Rockaway Native Among First East Coast Coronavirus Victims


 Coronavirus has claimed a man who once called Rockaway home.

On Tuesday, March 10, John Brennan died. Brennan, who was born and raised in Rockaway and had been living in Little Ferry, NJ, was hospitalized a few days earlier. He had been tested for coronavirus prior to his passing. After he died from a heart attack, the results of his test came back positive. He had coronavirus. Brennan was 69 years old.

John Brennan was born at what was Rockaway Beach Hospital and raised in Rockaway. He attended St. Camillus Catholic Academy and was an active member of the school’s band as a bass drummer. Brennan was one of five siblings. The family spent many years living on Beach 101st Street before moving to Bayswater. Brennan’s sisters, Susan Brennan Andresen and Barbara Brennan-Friedman, still call Rockaway home. As for John, his passion brought him elsewhere.

“We used to go to Saratoga every summer. We rented a house up there on a lake in the early ‘60s. The man next door was a horse trainer and my brother, John, used to go there at five in the morning to help him clean out the barns and he got really attached to the horses,” Susan Brennan said. John spent some time working for the Steamfitters Local Union 638 but decided to follow his passion for horses in the ‘70s. Brennan spent more than 40 years training horses and saw some wins, including the 1995 Merrie Annabelle and as a runner-up in the 2003 Hambletonian. His career would first bring him to Yonkers and eventually New Jersey. Most recently, Brennan was a Standardbred Owners Association of New York Director representing horsemen at Yonkers. Despite leaving Rockaway, Brennan’s sister says Rockaway never left him. “He loved Rockaway. He was off on Wednesdays and Sundays and on one of those days, he’d come back here to visit,” Susan Brennan said.

In addition to a successful career as a horse trainer, Brennan says her brother was a family man who loved his nieces and nephews; he was a good friend to many; a big NY Mets fan; a charitable man who consistently donated to St. Jude’s, a man who earned the nickname, “The Gentle Giant,” and an overall good guy. “If anybody ever needed something, he was always there for every one of us,” Susan Brennan said.

And he will truly be missed. “My brother is gone and there is nothing we can do to bring him back,” Susan Brennan said.

John Brennan would have celebrated his 70th birthday in June. He was the first confirmed coronavirus-related death in New Jersey. With coronavirus-closures now impacting plans, the Brennan family says a memorial Mass may be held at a future date.

 By Katie McFadden