He was a fixture on East Elm Street in downtown Greenwich. Regardless of the weather, nearly every afternoon Tony Scarnati would sit on the red bench outside the Red Men's Hall, watching traffic, chatting to passersby and waving to motorists.
Mr. Scarnati, who was the business manager of the Improved Order of Red Men and the Laborers Union International and manager of the Red Men's hall, died in his sleep Friday at his home in Mount Vernon, NY, according to long-time friend Dave D'Andrea, operations manager of Greenwich's Griffith Harris Golf Course. He was 83.
"It's a massive loss for his family, his people at the Redmen, the Town of Greenwich," D'Andrea said. "He had the biggest heart and he was the kindest guy, fiercely loyal to friends." He said, "He had a brief illness and a surgery. He came home and died in his sleep at home."
Indeed, Mr. Scarnati had legions of friends. The Red Men, a fraternal organization, counts many local and state politicians as its members. His "passionate Republicanism" was evident every election season as he adorned his small red Chevy pickup with lawn signs and stickers for Republican candidates, said state Sen. L. Scott Frantz (R-36).
"Tony will be sorely missed by the community. He was an absolute fixture and an example of how to live one’s live," Frantz added. Last year, Frantz hosted a political rally at Red Men's hall for Mitt Romney.
"He was proud to meet Mitt. His smile was big was enough to drive a Mack truck through," Frantz said. "As soon as we got a picture of him with Mitt, he put it up the wall of fame in his (Red Men Hall) office and told every one he was the future president of the United States."
"No matter who met him, they loved him. He'd go the extra yard even though he was from Mount Vernon, he was Mr. Greenwich," D'Andrea said.
"He was a wonderful person," said Greenwich First Selectman Peter Tesei. "I first met Tony around 2000 when I became a member of the Improved Order of Red Men. He would often share his thoughts with me concerning matters of labor and labor relations."
"He’s going to be terribly missed by the town and the many groups that used the (Red Men's Hall) facilities," Tesei also said. "He was very close with the (Greenwich) police department and I know he’s been very supportive of us locally. Even though he resides in Mount Vernon, he was willing to come out and support many friends and admirers. Red Men hall will never be the same without him."
And it was on the red bench outside Red Men's hall at 17 E. Elm St. that Mr. Scarnati with his pencil-thin mustache, and in warm weather, his floral short-sleeved shirts, was a fixture. "He was always sitting out there like the mayor on the red bench," D'Andrea recalled.
D'Andrea recalled how he met Mr. Scarnati. "I got to know Tony from a political campaign where I had bumped into him and he recruited me to be a member of the Red Men. He’s like a Dad to me because my Dad has been dead for over 30 years. He was very, very special person."
When he wasn't driving his black Lincoln Town Car, Mr. Scarnati would be seen driving his Chevy pickup. "He had his Chevy pickup with signs on it and he would ride around town. He was eager to go put signs on intersections that were active. He did that for all 3 elections," Tesei recalled. During local election seasons, he would park the decorated truck prominently at the end of the row of the East Elm Street parking lot.
Despite his fervent Republicanism, Mr. Scarnati respected politicians from across both aisles. "In his office he had pictures of John Kennedy, Jesse Jackson, various New York state officials, then you'd see Ronald Reagan, Peter (Tesei), Scott (Frantz) and myself. There was a variety of different spectrums," said state Rep. Fred Camillo (R-151). "He was very, very giving. He didn’t care what anybody else thought, he just wanted to know what he could do for you."
Mr. Scarnati is survived by his wife Elvira, two daughters and a son. His wake will be held April 23 at the Yannantuono Burr Davis Sharpe Funeral Home, 584 Gramatan Ave. in Mount Vernon, from 2 to 4 p.m. and 7 to 9 p.m. His funeral will be held at 10 a.m. April 24 at Saints Peter and Paul Church, 129 Birch St., Mount Vernon, followed burial at Rose Hill Memorial Park, Putnam Valley, NY
D'Andrea said he is working with the Scarnati family to hold a memorial service in Greenwich in coming weeks.