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Department of Communications/
News Bureau
22 Davis Hall, 10 Lippitt Road, Kingston, RI 0288
Phone: 401-874-2116 Fax: 401-874-7872

Media Contact: Jan Wenzel, 874-2116

URI’s Chafee building to be rededicated
to late senator, Oct. 18

Panel to pay tribute to the Rhode Island statesman

KINGSTON, R.I. -- October 15, 2002 -- When the late U.S. Senator John H. Chafee died in 1999 there was an outpouring of tributes to him and his record of service as a statesman.

Those tributes impressed the occupants of the University of Rhode Island’s Chafee Social Science Center, particularly members of the College of Arts and Sciences who have offices in the building that bares his name.

To bring awareness of his achievements to current students and future generations, the University of Rhode Island will rededicate the Chafee building on Friday, Oct. 18 beginning at 7 p.m. His widow, Virginia Chafee, and other family members including his son, U.S. Senator Lincoln Chafee, will be present. The event is free and open to the public.

The tribute will include a panel discussion about the senator by those who worked with him. URI Political Science Professor Maureen Moakley will moderate. Panel members are:

o U.S. Senator Jack Reed who served along side Chafee in the U.S. Congress. Reed was elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1984 and served three terms and then elected to the U.S. Senate in 1996, succeeding Sen. Clairborne Pell.

o Michael F. Ryan, executive vice president of Narragansett Electric Co., who served as the Rhode Island director of Chafee’s offices and played a substantial role in two successful statewide campaigns for the senator.

o Judge Bruce M. Selya, U.S. Court of Appeals for the First Circuit, Boston. Selya’s relationship with Chafee dates back to 1962 when as House minority leader, Chafee was considering a run for governor.

o Christy Ferguson served as director of Rhode Island’s Department of Human Services from 1995 until late 2001. More recently she ran as a Republican for the 1st Congressional District. As a lawyer and health-care advisor, Ferguson was deputy chief of staff to the late senator for 13 years and played a leading role in developing an alternative to the Clinton health plan.

"Students, faculty, and staff from the College of Arts and Sciences, as well as the external advisory committee all enthusiastically endorsed the idea of honoring the legacy of Senator John Chafee and commissioned a plaque," said Winifred Brownell, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences. "We were about ready to pay tribute to the senator when PCBs were found in the building. Chafee has been tested, cleaned, remediated, and reopened. We are now ready to move forward and pay tribute to this great statesman."

Born in Providence, the son of tool manufacturer John Sharpe Chafee, Chafee descended from one of the original six families to settle in Rhode Island and came from a family long prominent in politics. A great grandfather and a great uncle served as governor of the state, another great uncle, Henry Frederick Lippitt, was a U.S. senator from Rhode Island from 1911 to 1917.

After graduating from Deerfield Academy, Deerfield, Mass., he entered Yale University. When the United States entered World War II, Chafee left Yale in his sophomore year to enlist in the U.S. Marine Corps as a private and landed with the first assault troops in Guadalcanal. Commissioned a second lieutenant in 1944, Chafee went to Guam and served with the Sixth Marine Division in the battle of Okinawa.

After the war ended, he returned to Yale, graduated in 1947, and enrolled in Harvard Law School, graduating in the top quarter of his class in 1950. He married Virginia Coates. Shortly after establishing a law practice in Providence, he was recalled to active duty by the Marines and served as a rifle company commander with the First Marine Division in Korea.

Chafee reestablished a law practice and entered local politics. He won election to the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 1956 and re-election in 1958 and 1960.

He was elected governor of Rhode Island in 1962 and was re-elected in 1964 and 1966 by wide margins. Appointed by President Nixon, Chafee served as secretary of the Navy from 1969 to 1972. He ran unsuccessfully for the U.S. Senate in 1972, but was successful in 1976. He was reelected in 1982, 1988, and 1994.

Chafee was a champion of the environment. With his ability to bring opposing political groups together, Chafee was a key player in most of the landmark environmental legislation passed in the country.

There was an outpouring of praise when he died in 1999, two days after his 77th birthday, including this from the then Vice President Al Gore: "Despite the many pressures he faced over the two decades he served in the Senate, he was never partisan, never an ideologue," Gore said. "He was simply the gentleman from Rhode Island who was never afraid to speak his mind and allow the American people to judge his actions."

The Chafee Social Science Center, with its eight-story tower is the only high-rise building on campus, dedicated in 1972, and named for Senator Chafee who was governor at the time the building was planned. Approximately 175 faculty and staff currently work in the building and thousands of students attend classes there each day.

A permanent brass relief bearing the senator’s likeness that acknowledges his legacy will be hung in the lobby entrance of the building, directly across from the original 1972 plaque.

The Special Collections Department of the URI Library contains the late senator’s gubernatorial, senatorial and Secretary of the Navy papers. Processing of the collection was made possible by the generous donation of the Chafee family. The gubernatorial and the Secretary of the Navy papers have been processed and the finding aid is online. To access it, click on

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