Updated: Brian O'Neill, Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent, Dies Following Heart Surgery

Golden Gate National Recreation Area Superintendent Brian O'Neill. San Francisco Chronicle photo.

Brian O'Neill, who had guided Golden Gate National Recreation Area as its superintendent since 1986, has passed away following complications from heart surgery. He was 67.

Superintendent O'Neill's fingerprints on Golden Gate date to before the national recreation area was established. He helped convince President Nixon that the area, much of which was a collection of U.S. Army posts, should be included in the National Park System. It was added in 1972.

Under his guidance, the Presidio was added to the NRA, Alcatraz Prison became a tourist destination, and Crissy Field was restored from wastelands into productive coastal habitat.

You can learn more about Superintendent O'Neill's achievements and work at this site.

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"Brian O'Neill was a passionate and dedicated advocate for our National Parks. He served as a magnificent steward of our beloved treasure the Golden Gate National Recreation Area. My colleagues in Congress and I are deeply saddened by his passing, and are grateful for the legacy of natural beauty and cultural heritage he has left for future generations to enjoy."

—Congresswoman Nancy Pelosi, Speaker of the House

“Brian's efforts set the standard for developing partnerships not only in the National Park Service but with organizations throughout the nation. He had a broad reach, working internationally in this leadership capacity to bring parks, partners and community together.”

—Daniel Wenk, Acting Director, National Park Service

"Brian was an icon in the National Park Service, inspiring all of us to work with partners in new and visionary ways."

—Jonathan B. Jarvis, Regional Director, Pacific West Region

“Many people saw Brian as a Park Maker and the Golden Gate National Parks constitute his masterpiece. Everywhere you turn in this national park—Crissy Field, Alcatraz, Fort Baker, the Presidio, and more—we see his amazing handiwork. But he was much more than a park maker; he really was, at the core, a Community Builder.”

—Greg More, Executive Director, Golden Gate National Parks Conservancy

In celebration of Brian’s amazing and enduring legacy at the Golden Gate National Parks, a special fund has been established in his honor. This fund will sustain his incredible legacy in an enduring way by supporting park programs and projects that were special to Brian—and that speak to the value of these parks for future generations.

In lieu of flowers or other tributes, Brian’s family has asked that donations be directed to: The Brian O’Neill Parks Forever Fun, more information is provided at this site. (Click on Celebrate Brian’s Life with Your Memories)


Brian O'Neill's passing is a tragic loss for the National Park Service. He was an exemplary leader who valued his team, a positive force for innovation and a futurist in integrating communities and park missions through effective partnerships. In the past twenty years, the Service could have used a hundred Brians to address issues arising from its aging model, but it had only one. Thankfully, he was in a position to influence national policy and leave behind, with the help of his team, scores of guidelines, models, and references for use by future policy makers and field managers, We'll no longer see him in the traces, but many people he touched will follow in his footsteps and his influence will be around for a long, long time.

Well that sucks. He was a very cool guy, great for the NPS and all land management agencies.

I wonder, despite RoadRanger's comment, if Brian and his situation was so extraordinary, he and his partnership conservancy are so unique, they are not even a national model. They devised the marvelous funding strategy for the conservancy, using the money from the Alcatraz tours to be the foundation for all its other fundraising and activities. Even the second-best funded partnership comparable to Brian's is at Acadia, and it in fact is many orders of magnitude smaller than the scale of what is going on at Golden Gate.

There are actually many splendid people doing splendid partnership work in other parts of the country as well. But those models are designed to fit the local circumstances and the local resources. That is the real genius of the partnership movement and Brian. They are local, developing local solutions and local constituencies. That is the way they have resisted the sort of centralized control that had moved to undermine the traditional national park service programs -- they were easy to attack from the top. But not with local partnerships. That is why Brian is one of a kind, because what he has done only really works where he did it.

He cared about his country and did something about it ,God Bless Him