Former Police Chief Anthony J. Mastronardi, who died Tuesday at age 89, is being remembered as a mentor, friend and straightforward law-enforcement leader.

Patrick Carroll Jr., a retired captain who served on the police force with Mastronardi for about 25 years, recalled having lunch with Matronardi, retired Chief Ronald Sullivan and retired Lt. Richard Gunter about two months ago.

"We'd get together about once a month to have a hamburger and listen to him tell stories only he could tell, and that certainly couldn't be printed," said Carroll, who is currently the town's harbormaster. "I spent a lot of time with him."

Mastronardi joined the town's police force in 1950 and was promoted to chief on Aug. 25, 1972, serving in that post until he retired in 1980.

It was during his tenure as chief that the department built a new headquarters at Reef Road and Nichols Avenue, which continues to serve as its home base.

"I think that was perhaps his biggest legacy," said retired Chief David Peck. "He oversaw the building of our new headquarters."

Carroll said Mastronardi "knew where every nut and bolt was in that building."

Even more than that, he said, Mastronardi not only knew his role as chief, but the roles of his subordinates.

"Most of the time he was chief, I was a detective captain," Carroll said. "The serious crimes that would come our way, he never tried to interfere. He would ask how things were going and if he could be of any help, but he always let his subordinates carry out their job."

Peck served in the department only briefly with Mastronardi, who retired a year after Peck was hired as a patrol officer. Nonetheless, Peck said the senior officer still had an impact on his law-enforcement career.

When Peck's name was on the hiring list, he recalled, Mastronardi contacted him and suggested that in the meantime he become a special police officer. By doing that, Peck was able to take part in training that later gave him a leg up when he was hired as a regular patrol officer and sent to the Connecticut Police Academy.

"He was kind of looking out for me at that point," Peck said. "He didn't have to ... it was a great way to start my career." And Peck said Mastronardi followed his career rise through the department. "When I was chief, he'd call every once in a while or stop by," he said. "Our Police Department was very near and dear to his heart."

"He was just the best, there are no two ways about it," Carroll recalled. "He was a good man, he ran a fine department."

Mastronardi was never one to talk behind someone's back, Carroll said. "Whatever he had to say to you, he said to your face, good, bad or otherwise. He'd never pat you on the shoulder and then walk away and say something bad about you."

He said he's sorry that a man he describes as a "very dear friend" has died, but added, "He was someone who liked to be up and around, so the last several months were very difficult for him. I'm going to miss him."

Born in Bridgeport, Mastronardi got his first promotion to the rank of sergeant four years after joining the Fairfield department. He became a lieutenant in 1958 and captain in 1962. He was a graduate of the FBI National Academy and a member of the International Police Chiefs Association. Mastronardi was a recipient of the Distinguished Chiefs Award from the Police Commission Association of Connecticut.

A funeral Mass for Mastronardi will take place at 10 a.m. Friday in Holy Family Church, 700 Old Stratfield Road. Burial will follow at Gate of Heaven Cemetery, 1056 Daniels Farm Road in Trumbull.

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