnamed show, but was hesitant to accept because "the character has a lot of four-letter words and I refuse to do that. I won't do anything that's not a good example for kids."

Reach Jason Cox at 771-2051 or jcox@ydr.com.

ON THE NET

For more on Hugh O'Brian's youth leadership group, visit www.hoby.org.

Ellie