Remembrances of Clara O’Donnell: A Great and Untimely Loss

Our colleague and friend Clara Marina O’Donnell passed away on January 16. She was only 30 years old. Clara was brilliant, vibrant and kind. We miss her enormously.

Clara served as a nonresident fellow in the Center on the United States and Europe (CUSE) at Brookings and a senior fellow at the Centre for European Reform. Clara led CUSE’s research and programs on European security and defense issues, focusing on the transformations underway in European and U.S. military forces.

Clara was a wonderful and generous colleague. In addition to her intelligence, energy, creativity, and boundless enthusiasm for the subjects she worked on, Clara enriched us with her elegance, her grace and a genuine kindness that touched all who knew her. The secret to Clara’s considerable success was the fact that everyone who met and worked with her greatly respected and admired her and, even more importantly, they liked her personally.

At a very young age, Clara had accomplished an enormous amount in her field and attained a wisdom and an insight that belied her youth. She was a scholar of enormous energy and promise from whom great things were expected, and always received. She published thought-provoking articles on transatlantic defense for Brookings, the Centre for European Reform and many other organizations; and conceptualized and convened high-level workshops and seminars on European security issues in Washington, D.C. Her network of transatlantic connections was extensive and diverse.

In the end, we at CUSE learned an enormous amount from Clara. We learned about Europe and transatlantic defense. But also we learned about grace under pressure and how a simple smile can light up a whole room. We learned how to be Irish, British, Spanish and European, grow up in Brussels and live in America, all while never appearing out of place. 

And, sadly, we learned how to face death at too young an age with dignity, with caring for others, and with a profound love for life. For these, and many other lessons, we will always be deeply grateful that Clara chose to spend time with us at Brookings.

A private funeral will be held on Friday, January 24 and a public memorial service will be held in London in March (details to come). Donations in Clara’s name may be made to Trinity Hospice at

A memorial tribute by the Centre for European Reform staff may be viewed at

A memorial tribute by the European Institute may be viewed at