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Hugh O’Brian was born Hugh Charles Krampe on April 19, 1925, in Rochester, New York, to United States Marine Corps officer Hugh John Krampe and his wife, Edith. O’Brian attended New Trier High School in Winnetka, Illinois, and Kemper Military School in Booneville, Missouri, where he was a multi-sport star in football, basketball, wrestling, and track. After graduating high school, O’Brian enrolled at the University of Cincinnati to pursue a career in law. After only one semester, at the age of 17, he left the university and enlisted in the Marine Corps during World War II. He became the youngest drill instructor in Marine Corps history.

Hugh O’Brian’s acting career began inadvertently in 1947 while he was attending a performance of Somerset Maugham’s play Home and Beauty. The leading actor fell ill and O’Brian agreed to take his place on stage. Inspired by great reviews, he decided to pursue a career on stage, which led to his first contract with Universal Studios.

After three years, O’Brian left Universal to guest star in numerous television shows and films such as Broken Lance and There’s No Business Like Show Business. His breakthrough came in 1955 when he was chosen to portray lawman Wyatt Earp in The Life and Legend of Wyatt Earp. O’Brian’s charisma and talent brought the over-sized-pistol–toting lawman to life and launched the show to seven consecutive years as one of the nation’s top 10 most-watched television programs.


O’Brian continued to appear in countless screen and Broadway projects. On television, he made guest appearances in series such as Fantasy Island, The Love Boat, and Charlie’s Angels. On Broadway, he starred in Destry Rides Again, First Love, and The Odd Couple. O’Brian’s film career lasted for decades, including his 1976 appearance in The Shootist—John Wayne’s final film—the 1988 appearance in Twins co-starring alongside Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger, and his 1994 cameo appearance in Wyatt Earp: Return to Tombstone.


At the peak of his acting career, O’Brian journeyed to Lambaréné, Gabon in Africa to spend nine days with Dr. Albert Schweitzer, the 1952 Nobel Peace Prize winner. Dr. Schweitzer instilled in him a simple belief: “The most important thing in education is to teach young people to think for themselves.” Before O’Brian left Africa, Dr. Schweitzer grabbed his hand and asked him about his experience: “What are you going to do with all of this?”​

O’Brian returned to the United States resolved to put Dr. Schweitzer’s words into action. In 1958, he founded Hugh O’Brian Youth Leadership (HOBY). He imagined a nonprofit organization whose mission would be to inspire a global community of youth and volunteers to a life dedicated to leadership, service, and innovation.

From 1958 TO 1967, leadership seminars took place only in Los Angeles for sophomores from California. The success of the program over those first 10 years led to an expanded scope for HOBY. In 1968, seminars included international as well as national participants, and the annual leadership seminars moved to major cities across the United States. In 1977, the first State Leadership Seminars were held in Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. By 1988, 10,676 high school sophomores, representing 51 percent of U.S. high schools, had participated in State Leadership Seminars, and HOBY volunteers numbered over 2,500.

In 1990, the International Leadership Seminar was renamed the World Leadership Congress, and 28 countries sent student representatives for an eight-day global leadership summit. In 1998, HOBY celebrated its 40th anniversary and launched a new initiative, Leadership for Service, that challenged all HOBY ambassadors to commit to 100 hours of community service annually. Twenty pilot sites were given the community service challenge, resulting in 345 ambassadors accomplishing more than 24,000 volunteer hours in 850 community service projects.

Hugh O’Brian believed in the potential of every human being and was committed to helping the youth of the world become major contributors to society. His legacy lives on today, with more than 500,000 HOBY alumni making a difference in the lives of others, thanks to the vision and passion of HOBY’s founder.

On June 25, 2006, at the age of 81, O’Brian married his longtime partner, Virginia Stumpf, and he passed away with Virginia at his side on September 5, 2016. O’Brian led a life of service and left a lasting legacy with HOBY, an organization that will continue his dream of helping youth reach their potential as leaders.


“I do NOT believe we are all born equal — CREATED equal in the eyes of God, YES — but physical and emotional differences, parental guidance, varying environments, being in the right place at the right time, all play a role in enhancing or limiting an individual's development. But I DO believe every man and woman, if given the opportunity and encouragement to recognize his or her own potential, regardless of background, has the Freedom To Choose in our world. Will an individual be a taker or a giver in life? Will that person be satisfied merely to exist, or seek a meaningful purpose? Will he or she dare to dream the impossible dream?”

~ Hugh O'Brian | April 19, 1925 ~ September 5, 2016

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