After decades of town service, D’Andrea retires

Relaxing at his home, David D'Andrea is leaving the Griff Harris Golf Course to focus on his health. — Ken Borsuk photo

Relaxing at his home, David D’Andrea is leaving the Griff Harris Golf Course to focus on his health. — Ken Borsuk photo

This week, David D’Andrea didn’t do something he has done almost every week for the last 13 and a half years. He didn’t go to work as operations manager for the Griffith E. Harris golf course.

And unfortunately this was not because of an early Christmas break or an off-season rest. Running the municipally owned golf course is a 12-months-a-year job and for years Mr. D’Andrea has been highly praised for it. But because of that heavy commitment, Mr. D’Andrea has had to take retirement years before he had planned to so he can concentrate on what’s most important, his health.

Mr. D’Andrea is in the middle of a battle against stage 3 colon cancer and is undergoing radiation treatments. But while those are almost at an end and he said doctors are very hopeful about his prognosis, this is the second life-threatening illness he has battled within the last five years, and the year-round commitment to the town and the course, more commonly known simply as “The Griff” were too much of a strain. His doctors have told him to take it easy and focus on his health, so his last day of work was officially Nov. 30.

“I realized around September that I probably couldn’t withstand this job with the stress and the responsibilities,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “I discussed it with my doctors and they immediately told me I had to retire. It’s not in the cards for me to just wait this out and get back to it in the spring. My original goal was to retire in October 2016 because I would be 65 then, but I didn’t want to put the burden on my health. After my treatment I will need to take it easy for another three or four months, and it’s time for me to move on to another chapter in my life.”

However, don’t expect Mr. D’Andrea to simply fade away. Far from it, in fact. Long before he became operations manager, Mr. D’Andrea was a town volunteer for more than 30 years, serving on both the Representative Town Meeting and the Board of Parks and Recreation as well as many other town organizations. This town native is planning on getting back to an active schedule as quickly as his health allows.

“It’s a very special feeling to be able to work and serve the community,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “I was born and raised here, and I still live in Chickahominy. Greenwich runs through my veins. I love Greenwich and I love Chickahominy. Those are two things I’m madly passionate about and it’s a wonderful place. I served it from all angles, which I think was to my advantage. I was a volunteer and I saw all aspects of how government worked and then I became an employee. I really had a unique perspective, and I think the town of Greenwich is one of the best employers you could ever work for.”

He said that all the support and cards and prayers he’s gotten from the community over the past seven months as he’s been getting treatment for his cancer have meant the world to him. Mr. D’Andrea said that’s been very special and it’s shown him how eager the community has been to give back to him after all the years he’s put into Greenwich.

“I wish I didn’t have to leave,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “I would have loved to have stayed two more years. But it is absolutely the right thing to do.”

Mr. D’Andrea said he wants to spend more time with family. He has two grown children and has definitely made it clear to them how much he would love grandchildren soon. And he also talks about, once the weather warms up, doing something he hasn’t done in years and actually play some golf on the course he once ran daily.

While one might think that the cold weather months wouldn’t have a lot of responsibility for a golf course operations manager, Mr. D’Andrea said this is actually one of the busiest times of the year. That’s when all the budgeting and planning happens and when decisions have to be made about rehiring temporary staff for the next golf season. While these months do provide weekends off, they come after nine months of seven-days-a-week work at the Griff, where management is not only looking after the golfers but also dealing with the three unions of employees who work there and responding to those inevitable alarms that go off at the course, making it a 24/7 position.

So this is a job that can be enormously taxing, and Mr. D’Andrea admits that often there isn’t even time to breathe. But he’s going to miss the work. It wasn’t easy, but he said it was rewarding. He credits the support he’s gotten from the town as well as the hard work of the staff in making the town’s only municipal golf course such a great place to work for 13 and a half years.

“It was a wonderful job and a wonderful opportunity,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “I wouldn’t exchange it for anything. My run with the town was 34 years. I started in 1979 when [First Selectman] Rebecca Breed asked me to go on the Board of Parks and Recreation, and I was there 21 years, including seven as chairman. I dealt with seven different first selectmen and working with [former department head] Frank Keegan taught me a lot about handling the public. He was a gem.”

Mr. D’Andrea has worked these last years with Director of Parks and Recreation Joe Siciliano and said the two of them, both town natives who grew up on Hamilton Avenue, have formed a great working relationship, including daily meetings to make sure the course was at its best.

“We have 4,000 members, roughly, coming to the course and everyone has different opinions,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “One person might want it green and another person might want the grass more yellow. But we worked together and made this one of the best courses in the area. It’s a demanding job, but we worked hard, and I’m very happy with what Joe and I and the entire crew accomplished.”

Working so closely with the people, especially when it’s a very vocal base like town golfers, can be demanding, with some users focused only on the course and others interested in the restaurant and having fun with their families. There have been many suggestions through the years by users that Mr. D’Andrea has loved but hasn’t been able to implement because of having to keep the course within a responsible budget.

Mr. D’Andrea has been highly praised for his work, with both users of the course and town officials saying he will be missed, including First Selectman Peter Tesei, who praised him for his “strong stewardship” of the course and his contribution to the town. He called him a “very dedicated and passionate person” who had given so much to Greenwich and wished him well for a full recovery and “many, many more years of being a big part of this community.”

“He presided over what is really the resurgence of the Griff as a leading public golf course in the country,” Mr. Tesei said.

State Rep. Fred Camillo might be biased, considering he’s Mr. D’Andrea’s cousin, but as a town native and former chairman of the Board of Parks and Recreation, he’s seen the good work firsthand.

“Dave transformed the Griff into one of the leading public golf courses in the state,” Mr. Camillo said. “A big part of his life was spent on the parks and recreation programs of Greenwich, with the Griff being his most significant contribution of all. The town of Greenwich is deeply indebted to Dave D’Andrea for a job well done.”

The users of the course have never been shy about speaking up and occasionally throwing their weight around, but Mr. D’Andrea has had a successful career in knowing how to navigate that while also keeping an eye on top customer service by himself and the staff.

“I’ve tried to get everyone focused on this as recreation,” Mr. D’Andrea said. “I want people to go out there and have fun playing and enjoy the camaraderie. That’s what I think golf is all about. A lot of people do think they have a stake in ownership, and as taxpayers they technically do, and we tried to deal with that as best we could. I always remembered what my late mom told me when I got the job. She said, ‘Don’t think you’re pleasing everybody. If you can please 80% you’re a hero.’ That was our goal, and I think we did a good job at it.”

Through all his years working at the course, Mr. D’Andrea has seen a lot, from celebrities like Ron Howard and Morgan Freeman looking to play a round of golf to several major storms, including Hurricane Irene, which left him having to stay at the course for days, but what he said he’s going to remember most is the generations of Greenwich families that have come through as he’s seen youths grow into adulthood and start families of their own and has also become close to the seniors at the course, many of whom have been mentors to him in his life.

A search is under way for a successor for Mr. D’Andrea. Remembering the advice his mother once gave him, he said it’s very important that an operations manager not have “rabbit ears” for all the criticism that might come his or her way. He also urged the person taking the job to have patience, meet the users and “do a lot of listening” and communicate with users so they understand why the operations manager might not be able to do everything they want but that he or she will be working in their best interests.

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