Loughlin's family comes from a blue-collar stretch of central Massachusetts. One grandfather was a custodian in the Worcester school system, the other a foreman from Shrewsbury. One grandmother was a nurse. The other grew and canned her own vegetables.
Loughlin's parents, John and Elsa, met in Massachusetts and had two children — Suzanne and John II. When Loughlin was a baby, the family moved to Portsmouth. And later, when his father got a job in Providence, the clan landed in Lincoln.
The Loughlins are "genetic Democrats," the state representative says. Indeed, his earliest adventures in politics include collecting signatures for his mother's bid to serve as a Jimmy Carter delegate in 1976.
Lincoln Senior High School officials sent Loughlin's sister home when she donned a black arm band to protest the bombing of Cambodia in the midst of the Vietnam War. A cousin active in Democratic politics in Worcester served on the school committee there for a time.
Even after Loughlin gravitated toward the GOP — inspired, he says, by Ronald Reagan's presidency — he couldn't bring anyone in the clan with him. "I used to have political discussions with my dad," Loughlin says, "and he'd come down on the conservative side on virtually every issue, and I said, 'Dad, you're a Republican,' and he'd say, 'Oh no, I'm not.' "
Loughlin was outgoing from a young age. Shortly after the family moved to a then-rural stretch of Lincoln, he started talking about a friend named Bill he'd met in the neighborhood. "My mom was picturing another nine-year-old," Suzanne says. "It turned out Bill was a chemical engineer who lived three doors down."
Loughlin got his sense of humor, in part, from his late father — a landscape painter who worked for a time in the art department of the Naval War College and used to joke that his work was classified. "He misses nothing," Suzanne says, of her brother. "I was the academic one, I got the good grades. But he's so quick, he makes me feel dumb."
Some of Loughlin's State House colleagues say his sense of humor can border on glib. During a recent interview, a reporter started to ask a question about Martha Coakley and a grinning Loughlin interjected to ask, "Is that Martha or Marsha?" in a reference to Kennedy's now-famous flub of the Democrat's name.
But Loughlin's humor is not of the ribald or mean-spirited kind. In the late 1980s, he hosted a comedy night at Chan's Fine Oriental Dining in Woonsocket with his childhood friend Ed Del Grande. John Chan, owner of the restaurant, recalls a funny bit about Rhode Island accents. Del Grande says Loughlin did spot-on imitations of Ronald Reagan and John F. Kennedy.
Loughlin flashed an adventurous side, from time to time — Del Grande says his friend once convinced him to go for a wee-hours sail after a night at Chan's (dark wind, Loughlin argues, inflates the sails as well as bright wind). But he has always been fairly conservative.
After high school, Loughlin did a semester at Rhode Island College before leaving to join the Air National Guard. He later transferred to Army National Guard when it became clear he would have a better chance to fly there. He wound up as a helicopter pilot and public relations specialist.