Obituary: Richard T. Brennan Sr. / Police chief made his own path

March 6, 1936 - Dec. 10, 2013

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Growing up the youngest of eight children, former Munhall police Chief Richard T. Brennan Sr. often got his own way with his mother, who adored him.

His upbringing, coupled with an independent streak he had that seemed to be hard-wired, made him determined to find his own path in life and succeed in his own way, family members said.

"He was his own drummer," said his son, Richard T. Brennan, Jr. of Munhall.

The elder Mr. Brennan died Tuesday at his home in Munhall of complications from dialysis and surgery. He was 77.

Born March 6, 1936, Mr. Brennan was the son of Marie Buck and James Brennan, who worked as a heater in the blast furnace of the Homestead Steel Works. Growing up in Munhall as a boy, Mr. Brennan was mechanically minded, loved to tinker and chafed at attending Munhall High School, which he thought seemed unlikely to prepare him for a useful job, said his daughter-in-law, Laurie Brennan.

So Mr. Brennan quit high school before graduation, although he later earned a general equivalency diploma, and joined the U.S. Marines as an infantryman, his daughter-in-law said. After boot camp in South Carolina, he shipped out to serve several years at a base in Japan, near the foot of Mount Fuji, returning to Pennsylvania in the mid-1950s, when he was stationed at Fort Mifflin outside Philadelphia, his son said.

After a year or two of dating, Mr. Brennan married Helen Loughran, whom he had met at a Marine Corps dance at the Philadelphia Naval Shipyards.

When they settled in Munhall in 1957, he worked at Dawn Donuts in West Homestead, then turned to police work, joining the Munhall police as a patrolman and then working his way through the ranks to sergeant, assistant chief and then chief.

As a police officer, Mr. Brennan's people skills shone.

"He certainly helped so many people with personal little struggles," his son said. "Back then, policemen were a different breed of policeman -- back then, they were part of the town and they knew everyone and everyone knew them."

Munhall Mayor Raymond Bodnar worked alongside Mr. Brennan for years and got to know him when the mayor was still on borough council and Mr. Brennan was among the rank and file. Mr. Brennan became chief in 1990 and retired in 1994.

"He was a good cop and a great chief," Mr. Bodnar said. "As tough as he was, that's how big his heart was. He was a special person. He would help anybody out."

In addition to his son, Mr. Brennan is survived by a daughter, Karen Watson of Boston, Mass.; another son, Michael of National Park, N.J.; and a sister, Joanne Martin of Fort Wayne, Ind.

Friends will be received from 2 to 4 and 7 to 9 p.m. today and Sunday at the George Irvin Green Funeral Home in Munhall. A Mass will be celebrated at 10 a.m. Monday at St. Therese Church in Munhall, with burial in St. Mary's Cemetery.

Amy McConnell Schaarsmith: Staff writer Molly Born contributed.

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