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Former Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy, remembered by many for his calm and steady leadership during the blizzard of 1978, has died, his family announced Jan. 25. He was 81.
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.
At a roundtable discussion convened by Providence Business News last May, which included four former governors as well as Gov. Lincoln D. 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.”
The flannel shirt Garrahy wore during news conferences as the state dug out from the blizzard became the enduring image of his tenure as governor.
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 Governor’s Association website.
The Garrahy family released a statement thanking Rhode Islanders for their longtime support and friendship.
“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.
Gov. Lincoln D. Chafee, an independent, called Garrahy a “true gentleman, down-to-earth and lacking any pretense.
“Gov. Garrahy had a gift for making progress quickly while managing to make as few waves as possible in the process,” Chafee said in a news release. “He was unassuming, but he delivered results.”
The prevailing sentiment among political leaders across the state who released a stream of tributes following the news of Garrahy’s passing was that Rhode Island has lost not only a statesman but, as U.S. Sen Jack Reed, D-R.I., said, a friend.
“Joe Garrahy combined courageous leadership, unimpeachable decency, and a warm and embracing spirit,” said Reed in a release. “His example sustained us and inspired us, and it will continue to do so.” •