The last time I saw Clyde Bennett was a couple of days before he died at Hope Hospice Health in Providence. It is not how I will remember this kind man who did so much for Warwick and whose love for …
The last time I saw Clyde Bennett was a couple of days before he died at Hope Hospice Health in Providence. It is not how I will remember this kind man who did so much for Warwick and whose love for people endeared him to so many. Yet that final visit in many ways underscored Clyde’s modesty and pervasive sense of humor.
I called on Clyde frequently during his tenure as a school administrator. He was sincere and took the time to explain issues, usually focused on a budgetary matter, making it easy to report the story. When he assumed the role of superintendent, I would regularly be on the phone or stop by his office in the school administration office on Warwick Avenue. And then there was another side to Clyde on Saturdays at Tennis Rhode Island. We didn’t talk about school news then. In fact, there’s not a lot of time to talk on the court if you’re serious about winning points which most of the players in the Saturday league are out to do. It was after three sets of doubles when many players would go out for breakfast where I got to know Clyde as a friend.
He was fun to be with. He was inquisitive about others and had a remarkable memory that made for colorful accounts and plenty of laughter. I was fortunate to get invited to his apartment when he moved from his home on Warwick Neck following the death of his wife, Ruth. He would cook dinner for a bunch of us. It was a fare of “meat and potatoes” served family style from bowls passed around the table. Conversation is what he really served up. I always left feeling fulfilled.
The tennis league he and Robert Coker started not long after Toll Gate High School opened in the early 1970s was at first comprised of teachers and their spouses. It evolved as subs became regular members. Clyde and Bob were the regulars and the backbone to the league.
Bob who stopped playing in his 90s, still makes a point of joining us for after tennis coffee. He would give us the latest Clyde news if Clyde didn’t show. It was Bob who put out the call that Clyde was in hospice.
In the days following his death, I learned more about this man who played a role in shaping the lives of so many Warwick residents.
“I had the three best superintendents,” Frank Flaherty told me of his years as mayor. He named off Domenic DiLuglio, Clyde and Robert Shapiro. He went on to reveal Clyde was his physical education teacher when he was a seventh grader attending Lockwood Junior High. Clyde’s father, Clyde Sr., was principal. He commanded respect. Frank recalls students feared being sent to the principal’s office. They would enter closing the door behind them to face Clyde Sr. He would say nothing looking all the time at them. Then after what seemed an eternity he would declare, “It’s about time you get back to class.”
Apart from tennis, I saw a side of Clyde when he went to the Nation’s Capital with the Rhode Island Honor Flight. The send off from Green Airport with veterans filing into the terminal between rows of police and firefighters, cheering friends and family to the beat of drums and hum of bagpipes can be emotional. We had some time before he boarded the flight to talk and I could tell even before the day had really started he was moved and some memories from Korea were best left buried.
Clyde’s granddaughter Sarah Grasso provided intimate insights in her eulogy. She observed that wherever they went Clyde would know someone and of those he didn’t know, they would leave as friends. Sarah focused on Clyde’s love for family, for Ruth and love for each other.
“It wasn’t big grand jesters that I remember, it was the little things. The way they poked fun at each other. Gramp pinching Gram’s behind as he would hoist her into the van (always a van) and her saying “CLYDE!!” Him knowing exactly what to make her for dinner, or what to order for her at a restaurant, that would make her happy. It was those little things that showed love more than any gift or amount of money ever could.”
I learned from Sarah and his daughter Paula when I visited hospice that he had a way of referring to “funny funny” kids, grandkids and I suppose great grandkids by names he made up. Paula was Lilian Diamond and Sarah was Bell Bell Da Boo Boo or Sarah Bellis.
“Honestly, I have no idea where or how these names came to be….but we all had some sort of nick name. Heck, he even had them for himself….We got to the point where we wouldn’t bat an eye when we heard, “FRED, Table for 4!”
Sarah talked of how Clyde drove her three hours to New Hampshire to see the boy she had meet and how she felt he knew they would be married She also recalled the early morning knocks on her door and telling her to throw on some clothes because he’s be taking her and her cousins out to breakfast. “We would all climb into the back of his van where there were no seats and he would tell us to just sit down so no one could see us.”
On that final visit, I found Clyde lying down, the back of bed raised and the blanket tight around his chest. His eyes were closed and his mouth slightly open. His breathing was steadily. Paula and his son Steve were watching over him. They told me how there would be times when he would snap awake inquiring what they would be serving for dinner and chatting, but those moment had become less frequent. His body was shutting down.
We talked. It wasn’t easy and as it became time for me to leave, Paula bent down to her father’s ear and announced in a loud voice my presence. I was on the other side of the bed looking down.
Clyde’s eyes popped open and I could see that he knew me.
“Clyde,” I said, “I need a sub for tomorrow’s game; can you help me out?”
His eyes brightened and there was that hint of a Clyde smile.
“I’m not too fast right now,” he said before closing his eyes and tuning out.
That was Clyde. There was always tomorrow.