And all those who rose to the occasion after his tragic death
By Peter D’Abrosca
This is the second time the editors at East Greenwich News have been gracious enough to publish my words in my hometown news outlet. (I grew up in West Greenwich, but close enough).
Perhaps morbidly, this is also the second time I’ve written here a tribute in memoriam to a person who is no longer with us.
The first was in December, when Thomas Casey Greene Jr., a longtime family friend and once my boss on the Greene homestead known as The Forge, passed away at 91. Tom was notably related to Revolutionary War Major General Nathanael Greene, whose historic home he occupied for nearly all his life.
My work as a columnist and author is usually focused on national politics, but today I’m writing about a lost relative and a community of heroes.
My uncle and namesake, Peter J. D’Abrosca, passed away 40 years ago today (10/2/23).
Uncle Pete was a Cranston firefighter and East Greenwich volunteer firefighter who, early in the morning on Oct. 2, 1983, while on his way to work, came across the scene of a gruesome car accident. A wrecked vehicle had crashed into a telephone pole near Hunt’s River Bridge on Post Rd., on the North Kingstown/Warwick line, sparking a fire.
His first instinct was to help.
When Uncle Pete approached the vehicle, a 1976 Chevy Nova, to see if anyone was trapped inside, he was shocked by an estimated 7,200 volts of electricity. A downed wire that stabilized the pole had become electrified and was touching the vehicle. When he touched the Nova, he was electrocuted. He passed away on the scene. It was a freak event that cost him his life. He died in service to his community.
He left behind a mother, father and three brothers, all overcome with grief.
Bob Farrell was Uncle Pete’s roommate at the time of his death. He was also a volunteer firefighter for East Greenwich and arrived on the scene of the crash.
“We were devastated by what had happened. Pete’s truck was parked at the accident with the music on the radio playing and the door opened where he had rushed out to help,” he said. “He was instantly killed by the electrical wire that was down and we could do nothing to save him. We were simply devastated by that moment in time that doesn’t seem like 40 years ago.”
“Several weeks after the funeral I was home at our apartment and went to grab some ice in the refrigerator and staring at me were four fully feathered ducks!” Farrell said. “He had gone hunting and put the birds in our freezer, which was so typical of his crazy lifestyle! He was a great friend and a real man’s man! I miss his laugh and funny outlook on life.”
Just hours earlier, Uncle Pete had returned from Fenway Park on Carl Yastrzemski Day, a celebration of the legendary Boston Red Sox player who would play his final game the next day. Uncle Pete loved Yaz.
He was a local – an East Greenwich native who graduated from East Greenwich High School in the class of 1974. He was a star basketball player. He later received a degree from the University of Rhode Island.
In East Greenwich, he was a noted member of the idyllic 1970’s suburban community, where everybody pretty much knew everybody else.
At URI, he was a dedicated brother of the Phi Mu Delta fraternity, and as a fraternity man myself, I can assure you that Greek Life dedication means philanthropy, charity, cracking the books and certainly not partying, drunkenness or sophomoric hijinks.
Jim DeNuccio was a fraternity brother of Uncle Pete’s.
“To me, Peter D’Abrosca was a great friend and fraternity brother who possessed a quality of honesty and loyalty that was unmatched by anyone who worked for me,” DeNuccio said. “Pete always conducted himself while in my employ, in a manner that gave people the impression he was an owner, carefully watching over this business. It became quite obvious to me early in his employ, that he was raised in his own family with the belief to treat people the way you wanted to be treated yourself. He had strong moral views which always rose to the surface whenever he represented me in my business, to the public. Pete D’Abrosca, to me, was simply an exceptional human being who was as genuine and honest as they come! I was proud that he considered me his friend.”
He was also an avid quahogger and would deliver bushels of freshly dug clams to his coworkers at the firehouses.
Joe Kettelle is a family friend who grew up in East Greenwich and knew Uncle Pete. He remembers him for his tenacity on the basketball court.
“I first saw Peter play basketball when I was in junior high, and he was a star for the high school varsity,” Kettelle told me.
“He was outstanding, a great shooter, relentless and tough,” Kettelle said. “Years later I played against him in adult leagues. He was usually the best player on the court,” he said. “He was scary to cover because he was always the most competitive, intense guy out there. Not going to lie, he could talk trash too! But he did it with a smile and after the game, a high five. He was an EG guy through and through.”
I’m told that more than 100 firefighters from all over New England, and many members of the community turned out for Uncle Pete’s funeral at Our Lady of Mercy Church in East Greenwich.
Fire trucks lined Main Street for a grand procession before his burial at the East Greenwich Cemetery.
That day, he was honored as a local hero. But his heroism in life was matched by the heroism of the community after his death.
Shortly after his death, family and friends of my late uncle founded the Peter D’Abrosca Memorial Foundation.
For 21 years, the foundation organized a golf tournament, the Peter D’Abrosca Memorial Classic, that raised money for high school students in the community. With the funds raised from the tournament, college scholarships were awarded to the children of Cranston and East Greenwich firefighters, all in memory of Uncle Pete.
I only vaguely remember the tournament from my youth, riding around in a golf cart with my beaming grandfather. And the hats. I remember the hats. Each year, a new hat was designed and given to golfers and other participants in the tournament. I used to have a collection of them, but only one remains – from the 16th Annual Peter D’Abrosca Memorial Classic. I’m wearing it now, in fact.
(Author’s note: If you have a Memorial Classic hat, especially the neon lime green one designed for one of the tournaments circa the late 90’s, please contact me.)
All told, the Memorial Classic raised about $250,000 for college scholarships for local youth. When the tournament ceased, the foundation donated another $100,000 to the University of Rhode Island Foundation & Alumni Engagement. Hundreds of local high school students benefited from the scholarship program.
Today, there is a plaque on the south side of the Hunt’s River Bridge marking the place where Uncle Pete died in service of his community.
His firefighter’s helmet is displayed at the East Greenwich Veteran Fireman’s Club, along with a dedicated bench on the club’s prime real estate overlooking the East Greenwich Bay.
Uncle Pete was a hero. But so were the firefighters who honored his life on the day of his funeral. And so were Uncle Pete’s friends and family who organized and poured their time into the Memorial Foundation, meticulously planning and running the Memorial Classic for more than two decades. So were the all community members who participated in the tournament. So were the local businesses that sponsored it.
In tragedy, they came together to do good, and that’s what community is about.
Peter D’Abrosca grew up in West Greenwich. He is a campaign strategist, author, and columnist.