PROVIDENCE – The former Governor J. Joseph Garrahy has died at the age of 81, his family announced Wednesday.
Garrahy, a Democrat, was governor of Rhode Island from 1977 to 1985; lieutenant governor from 1969 to 1977; and served in the state Senate from 1963 to 1969, including terms as Deputy Majority Leader of the Senate and Democratic State Chairman in 1967 and 1968.
After leaving office, he became an independent business consultant. He was a director of the Southeastern New England Shipbuilding Corp., and the Providence and Worcester Railroad Co. He also served on the Rhode Island Cancer Council and the Rhode Island Bays, Rivers and Watersheds Coordination Team at the University of Rhode Island, according to a biography on the National Governors Association website.
“He also loved the people of Rhode Island and worked tirelessly to improve the state and to provide assistance to those in need,” the Garrahy family said in a public statement.
“We thank Rhode Islanders for their continued outpouring of fondness over the years. He was very grateful for their warmth and friendship and for the opportunity to serve them,” they said.
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee said that he was “shocked and saddened” by the news and ordered all flags – U.S. and state – to be lowered to half-staff until Garrahy is laid to rest. Chafee noted that Garrahy was a “true gentleman, down-to-earth and lacking any pretense” in a news release.
“Many of us will always think of him in his famous flannel shirt, rising to the occasion to guide Rhode Island through the devastating Blizzard of ’78,” Chafee said. “Gov. Garrahy had a gift for making progress quickly while managing to make as few waves as possible in the process. He was unassuming, but he delivered results.”
“Much of Gov. Garrahy’s family still lives here and remains part of the fabric of our state. My thoughts and sympathy are with them during this difficult time. I hope that they are able to find some comfort – as so many Rhode Islanders will – in their many fine memories of him,” Chafee said.
At a roundtable discussion convened by Providence Business News last May, which included four former governors as well as Gov. Chafee, Garrahy reflected on his tenure.
“Well, we were still coming out of a recession. The Navy pulled out. There was a slight recession in ’79. We had double-digit unemployment at that time, also. So we were not only dealing with a recession and the Navy pull out and the blizzard that came upon us. But, you know, Rhode Island kind of grew right after that and ended up with a pretty strong economy for a number of years.”
Garrahy briefly attended the University of Buffalo and the University of Rhode Island. He joined the U.S. Air Force and served during the Korean War.