August 16, 1976 12:00 PM

We’ve been distant for 17 years. I don’t understand why she is doing this now,” U.S. Sen. Edward Brooke complained to a Washington friend. Brooke was referring to his wife of 29 years, Remigia Ferrari-Scacco, whom he courted in her native Italy during World War II when he was a dashing captain in an all-black infantry unit. Early this June the 56-year-old Massachusetts Republican filed for divorce under the state’s no-fault divorce law after the couple had lived apart for nearly nine years. But the marriage would not end amicably. Remigia brought her own suit, charging “cruel and abusive treatment.” Brooke countered with similar charges. Mrs. Brooke began talking about their marriage to a Boston reporter.

For nearly seven years, she has divided her time between the Brooke homes in Newton Centre, Mass. and on the Caribbean island of St. Martin. The senator maintains a condominium in the Watergate complex in Washington, where he is a popular social figure. He is known as one of the best dancers in town and enjoys squiring attractive, bright women in both the capital and New York. Among others, he has been linked with Barbara Walters, whom he describes as “a good friend.” Remigia, 58, had grown resigned to her sophisticated husband’s separate life. “I’m Catholic, and I don’t believe in divorce,” she has explained. “I thought after he got older he would come back to me, and we would be together.”

Money is the most serious issue in the divorce. “He doesn’t give me enough for medicine or anything,” complained Remigia, who says she first heard of the divorce while recuperating from cancer surgery on St. Martin. “He gave me $500 a month. I have to pay the telephone, electricity, oil to heat the Newton Centre house and have to live and dress.” Friends say that Brooke’s life-style is frugal. His three residences plus a summer place on Martha’s Vineyard are all heavily mortgaged. Brooke argues that he gives his wife $550 a month, pays her living and household expenses, insurance on two cars and all medical bills. “I can’t understand why she is saying what she is saying,” he protests. “I’m paying for everything.”

The Brookes have two married daughters, Remi, 27, who lives on St. Martin and has a two-month-old daughter, and Edwina, 24, who lives in Paris and is expecting. Remigia has said, “The girls don’t want anything to do with their father.” She added, “He only wants his mother, and that’s why they go out together.”

Brooke’s mother, Helen, has an apartment above him in Watergate. They are very close. He credits her with inspiring his love of opera and classical music, and the two often attend concerts together.

The senator insists that the divorce is not a sudden decision. “We talked about it many times, but the kids were young and we stuck it out. Now they are all grown up.” His press secretary adds, “It was no bombshell. It had been under discussion for well over a year. He had told her about it and she said, ‘Go ahead, you know what I want.’ ”

One of the things Remigia apparently wants is the St. Martin house—and Brooke has refused. Whatever the outcome, the divorce is unlikely to affect Brooke’s career as the first black to serve in the Senate since Reconstruction. A poll in the Boston Globe last month showed him to be one of the most popular politicians in the state’s history. Voter approval of him was 64 percent, only two points behind another politician who has had his share of publicly discussed problems: Edward Kennedy.

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