Joseph E. Brennan H’85

Joseph E. Brennan H’85 died on April 6, 2024, in Portland, Maine.

(The following was provided by Portland Press Herlad in April 9, 2024:)

Joseph E. Brennan H’85

Former Maine Governor Joseph Edward Brennan died peacefully on Saturday, April 6, 2024, at his home on his beloved Munjoy Hill, just a few blocks from where he was born 89 years ago. Brennan was an advocate for working people, and as governor instituted major reforms in education, economic development, and environmental protection in Maine.

Joseph Brennan was born on Nov. 2, 1934, on the third floor of 31 Kellogg Street in Portland. Joe was the fifth of eight children of John and Catherine Mulkerrin Brennan. His parents were immigrants from the Connemara region of County Galway, Ireland, and spoke Gaelic in the home. John, a World War I combat veteran, worked as a union longshoreman on the Portland waterfront. Catherine was widely respected in the community.

Munjoy Hill was a far different place then. It was home to Jewish, Italian, and Irish immigrants, living in crowded three-decker tenements. Joe was a good student, but reportedly enjoyed the pool hall more than the classroom. He graduated from Cathedral grammar school in 1948 and Cheverus High School in 1952.

After high school, Joe made a momentous decision to join the U.S. Army. It “made a man out of me,” Brennan said later. He grew physically, met people from different parts of the country, and developed a keen interest in reading history and biographies. This was the reason he strongly supported a universal public service requirement for all young people. Joe was discharged in 1955 and returned home. There his older sister Mary, the first in his family to have gone to school beyond high school (Mercy School of Nursing), nudged him through the steps to apply to Boston College. Joe attended BC on the G.I. bill, continuing the strong Jesuit influence on his life, and graduated in 1959. He went on to the University of Maine Law School and graduated first in his class.

Brennan joined the law firm of Casper Tevanian in 1963. Casper encouraged him to run for office, and Joe won election to the Maine Legislature at age 29. The first bill he sponsored was to abolish the then-common practice of sending children who had an unexcused absence from school to a juvenile retention center.

In 1970, Joe was elected Cumberland County attorney. There he hired a talented group of lawyers who went on to prominent careers – John O’Leary, David Flanagan, and a young lawyer named George Mitchell. In 1972, Joe returned to the State Senate, where he was elected immediately to serve as Minority Leader. In 1974, Joe ran for Governor for the first time, and became the first candidate in the post-Watergate years to call for campaign finance reform and voluntarily disclose his personal finances.

Brennan lost to George Mitchell in the 1974 primary, but landed on his feet by being elected Attorney General by his legislative peers. There he led the negotiation with the Maine tribes and the federal government which ultimately resulted in the Indian Land Claims settlement of 1980.

Meanwhile, Brennan ran for governor again in 1978 and was successful. He was re-elected in 1984 in a wide margin, becoming the first Democrat to win all 16 counties since the Civil War.

As Governor, Brennan reduced deaths on the highway by implementing tough seatbelt and OUI laws; created strong development tools for state government by establishing the Finance Authority of Maine and putting the Maine Housing Authority on sound financial footing; reformed education and implemented statewide testing to monitor student progress; consolidated Maine’s public lands and protected Maine rivers; initiated home-based care for seniors and protective services for abused children. But perhaps his most important contribution to the nation was his decision in 1980 to appoint his former primary rival George Mitchell to serve in the United States Senate to finish the term of Ed Muskie; Mitchell went on to become the Senate Majority Leader and negotiate a peace agreement in Northern Ireland.

In 1986, Governor Brennan attracted national notice by refusing to allow the Maine National Guard to travel for training to Honduras in protest of United States government involvement in a civil war in next-door Nicaragua. Joe’s advocacy for peace stretched back to the 1968 Democratic Convention in Chicago, where he invoked the wrath of Senator Ed Muskie for supporting an anti-Vietnam War resolution. After his governorship, Brennan was elected to the U.S. Congress twice (1986 and 1988), where he continued his opposition to the Reagan Administration’s interventions in Central America and Iran.

Brennan was a liberal in social and economic and foreign policy but a conservative fiscally. He fought back tax increases as Governor and supported the balanced budget amendment as a Congressman.

Brennan completed his public service career by serving three U.S. presidents – Clinton, Bush, and Obama – as a Commissioner of the Federal Maritime Commission from 1999 until he retired in 2013.

Joe married Connie LaPointe Brennan in 1994. The two had collaborated on all things political for many years prior to the marriage, and the partnership now expanded to family, friends, and life together. The two traveled to six continents over the years – beginning in Ireland. One of the highlights of his travel was going to South Africa, home of Nelson Mandela, whom he greatly admired.

Joe was also very proud and supportive of his two children: J.B. Brennan, who served twenty-five years in the U.S. Secret Service; and Tara Brennan, who obtained her doctorate in psychology while raising three boys – Xavier, Lluc, and Marti – with her husband, Carles Farre.

Beyond his family, Joe was always surrounded by his “Irish mafia” – Davey Redmond, Gerry Conley, Eddie Kelleher, the Kerry’s, Severin McCarthy Beliveau, Tom LaPointe, Frank O’Hara, and a few non-Irish like Peter Danton, Ida Tevanian, Billy Troubh, Jerry Petrucelli, Janet Mills, Arthur Stilphen, Harold Pachios, and Mike Petit.

Joe thrived in politics in the era before pollsters and consultants, where a handshake was all that mattered. Joe’s public opinion surveying consisted of calling brother Jimmy at the parking lot and brother Paul at Nissen’s bakery and asking what they were hearing on the street. But in the end, public opinion did not determine what Joe did or said; he fought for the banning of assault weapons in campaigns during the 1990s, even though he judged that it would probably hurt him on election day.

In 2017, some students at St. Joseph’s College in Standish asked Governor Brennan why he kept running for office. Joe answered, “If you want to make life better for people there is no better place than political service. Believe in something. Argue for it, but don’t get committed to it until you hear the other side. I accomplished what I accomplished by getting people smarter than me on my team, building a rapport, and giving them a long leash.”

Even with his many accomplishments, perhaps the characteristic Joe was most recognized for within close family and friends was his extraordinary sense of humanity. His generosity, compassion, and many kindnesses knew no bounds.

Brennan was predeceased by his parents, John and Catherine Brennan; sisters, Mary, Kathleen, and Sister Barbara Ann RSM; brothers John, Francis, Jimmy, and Paul. Brennan is survived by his wife, Connie L. Brennan; his son, JB Brennan; his daughter, Tara Brennan, (Carles Farre), and grandsons, Xavier Farre Brennan, Lluc Farre Brennan, and Marti Farre Regincos; his sisters-in-law Merrye Lynn Brennan and Christine Bartlett (Don); his brothers-in-law Mark LaPointe (Diane), Thomas LaPointe (Jan), and John LaPointe. He is also survived by many beloved nieces, nephews, grand-nieces and grand-nephews

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