Former Edgartown Police Chief Jim Arena dies at 89

Korean War vet was later known as ‘the Chief’ in Worcester, shepherded initial Chappaquiddick probe.

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Dominick “Jim” Arena, former chief of the Edgartown Police Department, died on March 3, 2019, at the age of 89. The Edgartown Police Department has honored him on its website and Facebook pages. Four Edgartown Police officers in dress uniform will travel to Hudson in a marked cruiser on Saturday to pay respects at his funeral, Chief Bruce McNamee said.

Arena had a long career in public service that extended to several off-Island places. He also weathered the eyes of the nation during the Chappaquiddick Dike Bridge scandal involving U.S. Sen. Edward Kennedy and the death of Mary Jo Kopechne.

At the federal courthouse in Worcester, where he was lead security officer after leaving Martha’s Vineyard, he was known as “the Chief,” according to several people who work in the U.S. Marshal’s office there. In Lincoln, he was a rare combination police chief and fire chief.

“That’s not even done anymore,” Lincoln Fire Chief Stephen Carter said. Carter, who attended Fire Officer Training School with Tisbury Fire Chief John Schilling, described Arena as “pleasant,” an “old school” civil servant who employed a “personal touch” in his work.

“He was a great guy,” Worcester Federal Courthouse lead security officer Dave Taylor said. “Very knowledgeable, very humble. Just a good guy to have as a boss.”

Longtime friend Paul Landry, a former Massachusetts State Trooper like Arena, and a former lead security officer in the Worcester Federal Courthouse, said Arena was widely known and respected in the city. “He would walk down Main Street, and basically walk into every store and say hello,” he said.

“I never heard him swear,” Landry said. “He would never say anything bad about anybody. He was a big guy, but he was soft-spoken.” A Korean War veteran, Arena kept his Marine Corps posture through his elder years, Landry said.

Of Chappaquiddick, Landry said Arena held no secrets. “He knew nothing,” he said. “It got taken away from him as if he didn’t matter. If people don’t want something looked at, they take it away.”

Arena specified the district attorney took the case away. “My understanding was Ted [Kennedy] was supposed to be interviewed by him and never showed up,” Landry said.

“They made him not look so good,” Taylor said of dramatized portrayals of Arena. Counter to those portrayals, Taylor described him as “very professional.”

“He was portrayed like a rube — like a bumpkin,” Landry said, referring to the film “Chappaquiddick.” “He was anything but,” he said. “He had a college degree long before others …”

Landry also described Arena as a consummate letter writer.

Chief McNamee agreed Arena was wrongly portrayed on the screen, based on conversations he’s had with Arena’s daughter, Wendy Santini.

McNamee said upon assuming the chief position in Edgartown, he contemplated what it must have been like for Arena to deal with the scrutiny that fell on him from what began simply as a “car in the water” call.

“Would you have any sense that you would be catapulted into the national spotlight?” he asked.

“I think he did about as good a job as he could with the tools he had to work with then. I don’t know that I could have done better.”

Arena also served as police chief of Essex Junction, Vt., and, according to an obituary posted on the Tighe Hamilton Regional Funeral Home website, “was a longtime member of the American Legion Post 48 in Hudson.”

“Jim is survived by four children,” according to the obituary, “Julie L. Locke and her husband Andrew of Hudson, Wendy G. Santini of Easton, Pa., Christine E. Arena of Burlington, Vt., and Deborah L. Coryer and her husband Gary of Colchester, Vt.; three siblings, Ellen Farrell, Ethel Fenstermacher, and Joan Follett; his son-in-law, Robert Harding; 10 grandchildren; one great-grandchild; and many nieces and nephews. In addition to his beloved wife, Yvonne R. (Barber) Arena, he was also predeceased by his daughter, Karen A. Harding, and three siblings, Mary Kwiatkowski, John Arena, and Frances Park.”

Calling hours are slated from 10:30 am to 12:30 pm on March 9 at Tighe Hamilton in Hudson. A funeral will be held “immediately” afterward.