Longtime Warren County warden retiring for second time, but dedication to fighting disease will continue

Asked when his last day would be before retiring for a second time, Warren County Probate and Juvenile Court Administrator Tony Brigano said that when his office collection of Cincinnati Reds bobbleheads were gone, he would be gone too.

That came last Monday, when Brigano retired from his 46-year career in adult and juvenile corrections.

Brigano is wrapped up nearly 16 years as the Probate-Juvenile Court administrator, a job he took after retiring as a prison administrator for the Ohio Department of Rehabilitation and Corrections for 30 years. His last two assignments were as warden at the Warren Correctional Institution and the Lebanon Correctional Institution next door.

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“I went full circle and ended my career where it began,” he said. “I’m a pretty lucky guy because I have loved both of my jobs.”

Brigano started his career in corrections in 1974 when he was hired in as an inmate caseworker at the Lebanon Correctional Institution. His 30-year career with ODRC took him to the Chillicothe Correctional Institution, the Old Ohio Penitentiary in Columbus and the Central Office in Columbus as chief inspector.

He spent the next 18 1/2 years as a warden at the Southeastern Correctional Institution, formerly known as the Boys Industrial School, in Lancaster. Brigano was assigned to open the newly constructed WCI in 1989. He finished his career at LCI, where he started.

“I’m very proud of the prisons and the people who worked there,” he said. “They have a thankless job.”

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Warren County Probate-Juvenile Judge Michael Powell reached out to him about becoming his court’s administrator. After Powell was elected to the 12th District Court of Appeals, his successor, Judge Joseph Kirby, opted to keep Brigano as administrator.

When asked what he would miss, Brigano said, “That’s simple, the people.”

“The staff is wonderful and they’re such good people,” he said. “They try to do the right things with these kids.”

Those feelings were mutual at the court.

“Tony has impacted everyone in the court in ways he will never fully know,” Kirby said. “He embodies all that is good in life and the way he treats everyone he meets is unlike anyone I have ever known.”

Kirby said Brigano “has been the patriarch of the court and, through his example, he has shown all of us the proper way we are to conduct ourselves in a civilized society, how we are to treat our fellow man, and how kindness can truly make a difference. That’s the legacy he has left for all of us.”

Several years ago, after his daughter Michelle, was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, Brigano wanted to help with MS research. He and his wife, Diane, began volunteering with MS walks in West Chester Twp.

“I wanted to do more and decided to reach out to the prisons,” he said.

Brigano contacted officials at WCI, LCI and at Allen-Oakwood Correctional Institution in Lima in 2016 about reaching out to inmate groups at the prisons. He met with the inmate groups and their advisors and told them about his daughter, something he wouldn’t have done as a warden. He asked them to host an MS Walk, a symbolic mile-long walk in the prison recreation yards.

“I learned that most inmates want to give back,” he said. “Most people don’t realize this..”

Brigano said between 40 to 100 inmates and staff would participate, raising $2,000 to $3,000 a walk per prison. He said the inmates’ contribution was deducted from their account.

“This is my small way of contributing,” Brigano said.

In 2019, the MS walks expanded to the London and Madison correctional institutions. This year, Brigano met with inmate groups at the Chillicothe and Ross correctional institutions on the day the state stopped allowing visitations due to COVID-19. He hopes to go back to those prisons and others in 2021.

In addition to his work as an MS volunteer, Brigano said he’ll continue to raise honeybees and serve as a presiding judge in harness racing for the the Warren and six other county fairs, and spend time with his family.

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