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BIRTH DATE: Nov. 14, 1948, in Springfield, Mass. FAMILY: married to Moira; children: Joe, 17; Gainer, 13; Maggie, 10. EDUCATION: Holyoke (Mass.) High School, 1968. CAREER HIGHLIGHTS: currently president Darby O'Brien Advertising, South Hadley, which he founded in 1980; re-established Elmwood Jets, 1988; VP-creative, Douglas Bewick Advertising, West Springfield, 1978-80; copywriter, Belcher Advertising, Springfield, 1975-78. HOBBIES: sponsoring Elmwood Jets, playing Wiffle ball with his children, pingpong, music and literature. O'BRIEN ENJOYS STIRRING THE POT

By Published on .

SOUTH HADLEY, Mass.-"We're the catfish in the trout pond," Darby O'Brien says of his tiny agency's offbeat, occasionally impudent approach to serving its clients. "We like to stir things up and, hopefully, change things."

Mr. O'Brien, 45, has carried around a "lucky" shooter marble, known locally as a plombster, since his youth. He fancies himself a grown-up "schoolyard wise guy" who peppers his remarks with sports references and his ad copy with irreverent phrases like "Their knife ain't worth jack ----."

Black carpeting in the offices of Darby O'Brien Advertising, a six-person shop in western Massachusetts, simulates playground blacktop, and open space is literally divided by chain-link fence. The conference table is an Olympic-size Ping-Pong table, appropriate for frequent "pingpong strategy sessions" in which creative ideas are batted back and forth on behalf of a client.

Work on behalf of one of those clients, the Elmwood (Mass.) Jets of the Holyoke Youth Baseball League, earned Mr. O'Brien a shot on the "Today" show.

His shop, in a pro bono effort, created a $15 T-shirt and logo to raise money to offset high liability insurance in reviving the baseball team of his youth; Mr. O'Brien sent the T-shirts to people like President Clinton, David Letterman and comic Tim Allen.

His ad in The New Yorker caught plenty of people's attention, with copy inspired by "West Side Story": "When you're a Jet, you're a Jet all the way, from your first cigarette to your last dying day."

Mr. O'Brien is a baby boomer who longs for the values of days far behind him, a vision he believes is shared by millions of Americans who have become more dissatisfied with modern-day values and lifestyles.

"If you want America back, you've got to start in your own neighborhood," he says.

So since founding Darby O'Brien Advertising 14 years ago, the agency president has concentrated on promoting local causes, small businesses and area political candidates, even though the office at one time served big-name companies like Spaulding and Milton Bradley Co.

In 1988, inspired by the experiences he had 30 years earlier as a young left fielder for the Jets (he fainted in the league's title game), Mr. O'Brien spearheaded the resurrection of the Elmwood Jets and their incorporation into the underfunded league.

At the same time, Mr. O'Brien has continued churning out his unique brand of advertising.

"The coffee down at the plant stunk. So we came up with our own," reads one ad for Al's Daily Grind, a blend of coffee made by Al's, the Beverage Co., Springfield.

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