Veterans group names Glocester ‘cemetery man’ Brown Citizen of the Year

Glocester's Bill Brown, left, accepts the Citizen of the Year award from Joe Brennan. NRI NOW photo by Karen Iacobbo.

WEST GREENWICH – On Friday, April 12, a Glocester resident appreciated by the living and respecting of the dead received an award for his volunteer work in town of maintaining the historic graves of military veterans.

Bill Brown, who leads a crew of volunteers as chairman of the Glocester Historical Cemeteries Committee, was honored as Citizen of the Year by the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War, Department of Rhode Island, at the organization’s 2024 Annual Awards Dinner held at the Coventry-West Greenwich Elks Lodge 2285 in West Greenwich. 

“I feel honored, absolutely,” said Brown.

As a person who prefers to stay, “behind the scenes,” rather than in the limelight, Brown said he was however pleased to do, “anything that brings attention to the Heritage Society and to cemeteries.”

He is vice president of the society and members, along with Brown’s cemetery crew, attended the awards banquet. 

“It’s nice to have everybody here,” said Brown. 

This year is Brown’s seventh working on town cemeteries. 

 “I didn’t think six years ago I’d be here,” he said. “I’m really proud of what we’ve done for veterans. We find these guys in overgrown cemeteries that haven’t been cleaned in 100 years.”

Brown was endorsed as a candidate for the COY award by Scott Reese, past camp commander of the Camp Seven division of the organization. He was presented the SUVCW, Citizen of the Year award by Joe Brennan, commander of Elisha Dyer Camp #7, and Reese. 

Brown’s work of preserving and maintaining the graves of veterans was serendipitously discovered by Reese while he was watching a local TV news story about Brown’s activities. The news account noted that Brown had restored 128 historic cemeteries in Glocester.

“The guy’s fantastic,” Reese said he thought in reaction. “We had never heard of him. He does what we do.” 

Part of the mission of the Sons of Union Veterans of the Civil War is remembering veterans, especially those who served the Union during the American Civil War. To this end Reese’s organization’s focus includes activities such as participating in Memorial Day, and the flagging of veterans’ graves, something Brown does as well. 

“It’s important to me to recognize the man who has uncovered 22 Civil War veterans,” said Reese of Brown’s efforts to find and restore graves nearly lost to the past. Reese said he was impressed with Brown’s dedication.

“He has reset the bar for future Pvt. Stephen H. Kettle Citizen of the Year Award winners,” said Brennan. 

What’s more, Brown is, “the driving force, his constituents say in Glocester about him,” said Reese.

Edna Kent, Glocester town historian, who works beside Brown with the crew of volunteers, was the person who recruited him into the world of locating, cleaning, and maintaining Glocester graves and cemeteries. 

Edna Kent, left, and Trish Horgan, right, with Brown.

“I’m proud to be a part of it,” Kent said. “I’m proud of him.”

She described Brown as a great leader.

“The volunteers do a little bit more because he’s there; they just want to please him,” said Kent.  “He’s dedicated, no doubt about it.” 

“It’s amazing, beautiful, and he definitely deserves it,” said Trish Horgan, another volunteer on the cemetery crew, of Brown receiving the award. 

“I came on in 2020 after driving by a cemetery and wondering what they were doing,” said Horgan. “I saw his truck and hunted him down, and I joined the Glocester Heritage Society.”

Ben Frail, deputy secretary of the Sons group said, “It’s great to see committee members that care about the final resting place of [fellow] committee members, that they’re not forgotten. Unfortunately not a lot of people do that.” 

“A lot of times it takes machetes and heavy tools to get in there,” said Frail of the work. He added that he’s pleased, “to see Bill take initiative and create a cemetery crew,” as it means his organization is not alone in their work.  

According to Reese, award recipients are recognized for service to a community, service that both reflects the values of their organization and has significant historical impact. 

The organization also presented the award to Sharon Henderson, “as both were excellent representatives of the ideal of the award this year,” said Reese. 

Sharon Henderson

In addition to receiving the COY award, Henderson and Brown each received a separate certificate from individual camps, Henderson from the Major Sullivan Ballou Camp #3, presented by Alex Seibert, and Brown from the Elisha Dyer Camp #7 presented by Brennan. 

Brown has attempted to garner Glocester town funding for cemetery maintenance, and Reese said he thinks Brown might be the first person to ever make such a proposal to a town.  

Known as Glocester’s, “cemetery man,” Brown is from a patriotic family. His fourth great-grandfather Steven Keach was a captain in the American Revolution War, serving in the Rhode Island Militia, said his descendant, Walt Keach, who is Brown’s uncle.

“He’s doing an outstanding job, and it needs to be down in every town,” said Keach. He pointed out that his nephew Brown is also a veteran, serving his country as a Seabee. 

According to the United States Navy, Seabees are also known as Naval Construction Force, “building bases and airfields, conducting underwater construction, and building roads, bridges, and other support facilities…” 

Apparently the skills to do such tasks come in handy for Brown in his now awarded work of looking out for the final resting places of fellow vets of days gone by.  

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