Dick Brennan, 87, created safe havens

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By John Rice

Columnist / Staff reporter

Richard "Dick" Brennan was the second of four children born to Irish immigrants, Edmund and Agnes Brennan. Shortly after his birth, on Sept. 2, 1930, Edmund attempted to organize transit workers in Chicago. For his efforts, he and his family were deported to England.

So Dick Brennan grew up in London during the blitz. He spent many nights in bomb shelters, as his family struggled for survival. Growing up in wartime England made Brennan a frugal person throughout his life, though he was generous with family and friends. After he graduated high school from St. James in London in 1947, his family returned to Chicago.

Brennan was always good with numbers and worked as a bookkeeper while taking business courses at DePaul University. For the 21-year-old, 1951 proved to be a watershed year. He met the love of his life, Honor Petrie, of Forest Park, at a South Side dance. He was also drafted into the U.S. Army and served an 18-month tour of duty as a leadership instructor at Camp Gordon, Georgia.

Following his honorable discharge, Brennan drove a Pepsi truck while earning a degree in International Relations at the University of Chicago. After Dick and Honor wed, their first apartment was at Elgin & Jackson in Forest Park. It featured a Murphy bed that folded into the wall. They later moved to a tiny one-bedroom on the South Side, where four of their six boys were born. 

In 1959, the family bought their first house, a Victorian at Erie & Humphrey in Oak Park. They paid $20,000 for the spacious home, which featured a wraparound porch. In 1960, Brennan became the credit manager at Mercy Hospital. Five years later, he took the same position at Grant Hospital. 

By 1964, there were six boys and a daughter, Cathy, living in the house. The family took annual camping trips, starting with a trip to the Montreal Expo in 1967. Their adventures included enduring gale force winds at Cape Hatteras. The parents planted a kid at each corner to keep their tent upright. 

Back home, Dick rose early to drive his sons to hockey practice. Rich, Danny and Sean excelled, while Tim, Chris and Pat pursued other sports. He also drove Cathy to Irish dance practice; she danced competitively until she was 19. Dick and Honor celebrated their Irish roots by singing with the Heritage Singers at the Irish American Heritage Center. 

In October 1976, the family moved to River Forest. Brennan had been promoted to administrative assistant at Grant Hospital, on his way to becoming president. Though he never struggled with alcoholism, he had great compassion for people with drinking problems. He pioneered a successful program for alcoholics, which included in-patient, out-patient and follow-up care. Brennan also befriended future Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White and directed Grant Hospital to treat indigent patients from Cabrini-Green.

Away from work, Brennan focused on family and friends. He especially loved cooking for family feasts and was forever asking guests, "Are you staying for dinner?" He was known for treating everyone with respect and prided himself on knowing people's names. At a wedding rehearsal dinner, he graciously spoke with everyone there, though he was meeting most for the first time. 

After he retired from Grant Hospital in 1991, Dick and Honor took trips to Europe and Asia. At home, he busied himself with his garden and making home repairs. He remained in good health until 2013 and died on Oct. 14, 2017. After the funeral Mass, his family celebrated his life at Jimmy's Place on Madison Street in Forest Park, where they passed around the microphone, telling story after story about the incomparable Dick Brennan. 

John Rice

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