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R.I.P. Joseph R. Paolino Sr., Providence real estate legend

September 12, 2012

Joseph R. Paolino Sr., a prominent Rhode Island real estate dealer and developer for more than a half century and the father of former Providence mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr., died today after a battle with cancer. He was 83.

A lifelong Providence resident, Paolino, president of  Paolino Properties,  started in the real estate business at age 17, while still a student at Providence College. During the 1960s, he owned and managed Crescent Park, the iconic East Providence amusement park.

Taking over the family business from his father, Anthony Paolino of Providence, Joseph Paolino Sr. expanded from management and ownership of downtown buildings and parking lots  in the capital city to shopping centers, office buildings and boutiques in East Providence, Barrington and Newport.

Paolino was known as a smart and tough real estate negotiator who was absorbed in the details of a deal. “When it came to real estate, he was both tough and the smartest  man in the room,’’ said John Garrahy, a Providence lawyer who often represented Paolino Properties in real estate matters.

“He had a sixth sense about real estate,’’ said Garrahy.

In recent years Paolino was slowed by Parkinson’s Disease and prostate cancer, but illness never tamped down his ardor and capacity for work. He was in his office on Dorrance  Street in downtown Providence until just weeks before his death, Garrahy said.

After his son won election as mayor in 1984, Paolino put his significant downtown real estate holdings in a blind trust so that there would be no appearance of  any  conflict of interest with his son’s administration, which was in the forefront of the rebirth of the city’s historic downtown and the uncovering of the ancient rivers that lend Providence its reborn urban flair.

Paolino had a blunt and gruff exterior, but he could also be sensitive, Garrahy recalls. “When my father died he was one of the first people to call me.’’

He served six years on the Providence Zoning Board of Review. In his later years, he was involved in historic preservation efforts in Providence and forged a good working relationship with Antoinette Downing, the doyenne of historic preservation in the city in the 1970s and 1980s.

Paolino was involved in a long list of civic and business organizations and donated the former Carr’s restaurant building in the College Hill neighborhood to Brown University, which converted it to academic uses. Paolino was an incorporator of First Bank and Trust; a member of the Board of Advisors of  RI Hospital Trust Bank; a member of the Greater Providence Board of Realtors; a member of the board of the Providence Foundation; and a director of Columbus National Bank.

Paolino was proud of his Italian-American heritage and his family. His son, Joseph Jr. works alongside his father at Paolino Properties. Paolino Sr. was also the father of   Donna M. Paolino and the late Jeffrey R. Paolino.

There are no calling hours. Funeral services are scheduled for Saturday, September 15 at 11 a.m. at  St. Sebastian Church on Cole Avenue on Providence’s East Side.

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