One of a kind

Rest in peace, Claiborne Pell, former senator and all-around class act
By PHILLIPE + JORGE  |  January 7, 2009

Phillipe + Jorge took time to attend the funeral of Claiborne Pell, in deference to all that he did for both Rhode Island and civility everywhere he went. From championing Pell education grants, Amtrak, safe and sane foreign policy, environment causes, and the arts, Pell was a giant among his peers in the US Senate, all without the customary egotism that marks today's self-important politicos.

One only had to watch the procession of Bill Clinton, Joe Biden, Chris Dodd, Orrin Hatch, and other DC hacks to recognize how well we have been served in the Senate through the years, not only by Pell, but by John and Linc Chafee, Jack Reed, and Sheldon Whitehouse, in most recent times. Little Rhody is a big man when it comes to the nation's most influential men's club.

While Senator Pell was a master of the nuances and intricacies of diplomacy and high-level politics, he could often be thrown off by the mundane aspects of everyday life. There was always the possibility that he would leave a room and confidently step into an adjoining closet or cloakroom if one of his staff members wasn't at hand to steer him toward where he was really going.

Jorge remembers one of the times that Senator Pell came to the old WHJJ-AM studio, on Eastern Avenue in East Providence, for an interview with the late Sherm Strickhouser (Jorge worked off and on at WHJJ/WHJY for about 15 years). The senator was greeted in the hallway by a number of staff members, and he shook hands with all of them, continuing to go around the circle of greeters twice, until a staffer stopped him.

Phillipe also had an amusing encounter with the senator during the 1989 World Prodigy midnight oil spill off Brenton Reef. Pell had been summoned to the Newport Coast Guard station in the wee hours of the morning, where P. had also responded while working for Save the Bay, and Claiborne had evidently made it past his wife Nuala's normally vigilant clothing check. While he did have on the usual sport coat and tie, you could not have found a more unmatched combination of shirt, tie, coat, and pants if you shopped consignment shops with that in mind for years. He looked like a Cirque de Soleil nightmare in Harris Tweed.

At Pell's request, Phillipe had protected the one outgoing phone line for him, so that the senator could be in touch with the people on the frontlines of the spill out on the reef, and while Pell spoke on the line, performed a "Queer Eye for the Straight Senator" routine on him as he talked to the people on a Coast Guard cutter on the scene, prior to having to be interviewed on TV.

P. turned his jacket collar down, pulled his tie back from over his shoulder, and straightened it, fixed his shirt collar, which was totally skewed and practically inside out, and did everything but iron his pants while he wore them. All the time Pell just kept on calmly chatting away on his update, and when he hung up, simply turned and said a polite "thank you" to your superior correspondent, as though being dressed by someone in the midst of an environmental crisis was a routine he enjoyed on a regular basis.

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