SOUTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. (WPRI) — The South Kingstown Police Department is mourning the loss of retired police chief Vincent Vespia Jr.
Vespia passed away unexpectedly Tuesday morning at the age of 84 with his wife and two daughters by his side, the department announced.
After serving in the Army, Vespia joined the Rhode Island State Police in 1959 where he was known for his expertise in investigating organized crime.
His nights often included breaking up brawls between sailors at bars around Quonset.
Vespia was named South Kingstown’s police chief in 1981 and served for 35 years until his retirement in 2016.
WATCH: 12 News looks back at Vespia’s storied career ahead of his retirement
At the peak of his career, Vespia found himself rounding up “wise guys” in the Federal Hill neighborhood where he had grown up, and where he learned about virtues like friendship.
In 1978, Vespia was paired up with a Providence police lieutenant named Richard Tamburini. Their objective was to bring down the man who epitomized organized crime in New England: mob boss Raymond L.S. Patriarca.
Together, Vespia and Tamburini built build two murder cases against the infamous and feared leader of La Cosa Nostra.
12 News reached out to Tamburini, who said hearing the news of Vespia’s passing was “a gut punch.”
“He was the gold standard for policing. We worked on many cases together. Vince outsmarted the wise guys,” Tamburini told 12 News.
“There will never be another Vince Vespia,” he added.
In 2012, Vespia was the first-ever inductee into the Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame, for his extraordinary contributions to law enforcement.
“Forget about what I’ve done, what my rank was, where I’ve worked, and the cases I’ve made … forget about all that,” Vespia previously told 12 News. “If somebody would remember me as, ‘There goes a guy who tried to be a good cop,’ I’m happy.”
When Vespia retired, he said he was looking forward to spending time with his family.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with the Vespia family and their loved ones,” South Kingstown police said in a statement. “Thank you, Chief Vespia, for your dedication and service to our town and this department. We have the watch.”
Lt. Gen. Reginald Centraccio (ret.) says his friendship with Vespia first began in the 1980s when Vespia was a trooper, and before Centracchio had climbed the ranks to be R.I. National Guard’s Adjutant General.
“I’m really gonna miss the guy,” Centracchio said, calling him a special person.
He says in addition to being one of his best friends, Vespia was a mentor to him as well. Centracchio said the professional advice Vespia once gave him always stuck.
“He said, ‘You know, when you make a decision, most times the popular decision is the wrong decision. But if you make a decision in the best interest of the organization, you’ve made the right decision. So you have to live with the consequences of that,'” Centracchio recalled.
He says he will miss regular dinners and drinks at Jim’s Dock in the summers.
“It’s gonna be somewhat of a missing ingredient in my life,” Centracchio said.