I can't say when I met Vera Crenca for a first time, but it had to be more than 50 years ago. She was the gatekeeper to then Mayor Philip W. Noel and the one I needed to speak with if I was going to talk to him. She always wore a smile, and there was
I can’t say when I met Vera Crenca for a first time, but it had to be more than 50 years ago. She was the gatekeeper to then Mayor Philip W. Noel and the one I needed to speak with if I was going to talk to him.
She always wore a smile, and there was nothing devious about her. You knew she was looking out for the “boss” and her good family friend. If she said he was busy, then he was truly busy and if she said “let me see” then you knew she would advocate on your behalf.
Vera served as Phil’s secretary for 53 years. She was a community force long after Phil was governor and left the limelight of public office. I remember my delight when I found her at the reception desk at St. Kevin School. She had long since retired from an official job and was volunteering at the school. It’s a role that suited her. She knew the parents, the kids and half the people who might come to the door, including curious reporters like me.
But more than that she knew how to deal with people regardless of their age.
Her son, Rick, recalled Friday how she marveled at the number of students who in the course of a day report to her office complaining of an ache or pain. Vera would ask a few questions assess the situation quickly and, in the majority of cases, declare, “you’re fine.” The kids would immediately brighten up and return to class. She had that effect.
Father Robert Marciano, pastor of St. Kevin Church, recalled the story of a boy reporting to her office complaining of a loose tooth. Vera took a look and, indeed, the tooth was wobbling around. She grabbed a hold of it and pulled it out. She then wrapped it up, told the boy to bring it home and sent him back to class. A practical solution to what could have otherwise been an unnecessarily traumatic situation.
That’s not to suggest Vera was all business and no fun.
It was some years ago that I got a call from the school about a fall field day with rides, ice cream and games for the students in the church parking lot. I knew it would be the kind of event for some fun photos and, who knew, maybe even an ice cream bar. As anticipated, students were running around the lot having a blast. The mood was contagious and to my surprise – also making for the first page photo in the following edition – I found Vera and school Principal Roger Parent dancing.
“You’re not going to take pictures,” Vera protested as I raised my camera. There was no way I was going to let this image escape. It was one of those rare moments I didn’t listen to Vera, and I’m glad I didn’t.
It’s the image that flashed in my mind the moment I saw Vera’s obituary in Friday’s Providence Journal. She died last Wednesday at the age of 90 at home.
Rick told me of her ongoing battle with cancer and her decision to be at home.
“She had a good handle on things and more often than not she was right,” Rick said. Of those final days, he said, she figured it was time to go and she left this world peacefully and without pain.
Rick also provided some insight to the close relationship Vera and her late husband, Mario, developed with Phil and Joyce Noel. He said the four of them were like “peas in a pod.”
I reached the governor in Florida. He hopes to get back to Rhode Island shortly and when appropriate wants to have a role in planning a memorial service for Vera.
“She was a brilliant woman,” he said of all the bookkeeping she handled for his law practice. He also spoke of her personality recalling how as his secretary when mayor she had the ability to calm those who were distressed.
“They sensed that she loved people, which she did,” he said.
The governor said Vera and his wife Joyce were a formidable team. Whenever Joyce needed money for the house account, Vera would handle the transaction. While serving in the State House, the two would plan out his daily calendar down to the time he was to come home for dinner and whether there was the time to watch his son, Joe, play hockey for Hendricken.
Vera lost Mario eight years ago. They had been married for 60 years. Until her death, she kept a prayer card with his photograph on the pillow beside her.
Rick pointed out his parents lived in the same Warwick house since 1955.
“She started there and she wanted to end there,” he said.
Of all he has heard about his mother since her death the words of Patrick Quinn at the funeral home resonated for him. Patrick pointed out there are some people who go by one name. They don’t need anything more than that because everyone knows them.
Vera was one of those.