Obituary of Brenton Elliot O'Neill
Brent O’Neill – loving husband, playful father, dedicated public servant, beloved family member-friend-colleague, and big goofball – died on November 27, 2021 at home in Alexandria, Virginia surrounded by family. Nine weeks prior, he was diagnosed with Stage IV colon cancer. Brent was a beautiful soul. His kind, caring, fun-loving, smart, adventurous, and silly self will be remembered and missed FOREVER!
Brent was born on September 29, 1968 in Laurel, Maryland to Brian and Marti O’Neill. He spent his early years in Maryland near his grandparents, before moving with his parents and sister, Kim, to Albuquerque, New Mexico in 1973 and then to Novato, California in 1979. Brent’s childhood and teen years were full of family camping trips, Hawaiian adventures, skiing excursions, special holiday celebrations, fun with friends, playing tennis, and of course, a bit of mischief.
Brent attended Novato High School in California, graduating in 1986. He then completed general education coursework at Santa Rosa Junior College before transferring to Humboldt State University, near the giant redwood trees in Northern California. In May 1994, Brent graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Natural Resources Planning. During his college years, Brent spent several summers working in Golden Gate National Recreation Area in the Marin Headlands (banding wildlife) and on Alcatraz Island (assisting visitors with the Island’s audio tour). He also worked with his best friend’s father and mentor, Bob Shelnutt, rehabilitating houses, where he developed a knack for carpentry and general handiwork.
In September 1994, Brent embarked on what would be one of his greatest life adventures. For nearly 2 ½ years, he served as a Peace Corps Volunteer in Paraguay. His site was in the countryside at San Blas, Calle 16 – located 16 kilometers from the small town of San Juan Nepomuceno. Brent was in the environmental sector, A-18 (Aregua-18). This experience was a turning point in his life, solidifying his love of the earth and its stewardship as well as his interest in social equity and empowering others. Brent loved the Paraguayan families he worked with, and they adopted him as one of their own. He became a beacon of light and love in his community. He thrived in educating his “campo” farmers about agroforestry and soil conservation and in leading environmental summer camps for youth with his fellow volunteers. He also participated in a popular traveling environmental puppet show, which reached over 5,000 students, teachers, and community members.
During his time in Paraguay, Brent made life-long friends and met his soulmate and life partner, Anne Ferrand, a fellow Peace Corps Volunteer and kindred spirit. After completing their Peace Corps service, Brent and Anne traveled for six months throughout South and Central America, visiting thirteen countries and many national parks and wonders of the world. Upon returning to the United States, they drove cross country from California to Washington, D.C. and settled in Northern Virginia, near Anne’s family, and married on June 20, 1998 in Middleburg, Virginia.
In Fall 1997, Brent obtained a permanent job with the National Park Service, initially at Great Falls Park, VA in the George Washington Memorial Parkway (GWMP). Brent worked for GWMP for over 24 years in various roles as a Park Ranger, Environmental Protection Specialist, Site Manager, and Supervisory Ranger. He supported the North and South Districts of GWMP, including other sites such as Teddy Roosevelt Island, Glen Echo Park, Clara Barton House, Arlington House, the Mount Vernon Trail, and Fort Hunt Park. Brent’s heart was forever tied to Great Falls Park. (Unfortunately, his cancer diagnosis prevented him from returning as a Supervisory Ranger in September 2021).
In June 2002, Brent and a colleague saved two lives on the Potomac River at Great Falls Park. He was awarded the prestigious Harry Yount National Park Ranger Award for his quick actions communicating with kayakers in the Potomac Gorge. In 2001, Brent was also a Freeman Tilden Award nominee within the National Capital Region for developing curriculum-based programming focused on native peoples in the area. He enjoyed working the 4th of July, and collaborating with various NPS colleagues. Brent enjoyed educating people about the national parks and supporting his staff.
Brent loved his family and was an attentive, playful father. One of his greatest passions was creating a life full of adventure, fun, laughter, and learning with Anne and their two sons. Brent was an amazing chef and enjoyed sharing his love of nature with family and friends during trips in Michigan, New England, San Francisco, Shenandoah National Park, the Outer Banks, Rocky Mountain National Park, Grand Teton National Park, Yellowstone, and Costa Rica.
Brent delighted in the Scientists Cliffs community on the Chesapeake Bay, where his paternal grandparents and great grandparents built a log cabin before World War II. It was a place where extended family gathered for fun-filled holidays and special events. Brent walked the beach for hours, searching for fossilized sharks’ teeth, beach glass, and other treasures. He swam and built beach sculptures and forts with his sons, nephews, and other family. At Scientists Cliffs, Brent found great solace and peace. He intended to move to this special spot when he was eligible for retirement.
Brent was a charming, engaging man of tremendous integrity. He was a source of love and humor in this crazy world or ours. His life was cut too short, but it was a life well lived and he was loved deeply by many. We will miss your beautiful blue eyes and bright light, Brent!
Brent is survived by his wife of 23 years, Anne Ferrand O’Neill, two sons, Kieran Daniel and Sean Patrick O’Neill, his mother, Martha Hendricks O’Neill, his sister, Kimberly O’Neill Lear, his mother-in-law, Mary Braseth Ferrand, his brother-in-law, Gregory Louis Ferrand, his sister-in-laws, Jacqueline Louise Ferrand and Maria Eva Salvetti, and his nephews, Justin Lear and Luca and Noel Ferrand.
A Celebration of Life ceremony was held on June 11, 2022 at the Scientist’s Cliffs Community House on 3500 Alder Road in Port Republic, MD.