Whether you know him or know of him, there’s not doubt that the name Dan Cosgrove is familiar to you. His moniker is affixed to many a place in town, including his construction company on North Main Street as well as the Animal Shelter, serving Branford, North Branford and Northford. But where his name is not so visible is equally as important too; think the modern landscape of Branford from the bountiful condominium complexes to the underground sewer system.
According to longtime friend Bill Donohue, much of the town’s success is synonymous with the prosperity of Cosgrove – someone he calls a generous and extra ordinary man.
“I knew of him,” said 77-year-old Donohue “before I knew him,” reflecting on years of friendship with Cosgrove. “I think the thing that would sum him up: he is a good and decent man,” he said.
Donohue will be among many in attendance at an open house this Sunday, Nov. 18 from 2 to 5 p.m. to celebrate Cosgrove’s 95th birthday, which was observed this past October.
Cosgrove, a Branford native, has been giving back to the town for decades and his family, with daughter Susan Barnes at the helm, are hoping the community will join them in celebrating his legacy at their home, 99 Todds Hill Road. Cosgrove also has two sons, Daniel and Mark as well as nine grandchildren and 10 great-grandchildren.
To even attempt to sum up what Cosgrove has done for Branford, here on Patch, would do him a great injustice – perhaps a book or another medium is the right venue for that. You can learn about his long and storied political service to the town in this Branford Eagle story published for Cosgrove’s 90th Birthday. Writer Marcia Chambers, calls him, very fittingly, “The Boss” as he reigned over Branford as the majority leader of the democrat party for decades. He remained dedicated to the party for about 50 years before forming the Tax Payer Party, she wrote. Today, his grandson James Cosgrove is the third selectman for Branford in a republican seat.
Donohue shares a glimpse into Cosgrove’s life, as the two have been dining together every Thursday since about 1990, he said.
“If you read the book Tuesdays with Morrie, you’d understand Thursdays with Danny,” he laughed.
Donohue said he and Cosgrove go out for lunch every week – or if his buddy is not up for it – take lunch in. They may change up the place but the conversations are always similar – talking about friends, family and life well spent.
Donohue said he met Cosgrove during his time as the Executive Director for the New Haven Redevelopment Agency. He sought advice from Cosgrove on controversial issue and the two have been friends ever since.
Like Cosgrove, Donohue said he’s never really left his East Rock neighborhood in New Haven, so he knows what it means to be devoted to an area. Branford, he said, was somewhere Cosgrove worked for and gave back to over the years and still does.
He earned his first dollar chopping wood, said Donohue, adding that Cosgrove could have done anything he wanted and lived anywhere once he made it as a developer. He chose to stay in Branford, he said.
“Dan got involved with the democrats back when he was a young man. Really, he was very influential. Any major decisions for about 25 years, which is a long run for a political person, he was able to get a majority each time to get it through,” he said.
“He had a reputation for years for being a hard-nose democrat politician and he deserved it because he was and Branford is better for it.”
It almost goes without saying that Cosgrove was the man behind many town decisions, said Donohue, but he never held the title of the town’s top elected official. He worked behind the scenes, he said, illustrating that by calling him the “backbone” of former First Selectman John Sliney’s tenure.
Barnes shared that her father served as Third Selectman on the Taxpayers Party ticket with republican first and second selectmen. He also was a state central committee man for many years and went to four or five National Conventions, she said.
Cosgrove was* also one of the largest property owners in Branford, Barnes shared – "At one time only the water company owned more land. He developed most of it," she said. But despite his acquired success, which includes Cosgrove Construction, the Cosgrove Equipment Company and Todds Hill Investment Circle – the latter owned by his children – he has always remained true to his roots, said Donohue. He bought a new car every 18 months, but he always had at least two dogs riding in it with him, he confessed. At the garage – the site of the Cosgrove operations – there were as many as two-dozen dogs seeking refuge. His dogs would be living in the garage, said Donohue, and the equipment would be kept outside.
Cosgrove helped establish the animal shelter named after him in the 1990s and is also an influential part of the* Orchard House and a benefactor of Hospice among many other charitable ventures. You wouldn’t know it, though, Donohue said, as Cosgrove remains very tightlipped about his generosity.
As he has aged, his mind is not as sharp as he’d like it to be said Donohue. His friend could do math in his head faster than anyone he knew and he could recite poetry like second nature. And his braun also matched his brains. According to the Eagle, Cosgrove was a prize welterweight boxer winning more than 90 percent of his fights during the mid 1930s. Today, it takes him a little longer to do things, Donohue said, and he’s had to remind Cosgrove that he’s still sharper than most at age 95.
Cosgrove lived a simple but elegant life, Donahue said. “I think the simple part was his value of the people he knew and trusted.”
Do you know Cosgrove? How has this 95-year-old man influenced you?
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