When Charles E. “Chuck” Brennan Jr. is hard at work in the deli at Dave’s Market on Tower Hill Road, he gets to cut through the baloney on a regular basis – a feat that’s not as easy in his other job as a town councilman.
While, technically, his meat-cutting involves bologna – spelled a different way – you get the point.
“I cut the baloney every day,” says Chuck, who has been working at Dave’s since May. He’s following in a family tradition: daughter Andrea Mumford worked at Dave’s through high school and college; another daughter, Kaitlin, works now at the Quonset market.
After trying a few jobs he didn’t like after retiring from the North Kingstown Police Department – private eye, car salesman, nail-maker, machinist – Chuck has settled on a place not unlike TV’s “Cheers” bar where “everybody knows your name.”
In fact, so many folks drift over to talk about town business, a young co-worker once asked, “Are you the mayor?”
On a recent mid-week morning, things are a little slow until a man arrives to order the cranberry-walnut chicken salad. Dave’s chicken salad, Chuck notes, is among the most popular deli items. The customer asks about Chuck’s kids; Chuck asks about the man’s five grandchildren.
This is surely the epitome of life in a small town. “Everybody passes by,” he says, adding, “town councilmen come through and ask questions if I haven’t answered their e-mails.”
Chuck, who is also a community service officer for the police department, working the occasional traffic detail, is in his first term on the town council. Not long into his term, he made news by resigning from the Democratic Town Committee after that body voted to censure longtime party stalwart and School Committee member Melvoid Benson. She had refused to vote along party lines when choosing a School Committee chairman.
It was this sort of adherence to principles that helped him choose a career path. Born in Providence, he moved to North Kingstown at 20, got an associate’s degree from CCRI, then a bachelor’s degree in administration of justice from Roger Williams University. He also attended the FBI National Academy in Quantico, Va., and served in the North Kingstown police force for 22 years, retiring with the rank of Captain.
He got hooked on the area when he sought respite from the heat of Providence by visiting a cousin who had moved to North Kingstown. He wound up working five years at Camp Yawgoo, for 10 weeks each summer, starting when he was 15.
This same cousin set him up on a double date with a girl named Jenny. “We played cards and a month later I proposed.” They’ve been married 32 years and have five daughters and four grandkids with a fifth on the way.
They also have Mini, a sweet little mixed-breed dog from the animal shelter, who is deeply attached to Chuck. “I lost two dogs to Lyme disease,” he explains. “Liz [McLaughlin, animal control officer] brought Mini by, handed her to me and said if it didn’t work I could take her back. My wife said, ‘We don’t need another dog’ so we kept her.”
His experiences as a police officer tempered Chuck’s character and resolve. He proudly points to staying with a particularly heart-rending crime until it was resolved but also says he helped turn lives around by stopping young people who were starting down the wrong path.
As a detective, he tackled the case of an 88-year-old woman who was reported missing. “She had taken on as a boyfriend a 50-year-old, one-legged biker,” he recalls. It turned out she wasn’t missing; the woman had been dropped off at South County Hospital.
“She was malnourished, dehydrated and was unconscious. I took pictures then I worked six months to get background [on the boyfriend]. I got him indicted for involuntary manslaughter.”
Sometimes reminders of his earlier police work walk right into Dave’s. “I run into people I arrested years ago,” he says. “One guy, about 30 years old, came into Dave’s and said, ‘I’ve been staying out of trouble!’ Somebody else asked him ‘Who’s that?’ and he said, ‘Just the guy who straightened me out.’”
Chuck’s journey into town government was a natural fit.
“I’ve always liked politics,” he says. “My mom was chair of the 9th Ward Democratic Committee in Providence. She’d go around and register people to vote. She had me hand out materials and walk in parades promoting candidates.
“I’ve voted in every election since I was 18. I waited till [retiring from the police force] to get involved locally. The Democratic Town Committee asked me to run and I won the first time.”
During his years in the police department, he learned about purchasing and bidding through, among other assignments, heading implementation of the $3 million addition to the headquarters on Post Road. It helped prepare him for the council’s budgetary work.
“The council is a good bunch of people,” says Chuck. “There have been disagreements over things but, in the end, you shake hands.”
And what about Dave’s?
“I get positive comments although it’s an odd career change,” says Chuck. “It’s a fun job.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org