Bob Brennan, resident arborist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden and ardent defender of Coconut Grove’s lush canopy, died Dec. 24 at his North Grove home of lung cancer. He was 63.
A jovial, bearded outdoorsman, Brennan was known as Miami’s “tree guru.” When property owners needed help with a towering ficus, they called Brennan Tree Service. If activists wanted to stop the illegal removal of a black olive or a mahogany, they called Bob. When politicians needed help crafting tree protection laws or with tree-anything, well, they called Bob.
“He was extremely influential in shedding light on proper arboricultural practices and really approaching tree care with an integrity I’ve rarely seen amongst other professionals in the industry,” said Ian Wogan, an arborist and mentee. “There was so much knowledge and information that was passed through Bob, it was amazing.”
He was Coach Bob. He was Santa Claus. He was the dude who pulled over in the rain to help you change a tire because you were struggling
Brennan fought to save scores of trees, like the grove of more than 100 majestic oaks at Notre Dame d’Haiti Catholic Church that several years ago was imperiled by plans for a parking lot. He appeared frequently at Miami City Hall to speak on matters involving Coconut Grove’s canopy, and founded the Tropical Arborist Guild as part of a mission to plant seeds of knowledge among the public.
He never lost his passion: Over the last decade he participated in the 40-and-over Geezers in the Treezers climbing competition in Central Florida.
But Brennan was beloved for reasons beyond his day job, particularly in Coconut Grove, where he grew up and eventually raised his own family. It’s where the Coral Gables Senior High graduate led the Boy Scout troop that he, too, was once a part of, and where he once showed up at his daughter’s elementary school with a wood-chipper and logs to teach her classmates about something off the beaten path.
The Grove is where he married his wife Eileen in 1986, in a heart made of poinsettias at Alice Wainwright Park. It’s where during the holidays, he was known to ride on the back of a Miata convertible dressed up like Santa Claus and toting a bag of toys for neighborhood kids. His compensation from the neighbors: ice cold Coronas.
“He was Coach Bob. He was Santa Claus. He was the dude who pulled over in the rain to help you change a tire because you were struggling,” said his daughter, Talia Brennan.
In his later years, Brennan took a job as the arborist at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, a sprawling 83-acre preserve home to native and exotic tropical foliage, scientific researchers, and tens of thousands of members on Old Cutler Road in Coral Gables. His daughter says it was his dream job, allowing him to focus less on business and more on his craft.
Brennan also picked up beekeeping later in life, and kept a hive at his home in the North Grove. As he battled lung cancer, he continued to teach beekeeping classes and participate in a preserve cleanup at the University of Miami.
In his waning days, the ill-but-smiling arborist traveled to Miami City Hall and urged those watching the mayor dedicate Nov. 17 as Bob Brennan Day to take up his mantle and consider the importance of trees.
“There are trees I can walk and put my hand on every day that are still there because I objected to somebody cutting them down,” he said. “If each of us do a little bit every day to protect our canopy, we can get it done.”
Brennan is survived by his wife, daughter and two sons, Louis and Bobby. A public memorial is planned 1 p.m. Thursday at Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden, in the Arboretum.