Each year, The University of Tulsa’s Presidential Lecture Series brings in world class speakers who discuss a wide range of captivating topics. The event is sponsored by the Darcy O’Brien Endowed Chair and is supported by the Office of the Provost. The Darcy O’Brien Endowed Chair was established in 1999 and hosted its first speaker in 2001.
Scholars from all fields, including literature, law, religion, science, the arts, technology and other disciplines, speak at TU annually. The Oxley Foundation provided a challenge grant to establish the chair and Robert and Roxana Lorton served as co-chairs.
The Darcy O’Brien Endowed Chair provides formal and informal learning opportunities in settings both intimate and large-scale. These opportunities take shape in classroom teaching, workshops, colloquia and public lectures. Lecturers typically sit down with students in their given field and talk candidly about their respective subjects in addition to giving their larger, formal public presentation.
Suzanne O’Brien is the coordinator of the lecture series and wife to the late Darcy O’Brien. “I have been fortunate to have so many contacts from my time as Darcy’s research assistant and ties to the world’s great literary agencies, which have recognized TU as being a wonderful place to have their top speakers come,” Suzanne said.
Suzanne says that it’s impossible to choose a favorite lecturer among the many she has brought to TU. “The inaugural lecture with Nobel prize winner and friend Seamus Heaney will always hold a sentimental place in my heart,” she said. She also admired the dedication of Grammy-winning musician and conductor Michael Tilson Thomas, who spoke in 2012. Thomas arrived straight from a tour in Asia, plagued with a bad cold. “He gave a fabulous presentation and never considered a cancellation,” Suzanne said. “I also loved Angélique Kidjo.” The vocalist and humanitarian activist escaped from communist West Africa and performed under the Arc de Triomphe in Paris during the World War I Ceremony in front of 70 heads of state and a TV audience of millions after her appearance at TU.
Previous speakers also include former U.S. Poet Laureate Billy Collins; novelists Jonathan Franzen, Henning Mankell and Michael Ondaatje; journalists Nina Totenberg, Nicholas Kristof, Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; composer Stephen Sondheim; and scientists C. Owen Lovejoy, Robert Sapolsky and Lisa Randall.
Darcy was a faculty member of the TU department of English and an award-winning novelist. A distinguished author and critic, Darcy came to The University of Tulsa in 1985 as a tenured professor from Pomona College. He had already begun his career as a creative writer and won the Hemingway Award for his debut novel, A Way of Life, Like Any Other, a coming-of-age story set in Hollywood. The novel drew on Darcy’s early life as the child of George O’Brien, a star in early Westerns, and Marguerite Churchill, a romantic lead in silent films who co-starred in John Wayne’s first hit.
At TU, Darcy taught classes, supervised dissertations and wrote many successful books, most of them in the true crime genre. “I know it surprised a lot of people when Darcy published his first crime book,” Suzanne told the Tulsa World in 2013. “But he said that anyone who had followed his work would recognize that everything he wrote was about the conflict between power and belief.”
Longtime colleague Lars Engle, Chapman Professor and Department Chair of English, remembers his friend. “Darcy was a much-loved teacher of modern literature and creative non-fiction at TU,” Engle said. “He and Suzanne also played a large role in the cultural life of Tulsa.”
Suzanne describes Darcy as a vertical writer, meaning he dug as deep as he could into the people featured in his novels in order to fully understand them. His final book, The Hidden Pope, was about John Paul II’s friendship with a Polish Jew and its impact on the Vatican’s recognition of Israel.
Darcy’s early death in 1998 at age 59 shocked and saddened many. With his wife’s guidance, the Darcy O’Brien Endowed Chair has supported the Presidential Lecture Series for many years.
All Presidential Lecture Series events are free of charge and open to the public. “I think my husband would have wanted it that way,” Suzanne said. “He dedicated his career to education and wanted as many people to participate as possible.” There are no tickets or registration required for the event. The lectures started in the Student Union Great Hall and are now hosted in the Reynolds Center to accommodate the growing crowd.
Attend this year’s lecture October 22 to hear author David Grann speak. Grann’s book, Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI, chronicles Oklahoma’s early history and the Osage murders.
The next lecture on April 2, 2020, will feature Dr. Alfredo Quinones-Hinojosa, a Mayo Clinic neurosurgeon, cancer researcher and author.
To support the Presidential Lecture Series, contact Suzy Thompson at 918-631-3152.