After nearly 30 years of service to Whitworth, and through numerous dining-hall and food-service changes, Jim O’Brien is as much a vibrant member of the Whitworth community as he is a loyal employee of Sodexo and its forerunners, SAGA and Marriott.
O’Brien, Sodexo’s general manager at Whitworth, was one of nine people in North America to earn a 2013 Gold Award in the Service Spirit category of the annual Spirit of Sodexo Awards Program, which recognized O’Brien’s outstanding performance in support of Sodexo’s mission, values, and commitment to diversity and inclusion. O’Brien said he was shocked and humbled by the recognition, and he was quick to compliment “the wonderful work our Sodexo staff does at Whitworth.”
O’Brien’s spirit of service encompasses his partnership with Whitworth students and organizations – to which he has donated hours and food for various projects and fund-raisers – and his leadership for campus environmental efforts. As a member of the Whitworth Sustainability Committee, O’Brien is instrumental in helping the group meet its objectives to create a sustainable environment on campus. Most notably, he worked with a local wheat farmer to prepare, plant and harvest a plot of sustainably grown wheat on campus. As students helped care for the wheat, they learned valuable lessons in how to care for the world. He also worked with students to develop a hydroponic garden to provide produce for the dining hall throughout the winter months.
“Jim has been a leader on our campus in modeling service and leadership to students, and in inspiring efforts on campus related to sustainability,” said Dick Mandeville, vice president for student life at Whitworth. O’Brien also initiated a sustainability awareness program for students, “90 Ways in 90 Days,” which featured a series of table tents that illustrated 90 actions students could take to live more sustainably. Additionally, O’Brien created the campus-wide Sustainability Challenge, an annual event that enhances awareness of food waste and other environmental concerns.
O’Brien, a Boston native, fell in love with the Pacific Northwest while taking a cross-country trip in 1976. The following summer, he packed up his belongings and his Golden Retriever and moved to Spokane, where he met his future wife. O’Brien says he has never stopped loving Spokane. “It’s a pleasure to work at Whitworth and in the Spokane community,” he said. “People are so welcoming and appreciative.”