News Feature

Originally published in Castine Patriot, September 22, 2016
President Brennan reflects on 50-year connection to Maine Maritime

Leading 2016 commencement

President William Brennan opens the 2016 commencement in the Alexander Fieldhouse.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Szwajkos Photography

by Monique Labbe

The earliest memory Maine Maritime Academy president Bill Brennan has of Castine is not summer sunsets over the harbor or the historic Main Street. His earliest memory is of snow.

“We moved from Bermuda in the winter of 1966 when I was in 8th grade,” said Brennan, while sitting in his office at the academy Thursday, September 15. “Coming from a place with no snow, I remember so vividly that we were not prepared for winter weather. We lived in New England when I was much younger, so I knew what snow was, but we were not prepared for how much of it there was.”

Fifty years later, Brennan finds himself at the helm of the academy, a position he has held for the past six years, deeply rooted into a town he says shaped him during his “important formative years.”

Brennan and his family moved into a home owned at the time by the academy on the corner of Court and Pleasant streets, as his father William Brennan, a retired Navy officer and a member of the first Maine Maritime Academy graduating class, brought the family to Castine to take the post of Commandant of Midshipmen.

“Our house was technically part of the campus because it was owned by the school, but it was also located right in town,” Brennan said. “So, from a very early age, the town and the school felt like one entity to me. There was never a divide between the two in my mind.”

Brennan attended the Adams School during his first year in Castine, a school that shaped his life “tremendously” by providing him with many of the same friends he has years later.

“The people I met at the Adams School are friends I still have now, some of my very good friends,” he said. “I remember sledding down the hill on campus, skating down Pleasant Street—because this was before they sanded the roads. So many of my memories from my formative years are from times spent with those people.”

Brennan left Castine after high school for post-secondary study at the University of Maine as a marine biology major. He also obtained a master’s degree in marine resource management from the University of Rhode Island, which led him to a position as the fisheries legislative assistant to then-Congressman John McKernan. McKernan was elected as Maine’s governor, and he appointed Brennan Commissioner of the Department of Marine Resources.

During those years, Brennan married his wife Heather, a Castine native, and though work led him around the country and the world, he always kept close ties to the town of Castine.

“We always came back to Castine every year, no matter where we were,” said Brennan. “Heather’s family is here, and I have family close by. All three of my kids worked in Castine for several summers. My son Will was the assistant harbormaster one year.”

Brennan said he and his wife talked about returning to Castine eventually, but when it was announced that former academy president Leonard Tyler was planning his retirement, the decision to apply for the position was one neither one of them took lightly.

“We thought long and hard about it, and it wasn’t a decision that we came to hurriedly,” he said. “It was a joint decision, because we knew that being in this position, as the president and as the first lady, essentially, could change the relationship we had with the town.”

The couple decided to make the move, one that, six years later, Brennan said he has no regrets about.

“It’s a wonderful place to be,” he said. “Castine is an abstraction of the last 50 years to me. I met and married Heather here, I met so many of my friends here. So many of my formative years were spent in this town and on this campus. I can’t walk into any of these buildings without a memory of my life coming to mind. I walk through my past every day I come to work.”

From the archives

A view of the Maine Maritime Academy student center in 1992, before a 2005 expansion funded by and named after benefactor Harold Alfond.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo
Leading 2016 commencement

President William Brennan opens the 2016 commencement in the Alexander Fieldhouse.

Photo courtesy of Sarah Szwajkos Photography
Midshipmen in formation

Midshipmen marching on campus and on Castine streets are a visible sign of the academy’s ties to the U.S. military, particularly the United States Navy.

Penobscot Bay Press file photo
ABS Center

Completed in time for the January 2015 semester, the ABS Center of Science, Engineering and Research was dedicated by MMA officials, state and business representatives and Governor Le Page the following May.

Photo by Anne Berleant
Marking Veteran’s Day

MMA cadets honoring military veterans at the annual commemoration in 2014.

Photo by Anne Berleant