Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Believe it or not

Colleague known at UC as likable, honest guy — and Air Force calls him most-wanted deserter

Nanette Asimov and Megan Cassidy, June 12, 2018,
San Francisco Chronicle 

Employees in the University of California president’s office in Oakland knew their former colleague Tim O’Beirne as the personable, brainy number-cruncher for the UC system’s vast health benefits program. They were stunned Tuesday to learn that the Air Force has identified him as William Howard Hughes Jr., a captain with top-secret clearance who vanished in 1983. The Air Force declared him a deserter and one of its most wanted fugitives — and some suspected he had defected to the Soviets — until his capture last Wednesday.

“Wow. Wow!” said Stephanie Rosh, a retiree insurance manager at UC, when told his story by The Chronicle. She, like other employees, knew O’Beirne as a cheerful health benefits actuary and consultant for Deloitte in San Francisco. He was contracted to work in the UC president’s office during the mid-2000s. Hughes was a specialist in radar surveillance who worked closely with NATO during the Cold War until he walked away 35 years ago, at age 33.

The Air Force said O’Beirne admitted last week that he was Hughes. He is in confinement at Travis Air Force Base in Fairfield amid an investigation, and has not been charged with a crime, said Linda Card, a spokeswoman for the Air Force Office of Special Investigations. No bail or court date have been set. O’Beirne lived and worked for decades in high-profile positions in one of the busiest metropolitan regions of the country.

He lived in Daly City as Barry O’Beirne and Timothy O’Beirne, and was apparently married. Neighbors knew the couple as Giants fans. Former colleagues say he worked for UC as a consultant for much of the 2000s, preparing presentations to the UC Regents, representing UC in labor negotiations and drawing up the documents that would set forth their health insurance benefits for the rest of their lives.

“This just floors me,” said Judy Boyette, a San Francisco attorney who signed O’Beirne’s consulting contracts when she ran human resources and benefits at UC more than a decade ago. Looking at a photo of her former colleague in custody, Boyette was stunned. “My gosh, that’s Tim! Oh, my word. That is unbelievable. But that’s him! Wow.”

She and other former colleagues described O’Beirne as smart, articulate — especially when describing complicated numbers and concepts so that others could understand them — and kind.

“The thing I loved about him was that he could relate to everybody. Just a very nice personality,” Boyette said.

Insurance number-crunchers are often introverted, more at home with statistical tables than with the people who benefit from them, Boyette said. “So it’s really good to find an actuary who’s comfortable socializing with people.”

O’Beirne was so good that she sent him into the delicate realm of labor negotiations.

“I wanted to send someone I thought the union could trust — and they did,” she said. “He was very likable.” ...

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