James K. O'Brien, 61, a retired Army colonel and the deputy director of the Maryland Emergency Management and Civil Defense Agency, died of cardiopulmonary arrest Dec. 22 at Sibley Memorial Hospital.

Col. O'Brien, a resident of Bethesda since 1963, was born in Newport, R.I. He graduated from the U.S. Military Academy at West Point in 1944 and served in Europe in World War II. Subsequent assignments included four years as an engineering instructor at West Point and two years in Vietnam.

In 1963, he earned a master's degree in personnel administration at the University of North Carolina. From then until his retirement from the Army in 1974, he was chief of the separations branch in the Office of the Undersecretary of the Army.

He then joined the Maryland Emergency Management and Civil Defense Agency.

Col. O'Brien's military decorations included the Distinguished Service Medal, the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart.

He was a member of the parish of St. Jane de Chantal Catholic Church.

Survivors include his wife, Mary, of Bethesda; three daughters, Maureen Kourtz of Fairfax, Kathy Dignan of Great Falls and Rosaire O'Brien of Bethesda; three sons, Jay, of Burke, Michael, of Germantown, Tenn., and Army 2d Lt. Dennis, of Fort Benning, Ga., and one grandchild.