Walter O’Brien, BB&T Equities Chief Who Was Mentor, Dies at 46

Walter J. O’Brien III, head of equity sales and trading at BB&T Corp. and a mentor to finance-minded graduates of his alma mater, the University of Richmond in Virginia, has died. He was 46.

He died on May 10 at his home in Richmond, his wife, Debra, said yesterday in an interview. The cause was colon cancer, which was diagnosed in February 2012.

Known as Joe, O’Brien held jobs on Wall Street at Smith Barney and Citicorp Inc. before joining Scott & Stringfellow Inc., a regional brokerage, investment banking and financial services firm in Richmond that billed itself as the U.S. South’s oldest continuous member of the New York Stock Exchange. BB&T, North Carolina’s second-biggest bank after Bank of America Corp., bought Scott & Stringfellow in 1999.

BB&T, based in Winston-Salem, promoted O’Brien to senior vice president of capital markets in 2002. He rose to managing director.

A member of the Executive Advisory Council of the University of Richmond’s Robins School of Business, O’Brien took many students “under his wing,” according to an article in the university’s alumni magazine.

It told of an MBA candidate, Grant Garcia, who drove to BB&T’s offices in downtown Richmond, “sometimes before dawn, to sit at O’Brien’s desk learning the markets, a relationship they continued for almost two years.”

‘Leg Up’

Garcia, 29, now works in securitized product sales at Credit Suisse Securities in New York. He said yesterday in an interview that his unpaid experience with O’Brien was valuable and gave him a leg up in a tough job market. When Garcia graduated from Robins in 2009, he landed a job at Bank of America’s Merrill Lynch brokerage unit, then moved to the U.S. unit of Zurich-based Credit Suisse Group AG.

“He really changed my life,” Garcia said. “He gave me the foundation during a really hard period of time in the economy. His door was always open. Every time he came to New York we’d go out for a drink or for dinner.”

In an e-mail to the Robins community, Dean Nancy A. Bagranoff wrote, “Joe showed great courage as he dealt with his illness. He will be much missed by us all.”

Walter Joseph O’Brien III was born on Nov. 26, 1966, in London to Nancy Malmuth and Walter J. O’Brien Jr. He was raised in Chicago and New York. His father was president of J. Walter Thompson, then the world’s largest advertising agency, and later ran two other firms, according to a biography for a Richmond non-profit group where he serves on the board.

In 1985, the son graduated from the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connecticut, and in 1989 earned an economics degree from Richmond.

O’Brien was a senior vice president at Citicorp when he left New York for Scott & Stringfellow.

Survivors include his wife, Debra, a graduate of New York University’s Stern School of Business and adjunct associate professor of information systems at Richmond; a son, Connor, 13; a daughter, Caitlin, 10; his parents and stepmother, Margaret O’Brien.

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