Big outpouring of affection and respect for Joe Garrahy
In case you were wondering how J. Joseph Garrahy, who served as governor in the late 1970s and early 1980s, is viewed by his former constituents, we bring evidence from his wake and funeral held at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul in Providence.
The line for the wake took three hours for many who showed up Monday afternoon to pay their respects and give their personal condolences to members of the Garrahy family.
The Cathedral was full for Garrahy’s Mass of Christian Burial. Even though Garrahy wasn’t really active in politics for more than two decades, the affection for this unprepossessing and friendly man lasted.
While many of the media coverage and obituaries focused on Garrahy’s avuncular role in his plaid shirt during the Blizzard of 1978, Rhode Islanders of a certain age remembered much more about his tenure as governor.
Garrahy dealt with serious problems and inhumane conditions in the state prison system, began the process of shifting the mentally-ill from being warehoused in institutions, started the Narragansett Bay Commission that has led to a cleaner Narragansett Bay and put into place the beginnings of the rebirth of Providence.
Garrahy also tried to make structural change in Rhode Island’s faltering economy by endorsing and campaigning all across the state for the Greenhouse Compact. The compact was an attempt at fashioning an industrial policy for the state that would concentrate on Rhode Island’s assets, such as the marine economy and develop a high-tech and knowledge-based job development scenario. Along with his friend and ally Ed Burke, then the state’s top utility regulator, Garrahy was in the forefront of the 1970s push to shift New England from building new nuclear power plants to purchasing hydro-electric power from Quebec. This effort was led by then-Vermont Gov. Richard Snelling, but Snelling’s top utility regulator, Richard Saudek, told this reporter that Garrahy and Burke were crucial in rounding up the support of other New England governors to complete the deal.
And Garrahy kept Vincent “Buddy’ Cianci from becoming governor, defeating then-Republican Cianci in a 1980 election in which Garrahy won every community in the state and, notably, every ward in Providence at a time when Cianci was mayor of the capital city.
Retired banker Terry Murray, a leader of the Greenhouse project and a longtime Garrahy friend and occasional golfing partner, perhaps put it best when he told this reporter, “So you are working on a Joe Garrahy obit…I’ll bet nobody has told you anything bad about him.’’
How right Murray was.