His death, which came swift, far too prematurely, and in the shadow of the Newtown elementary school shootings, caused few ripples outside the local Ridgefield community. Yet, Ed Brennan’s passing at the young age of 50 was heartbreaking, a devastating loss to all who knew him or his family, our own local tragedy to be mourned after Brennan died in the late hours of Dec. 13 from a massive heart attack.
It would be unjust to call Ed a close friend, hundreds of others claim that title, but I write proudly that he was a great acquaintance from the moment I met him in the summer of 2010 during a break from a Ridgefield sporting event. He cornered me about an article I’d written. “So, you’re the guy from the Press?” This was in Stop and Shop, near the cereal aisle, and usually that type of boisterous greeting from a stranger, especially from a guy like Ed whom I would eventually learn didn’t mince his words or opinions, caused me to stop in my tracks.
He stuck his well worn, athletic hand in my vicinity and uttered generously: “I’m Ed Brennan. You probably know my name from my son, Matt.” Thus began a relationship that continued on the sidelines at Tiger Hollow, the basketball courts at the high school, or via the more-than-frequent bump-in at a local business around town. He was gregarious, full of vigor, gifted with an easy smile and an extremely hearty laugh.
There are many “coaches” or “sports dads” who become involved in Ridgefield’s large scholastic or youth programs, in which egos run amok and personal politics occasionally trumps a young athlete’s best interest. Ed Brennan would have none of that. His passion for the kids he coached, his passion for his family and neighbors, was genuinely heartfelt.
His tearful wake on a chilly Monday night last week on Catoonah Street was a testament to the love showered on Ed Brennan in this community. Lines of people snaked outside the funeral home for hours. Some were strangers to each other, but they all shared a common thread: A deep affection for Ed.
Ridgefield High senior Andrew Barton, who plays varsity basketball with Ed’s son, Matt, had known Ed for years. “He was an amazing person,” said Barton. “God always seems to take the best people early. We’ll be hurting from this one for a while.”
Another RHS senior, baseball player Bryce Maher, was equally devastated. “Coach Eddie was one of the greatest coaches my brother Dylan and I ever had the fortune to play under,” said Maher. “I will never forget him coaching Pop Warner football with my dad, and he will always have a warm spot in my family’s hearts. I can still hear him saying, ‘What’s up D-man? Where’s D-man at?’ — referring to my younger brother Dylan. He was an amazing man and will be deeply missed.”
Added RHS senior football player Sam Gravitte: “Ed was an incredible supporter of everyone he came across. He never had a bad word for anyone. Even though Matt didn’t play football this year, he was on the sideline for every home game working the chains. And I know he was like that in everything he was involved in. He touched everyone he spent any time with and many young men looked up to him.”
The Chuma and Bonaparte families were especially close to Ed and the Brennans as they were neighbors in the Westmoreland area of Ridgefield. “I’m not sure how to begin except by saying that Ed Brennan was one of the greatest men I’ve ever known,” said RHS junior Will Bonaparte. “I’ll always remember the first few years I started playing sports in this town. He was my first coach for both basketball and football, and his son Matt became one of my best friends. Coach Brennan was so funny that I couldn’t wait to go to practice and see him every day. I couldn’t even believe that man was an adult.
“One of the greatest memories I have about him came when Matt and I had a lacrosse tournament in Long Island,” continued Bonaparte. “Ed drove us and we stayed in one hotel room together. I remember having a huge pillow fight in the room; it was me and Matt versus him. He claimed to have won, but I still think we had him.
“Those were the kinds of things that made Coach Ed such a huge influence on my life. I could just have so much fun with him all the time. In fact, whenever I think about him now, I can’t even shed a tear, because the memories of every moment I spent with him are so full of laughter. Looking back at these moments makes me realize that he wasn’t just a coach, or a dad, he was my friend. I only wish I could have seen him one more time to tell him what a good one he was.”
Brent Chuma’s family lived down the street from the Brennan clan (Ed was married to Suzanne Brennan for 24 years and aside from Matt, they had two daughters, Holly and Hannah). “Matt and Andrew (Brent’s younger brother and Matt’s classmate) grew up playing on a lot of the same sports teams,” said Chuma, an RHS grad who is now a college freshman. “I was often lucky enough to see Mr. Brennan at various team events. Some of my best memories of Mr. Brennan were at Saturday morning St. Mary’s (CYO) basketball games. I’d be shooting around on a side hoop and Mr. Brennan would come on over to get my rebounds and we’d talk about everything under the sun. He always cared deeply about how I was doing in both sports and school and he never failed to put a smile on my face.
“I always remember Mr. Brennan for the courtside seat he kept at all of our games and each time I came up the right side of the court in front of the Ridgefield fans, I would always jog close enough to the stands to give Mr. Brennan a high-five. The basketball team is a family and Mr. Brennan has always been a part of that family. We are all going to miss him, though we all know he will still be watching from that same special seat, lollipop in his hand and smile on his face.”
“We passed out nearly 1,000 lollipops in memory of Mr. Brennan,” said Andrew Chuma. “Others have also honored him by creating T-shirts with Matt’s number 20 on it and E.B. inscribed on the shoulder. The lollipops were because as long as any of us can remember, Mr. Brennan always had a lollipop in his mouth. It was funny because Ed used them to keep himself from yelling at me, my basketball teammates or perhaps his son, Matt, whom he loved with a passion and raised to be the strong and talented friend we know today.
“It’s hard to acknowledge that our town lost one of its biggest fans. Always present, always enthusiastic, and never failing to bring a smile to the face of anyone who met him. He was more than just a coach. His playful, loving, caring, and passionate spirit will continue on as an everlasting force.
“I can’t imagine him not being here. He taught me to live your life like there is no tomorrow and live today like it’s your last. This, I think, is his most important legacy and it reached so many of us. He was always full of life, always proud, always happy, always bright, never negative, always positive, and always smiling. He just literally loved life. He did this in 50 years, by touching so many people in the Ridgefield community. He will be missed deeply. He loved life and life loved him.”