The O’Toole’s relationship began a world away: in The Gambia. Both Abbie and Brian were sent to the West African country for their respective assignments with the Peace Corps in 2002. The girl from Iowa and the boy from Walnut Creek lived and worked in separate villages in The Gambia. Brian worked at a “hospital” (a clinic where babies were delivered and malaria patients were treated, sometimes without electricity) in Farafenni, and Abbie provided HIV/AIDS and Diabetes education in Ngeyen Sanjal. They met at a volunteer meet and greet and saw each other a few more times when Abbie would take a 1 ½ hour donkey cart ride to Brian’s village to get supplies. They began dating in February 2003. Brian returned to California in October 2003 to attend UC Hastings College of the Law. Abbie followed 6 months later and went to work for Native American Health Center in Oakland as a Diabetes Coordinator. They married in 2009.
Brian grew up right here in the Northgate neighborhood in the same house he now lives in with Abbie and their three daughters. The O’Toole family has lived in the same house on Encina Camino for four generations, beginning with his grandparents. He graduated from Northgate High School in 1993 where he was an avid track and field athlete competing in long, triple and high jump. He received the Jim Howard Memorial Scholarship for Excellence in Athletics. He may have bagged your groceries if you shopped at the Encina Safeway from 1993 to 1995 as he attended Diablo Valley College. He then went to UC Davis, getting a B.S. in Genetics and a B.A. in Philosophy. After working at Genetech for a couple of years, he decided to take some time to see the world and joined the Peace Corps. After law school he started The Law Office of Brian O’Toole where he specializes in Estate Planning and Elder Law.
Abbie grew up in Okoboji, Iowa, which is nestled in the northwest corner of Iowa.
“Okoboji is home to one of only three blue water, spring-fed lakes in the world and is a popular vacation destination for Midwesterners,” adds Brian. “Her parents owned a resort on the lake for a significant portion of her childhood, and she has many fond memories of growing up there.” She received her B.S. in Dietetics from Iowa State University, spending her sophomore year in Newcastle, Australia. She then earned a Master’s Degree in Public Health from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst. After the Peace Corps and her time with the Native American Health Center, she became a Senior Health and Safety Specialist with Contra Costa County Schools Insurance Group, making sure every site in the Mt. Diablo School District was safe. Abbie is now a busy mom to three girls and an active volunteer with Girl Scouts and at Walnut Acres Elementary where her daughters attend.
Fiona is 9 and just started 4th grade. The future chef (or police officer) loves gymnastics and art. “Many handstands and cartwheels are done at our house,” says Abbie. She also loves sleepovers with friends and anything with wheels – hoverboarding, roller skating, and biking, and is a Brownie Girl Scout.
Alayna is 7 and in 2nd grade. She loves gymnastics, art and Girl Scouts (like her sister) and soccer. She would like to be an artist when she grows up and is currently a collector of many things: gems/crystals, sea shells, crab legs and Hatchimals. Alayna is also an explorer, not shy about lifting up a rock to find out what critters live underneath.
Kyla just started Kindergarten. She hopes to start soccer this fall, loves playing board games and has an extensive collection of Disney princess dolls. She mostly spends her days trying to keep up with her two older sisters and wants to be a “flower girl” when she grows up (her term for a florist).
The O’Tooles love National Parks. They have already taken the girls to Glacier National Park, Yellowstone, and Thousand Islands (on the border with Canada). This summer they shared their love of Yosemite with the kids. In 2006 Abbie and Brian summited Half Dome, and Yosemite has always been a special place for Brian growing up, taking vacations there with his cousins and extended family. This year they had family there ranging from ages 5 to 73, and they all made it on a hike to the bridge where you can watch Vernal Falls.
The O’Tooles have lasting ties to their time in Africa, friends who send emails back and forth still after 18 years or talk on the phone, giving Brian a chance to practice his Mandika (the language of The Gambia). Abbie has a namesake in The Gambia as two of their good friends there named their daughter Abbie Ceesay.
But home is Northgate where the O’Tooles enjoy their proximity to great schools, parks and the library and a neighborhood of wonderful families, new and old.
By Kara Navolio, Resident since 1991
Do you know a neighbor who has a story to share? Nominate your neighbor to be featured in one of our upcoming issues! Contact us at email@example.com.