Dr. John O'Leary credits his success in life and career to his family.
A board certified internist, World War II veteran and retired brigadier general with the Minnesota Army National Guard, O'Leary on Thursday received the award of Minnesota's Outstanding Older Worker for his work as the staff physician at the Veterans Outpatient Clinic in Brainerd.
"A guy doesn't do something like this on his own," said O'Leary of his career and award. "Your family does it with you."
O'Leary, 80, has been working with the clinic in Brainerd for more than two years. The clinic, one of about 150 in the United States, serves most of central Minnesota providing outpatient service in conjunction with area physicians.
O'Leary knew he was nominated by his son, Tom, for the award, but was still caught off guard Thursday when he was asked to help with a problem at the front door of the clinic, located at the Brainerd Regional Human Services Center.
"I thought someone was having a heart attack," said O'Leary when he was beckoned outside. "Here there were a bunch of photographers and video cameras.
"It still hasn't sunk in. I didn't expect to get the award, but I'm still thrilled."
O'Leary has called the Brainerd area home since 1955. He is a former chief of staff at St. Joseph's Medical Center and served on the faculty -- including as director of graduate studies -- at the University of Minnesota medical school until 1992, when he reached the university's mandatory retirement age.
He is a World War II veteran, having enlisted in the Air Force in 1942, and served three and a half years as a combat wing lead navigator. After the Air Force he went on to serve 38 years in the Minnesota Army National Guard, reaching the rank of brigadier general.
O'Leary's military career ended with a tour at the Pentagon. The Sept. 11 terrorist attacks hit close to home when he learned the hijacked plane that collided with the Pentagon destroyed his former medical unit headquarters.
"I just wondered, 'Oh my gosh, who got hurt?'" said O'Leary of the terrorist attack. He and his wife, Jean, are planning a trip to Washington, D.C., later this year and will visit the portion of the Pentagon that was attacked.
Though he retired from the Minnesota Army National Guard in 1985, he remained active in the military and still serves as the commander of the 194th Regiment, which preserves the history and artifacts of military units in central Minnesota.
Despite all his accomplishments, O'Leary remains humble. Even in receiving the award and being honored by state Sen. Don Samuelson, DFL-Brainerd; state Rep. Dale Walz, R-Brainerd; Brainerd Mayor James Wallin; Baxter Mayor Gary Muehlhausen; and a representative from the office of Rep. James Oberstar, D-Minn., O'Leary said today he doesn't feel worthy of the honor.
"I suppose we're all that way," said O'Leary, instead giving all the credit to his family, especially his wife of 52 years. "I'm more proud of Jean than of me. She's let me stay in teaching and jobs that didn't make much money. I owe a lot to her."
The Minnesota Outstanding Older Worker award is sponsored by Experience Works, a non-profit organization that offers training, employment and community service for workers older than 55.
Brainerd Dispatch ©2013. All Rights Reserved.