Though Dr. James "Jim" O'Brien formally retired in 2005, most days you'll still find him at the Center of Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS) on the southwest campus of Florida State University. "I flunked retirement," he says with a jocular smile.
Jim has been a fixture at Florida State for more than 40 years. He was dubbed "Dr. El Niño" by the late Bernie Sliger (president from 1976 to 1991) for his work in forecasting El Niño and its implications for the people of Florida and the Southeast region. During his tenure at Florida State, he was responsible for overseeing a total of 45 doctoral and 80 master's students in completing their degrees. "My great pleasure is finishing graduate students," he says.
To that end, Jim and his late wife, Sheila, established the Jim and Sheila O'Brien Graduate Fellowship, which supports doctoral candidates who have submitted a prospectus to either the oceanography or meteorology department in the College of Arts and Sciences. The fellowship provides supplementary stipends for students studying air-sea interaction and physical oceanography.
Though Jim currently makes a gift annually to award the fellowship, he and Sheila made the decision to donate their home to Florida State to ensure the fellowship will be there for students long after they are gone. "The idea of giving Florida State our home grew on me naturally," he says. "Former president T.K. Wetherell willed his home to Florida State a few years back and that got me thinking. I said to my wife, ‘Why don't we do that?' And to my surprise, she was on board with the idea."
Jim's three grown children were also supportive of the plan, telling him to spend his money how he wanted. "I had the support of my family all the way," he says. "I viewed it as saving my children the hassle of having to clean out, renovate and sell the house!"
Have You Considered Donating Your Home?
If you would like to receive a current income tax deduction for the gift of your home, but want to continue living there for the rest of your life, you can give the University a "remainder interest" in your home and retain a "life estate" for yourself. If at any time you decide to relinquish the right to continue living in the home, you may do so.
In Jim's case, he chose to live in his home after Sheila's passing until he remarried. "When I got remarried, I didn't want to live in her house and she didn't want to live in mine so we decided to buy a new place together." Jim's house is currently on the market. Once it sells, the proceeds will fully endow the fellowship established by him and his wife.
"In the Middle Ages, scientists and artists were sponsored by the wealthy," Jim says. "I would equate that to today's graduate students. Most will need a little financial boost to finish their dissertation, and a little bit of money goes a long way toward that goal."
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