Payton firefighter (Obit)

Young ‘firefighter’ loses fight with cancer   Payton O’Brien, a 6-year-old first-grader at Hawthorne School at the time, is pictured here shaking hands with Mayor Steve Morley after he was sworn in as an Elmhurst fireman at the 7th annual Paint the Gym Purple event held at York High School on Saturday, December 13, 2014. Behind Payton holding the certificate is Elmhurst Fire Chief Jeff Basicore. Payton, now 7, lost his fight with cancer about a week before Christmas.

Second grader made famous by “heart” signs around town

By Dee Longfellow

For The Elmhurst Independent

You could almost hear the collective sigh of sadness across the entire community of Elmhurst as the news spread that Payton Harrison O’Brien, age 7, a member of second grade class at Hawthorne Elementary School, had lost his fight with cancer.

Besides being beloved by a city full of caring people, Payton was the cherished son of Brian and Laura, nee Dylla; loving brother of Bret, Walker, Bennett, Briley and Avery O’Brien; beloved grandson of Robert and Carol Dylla and Robert (Linda) and the late Lyn O’Brien; dear nephew of Robert (Sinead) and Kevin (Lauren) Dylla, Tara (Michael) Steffes and the late Bret O’Brien and cousin of Bobby, Kilian, Liam, Ronan, Berkley, Harper, London, Beckham, Robert, Briley and Sadie. A Mass of Christian Burial was held on Saturday, December 19, 2015, at Visitation Catholic Church. Interment Queen of Heaven Catholic Cemetery, Hillside.

In a statement provided to the funeral home, Payton’s family thanked the community for their support over the past three years, especially to those who placed “We [Heart] Payton” signs in their yards.

“These signs were the idea of Katie Gallagher, a neighbor on Argyle,” the family said. “They started on Argyle, and then spread far and wide. It brought a smile to Payton’s face to see the signs and feel the support of so many.”

The O’Brien’s have announced their plans to bring their “We Heart Payton” sign inside their house on Payton’s birthday, which is January 2, at 12 noon and asks that the community do the same thing as a step in the family’s healing process. To learn more, visit

The signs certainly did catch the community’s attention and Payton became a local celebrity of sorts. On December 15, 2014, Payton was sworn in as an official Elmhurst firefighter by Elmhurst Mayor Steve Morley while Fire Chief Jeff Bacidore looked on. It took place as part of York High School’s 7th annual Paint The Gym Purple event, which raises funds for Relay for Life and the American Cancer Society.

Also in 2014, Payton was invited to throw the switch at the Christmas tree-lighting hosted by the Spring Road Business Association. He was invited this year as well, but his health wouldn’t allow him to come out.

WB senior helped Payton with gymnastics

“In the gym, Payton’s just like everyone else. He can do many of the events, so it’s like he doesn’t have a handicap.”

It was at Elmhurst Gymnastics Center that Payton met Willowbrook senior Keawe Winstead, a senior at Willowbrook High School in Villa Park, who took him under his wing and helped him regain his love for the sport – and much more.

“It has been amazing to watch Payton’s self-esteem and strength grow,” Keawe said. “There are days when he gets down or a little shy, but I remind him he’s just as good as or better than the other kids. He is very mature and understands what’s going on, and my job is to make sure he stays confident and develops not only gymnastics skills, but also the skills to not focus on what other people say or think.”

In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made to Lurie Children’s Foundation TeamRaiser, Attn: The Tribute Program of Lurie Children’s, 225 East Chicago Avenue, Box 4, Chicago, IL 60611-2991 For more information, call 630-832-0018 or


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