Bronson O’Reilly died on November 23, 2013 with his wife and children at his side. He was 93. Although slowing down in recent years, he was still exercising, keeping up with events and storytelling until the final 10 days of his life, his family said.
Bronson was born in Plainfield, New Jersey on April 1, 1920. In 1923, the family moved to Shelter Island when his father was hired as caretaker at Sylvester Manor. His mother Mary (Meehan) and father Luke were Irish immigrants and he had two brothers, Luke and Gil.
Bronson graduated from Shelter Island High School in 1937 and after much frustration looking for work in New York City, he joined the U.S. Navy in 1938 and trained as a meteorologist. On December 7, 1941, he was stationed at the Kaneohe Naval Air Station in Oahu when the Japanese attacked this air base first and eight minutes later, the ships at Pearl Harbor. During the attack, he and two of his mates, using Springfield rifles, shot down the only Japanese plane lost in the attack on Kaneohe.
During the war, he went on many flights over the Pacific into enemy territory to study approaching weather patterns and typhoons. As a result of these flights, he was awarded the Naval Air Medal and a commendation by President Truman. As the war went on, he made a commitment to himself that, if he survived, he would do all he could to promote a world without war.
He had an unwavering moral compass, his family wrote, that guided him and impressed people he touched through his business, political and personal life.
After the war, he studied political science at Colgate University, graduating in 1948. Soon after, he met Lillian Scheideler while she was vacationing on Shelter Island and they wed in 1949.
As a Democrat representing Suffolk County, Bronson made an unsuccessful bid for the U.S. Congress in 1956. A strong advocate of education, he ran on the issue of the U.S. falling behind the Soviet Union in educating engineers and scientists.
Bronson and Lillian and their growing family moved to Washington State for seven years, before settling with their eight children in Santa Barbara, California in 1964.
Starting in the early 1950s, Bronson was a sales representative and later an executive and entrepreneur, importing and inventing typewriters and business machines. He was a regular traveler to Japan and ended his career developing the Sierra typewriter and marketing it in the U.S., selling the patent in 1985 to JUKI and retiring as president of JUKI USA.
He had a soft spot for fellow travelers. He brought home hitchhikers, some new friends he may have met at a café, or a heavily laden cyclist with a foreign flag on his pack. There were so many visitors, his family said, including 20 graduating high school students from Oregon, a Cuban theatre company, four young French engineers, Peace Walkers, Australian walkers and even the first lady of Nicaragua.
He loved to share stories, especially about his childhood on Shelter Island where he caddied for 85 cents a game, trapped muskrats and sold the skins to Sears Roebuck for $1 each and worked at the Chequit Inn to help support the family after his father’s death when Bronson was 14 years old.
Over the years he felt very connected to the Island and his many friends. He put together his class’s 50th high school reunion even though he was living on the West Coast. After retirement he made many trips to the Island. It was like he had never left, always welcomed with open arms, his family said.
Bronson is survived by his wife Lillian, his children Kevin (Jean), Maureen (Murray), Colleen, Shannon (Ninoska), Rory (Laura), Tara, Siobhan and Cathlin (Peter); 20 grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
Services were held at the Santa Barbara Mission on November 27. A celebration in memory of Bronson’s life was held on New Year’s Eve 2013 at the family’s home.