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Joseph Fernandez dead from an illness

December 19, 2010

Joseph M. Fernandez, a son of Filipino immigrants who graduated from Brown and Harvard Law, and served as Providence’s city solicitor before running unsuccessfully this year for attorney general, died today from an illness.

Campaign manager Dan Herkert confirmed the death of Fernandez, who was 46.

Fernandez co-chaired President Obama’s Rhode Island campaign in 2008 with lawyer Jeff Padwa, now treasurer of the RI Democratic Party, starting in February 2007 when Obama was a longshot. “Joe was into politics for all the right things — just a great guy,” Padwa says. “He wanted to make Rhode Island a better place.”

Fernandez leaves his wife, Emily Maranjian, a fellow Brown grad, who’s worked as a white-collar prosecutor for Attorney General Patrick Lynch, and their two young daughters.

Fernandez had wrestled with pneumonia in recent weeks, but his death today still comes as a shock, Herkert says.

“I have worked for a lot of candidates,” says Herkert, who drove 1300 miles, from Illinois, to join Fernandez’s AG campaign. “I’ve never met someone who inspired me more or who had more integrity.”

The values epitomized by Fernandez, Herkert says, are “why I was in politics . . . . I considered it an honor to call him my friend.”

State Democratic Chairman Edwin Pacheco says, “Joe was a great Democrat and more importantly, a great Rhode Islander,” who was dedicated to working hard on behalf of others and his family.

Fernandez took the role of city solicitor early on in the Cicilline administration. One of his high-profile fights was opposing the pension sought by former Providence police chief Urbano Prignano.

Fernandez has served on the board of Trinity Repertory Company and as a director of Crossroads RI.

Fernandez, an early entry to the AG’s race this year, finished behind Peter Kilmartin and Stephen Archambault in the September primary.

Although he was not the most natural of retail politicians at the outset, Fernandez steadily improved on the stump, and gave as he good as he got during the course of the campaign.

Those of us who knew Joe will long remember his broad smile and civic-mindedness. A message left on his campaign Web site after his race for AG came up short indicated Fernandez had no regrets about the run:

While losing is no fun — believe me — I wouldn’t change anything about the time I’ve spent on this campaign.

Update: More reaction:

Statement from Brett Broesder, spokesman for Attorney General-elect Peter Kilmartin:

Joe Fernandez was a dedicated and professional public servant, but more importantly a loving husband and father. Our thoughts and prayers go out to Emily and the rest of his family at this time.

Statement from Brown University President Ruth Simmons:

Early Saturday evening, we learned of the tragic and untimely passing of Joseph M. Fernandez ’85, following a brief illness.  An esteemed public servant and beloved member of our community, Joe served the Brown, Providence and Rhode Island communities with distinction during his all too brief life.

At the time of his death, Joe was an alumnus trustee of the Brown Corporation and president of the Brown Alumni Association (BAA).  As President of the BAA, he represented some 88,000 Brown alumni around the world.  Having served as a Brown Alumni Schools Committees interviewer, a member of the Brown Corporation Committee on Minority Affairs, and a director of the Brown Club of Rhode Island, he was a consummate Brunonian.   He also chaired the Multicultural Alumni Committee of the Brown Alumni Association Board of Governors after he became a member of that board.  His many efforts on behalf of the University were acknowledged when, in 2006, he received the Brown Alumni Association’s Alumni Service Award which honors distinguished, continuing volunteer service to Brown.

An active civic leader committed to making a difference in Providence and Rhode Island, Joe recently ran as a Democratic candidate for the office of Rhode Island Attorney General.  He had previously served as the city solicitor of the City of Providence and had been a trustee of Trinity Repertory Company and a director of the Community College of Rhode Island (CCRI) Foundation.

We are grateful for Joe’s many contributions to Brown, Providence and Rhode Island.  His selfless service and uplifting spirit inspired us all. We extend our deepest and heartfelt condolences to his wife and children as well as the rest of the immediate and extended family.  We will miss him greatly.

Statement from David Cicilline:

I can’t begin to express the sadness I feel at the passing of Joe Fernandez, a good friend and a valuable member of our family in Providence City government. Joe was an outstanding lawyer with a sharp legal mind who played a major role constructing the legal foundation for reform during my administration. Guided by a strong moral compass and deep commitment to public service, Joe led by example and earned the great respect of his colleagues and peers as a strong leader and expert legal strategist. He also spent countless hours volunteering his time for various nonprofit organizations helping to make our community a better place.

Joe also adored his family, his pride and joy. And my prayers and the prayers of the entire city are with his wife, Emily Maranjian, and their two young daughters during this incredibly difficult time. Joe’s passing leaves a deep void in our community and in our hearts. We will miss him.

12 Comments leave one →
  1. December 19, 2010 2:16 am

    So terribly sad and shocking. I knew Joe well and he was a wonderful person. So sorry for his wife and children.

  2. Joe Stanganelli permalink
    December 19, 2010 3:06 am

    Really shocking and sad. I knew Joe as well, and those quotes are right on….he really was in it for all the right reasons. He wanted to make things better for people, that’s all.

  3. Kathleen Manning Hall permalink
    December 19, 2010 1:50 pm

    So shocked and sad to learn of this. Joe was a wonderfully warm person who genuinely cared about others. He will be missed. Thoughts and prayers to his wife and beautiful girls…

  4. Martha Farrell permalink
    December 19, 2010 2:00 pm

    My heart is heavy with this news. I met Joe when I became involved with his campaign to elect Barack Obama. He made me feel at home and left me with a feeling of wanting to return to see him. His warm inviting smile was genuine. It will be sorely missed but always remembered.

  5. Dan Rabinovitz permalink
    December 19, 2010 8:24 pm

    Joe Fernandes was a very special man and a very special public servant and political activist. A man of great warmth and integrity, seemingly limitless energy and powerful spirit, he cared deeply about helping to make a better Rhode Island and a better world, His politics — whether campaigning for Obama (where I was lucky enough to get to spend time with him) or running for AG — grew out of and expressed these core values. His passing is a tremendous, tragic loss. My family’s thoughts and prayers and deepest sympathies go out to Emily, their children and their entire family.

  6. Rochelle Lee permalink
    December 21, 2010 12:47 am

    Joe was a man of his word, had a great big heart and was so full of life, joy and pride in both his family and our fair city…

    Despite the many obligations he so ably took on, he never failed to have time for people.

    No man was more interested in his work, ideas and experiences as a father, litigator, social advocate and pioneer than Joe.

    What a shame. Such a loss. For all of us who knew Joe, worked with Joe and stood side by side with him on issues, campaigns and his pursuits to make our state the best of the best…he will be missed.

    Greatly. Our hearts and prayers are with his family, dear friends and colleagues during this really tough, tough time.



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