O'Brien, Judith Ellen

Written by Linda Kirkpatrick on .


Judy O'Brien

(1946 - )

This native of Newport, Rhode Island – "where no one lives more than five minutes from the ocean but seldom sees the sunlight between November and March" – relocated to Colorado in the late 1970s.

Her first career was in human resources and higher education, serving as the Human Resources Director for the Colorado State Correctional System and later for the Colorado School of Mines.

After living for several years in Pine Junction, she bought a small house in Evergreen built in 1918 for people working on the construction of the dam.  She was successful in remodeling the small home to be quite comfortable – the home where she lives with her husband, Jerry Agee.

Looking to make a career change, she thought seriously about a quotation of Ram Dass, who said, "Smart people get paid for playing."  She thought about her hobbies and briefly considered her love for photography but decided she couldn't make a living at it.   She pursued architecture instead, focusing on creating and remodeling small spaces – little houses – and making them work. She earned her degree from the University of Colorado at Denver and started Alliance Architecture, located in Evergreen, in the late 1990s.

She recognized her affinity for working on a project basis and wanted to see how her work might impact people or a community.  One of her early projects was the recreation center in Idaho Springs.  About 70 percent of her work is residential – remodeling "ugly homes that don't work very well ... turning them into places people love."

An article in the Canyon Courier about the lack of affordable housing in Evergreen led to her becoming a founding board member (vice president) of Blue Spruce Habitat for Humanity in 1989-90.  The Habitat-for-Humanity concept is to partner with communities and families in need of housing to build decent, affordable homes.  Judy served as president for awhile and remained active on the board for about 10 years.  To date (12/12) the local chapter has completed 27 homes in the area with several more under construction.  Judy designed several of the houses that have been built.

Judy became involved in Habitat Colorado, the statewide organization focusing on fundraising to help the 30 or so affiliates throughout Colorado. "Habitat is one of the top 10 homebuilders nationally," Judy points out.

She's also donated time to help with space planning for the Mountain Peace Shelter, which provides emergency shelter for women and children (and their pets), and the Peace Boutique, a resale shop to help fund shelter goals.

Judy serves on the board of Into Your Hands Africa, an Evergreen-based organization that focuses on building sustainability in rural Uganda to enhance the economy.  By training kids how to raise and breed a goat or piglet, the sale of the resulting animals provide the funds necessary for children to go to school.  "The needs there are very basic – a concrete floor, mattresses to go on the floor."

Judy has long enjoyed learning from different cultures and hopes to someday make the trip to Uganda.  "I like seeing groups interact and work with one another," she says.

She's also part of the Community Garden group in Evergreen.

Judy generally limits her professional volunteer efforts to one design project at a time.  Her experience over the years has made her a seasoned resource for knowing what can be accomplished by volunteers if a project is kept simple as well as knowing what can be expected to be donated in the way of labor and materials.

She describes herself as a serious student of Buddhism.  "Kindness is my religion," she says.

As she enters the latter half of her seventh decade, Judy explains that she's entering the stage of being the older woman – "the dangerous old woman who does what she wants to do because she knows the right thing to do."