Sen Pell is gone
January 1, 2009 7:00 PM   Subscribe

Former US Senator Claiborne Pell (D-RI) dead at 90. You may be familiar with Pell grants.
posted by brandz (37 comments total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
one of the great US senators of the 20th century, he served RI and the US for 36 years.
posted by brandz at 7:03 PM on January 1, 2009

When I was a student at Brown, I met him once and shook his hand after he had debated Claudine Schneider, his Republican opponent in the Senate race. It was a weird match-off, because in that year's election (1990), Pell had been playing George Bush Sr.'s speeches backwards. He claimed that Bush had slipped in the word "Simone" as a subliminal message, but I think they figured out it was just a reversal of the geeky way Bush Sr. used to say "enormous" with elongated "e" at the beginning. You think this weirdness might have hurt Pell, but ironically, his opponent Claudine Schneider was a big proponent of New Age "creative visualization" techniques. Oh well, I suppose it isn't any less weird than two Jews running for the Senate in Minnesota...

posted by jonp72 at 7:08 PM on January 1, 2009

Richard Mell should be worried.
posted by Johnny Porno at 7:15 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by JHarris at 7:16 PM on January 1, 2009

i too met sen pell some years back while dining out in newport. i remember his wife, nuala, visiting my family home campaigning for his senate re-election 1966. he was my first political hero.
posted by brandz at 7:17 PM on January 1, 2009

He's the only reason I could afford to go to college.
posted by dead cousin ted at 7:19 PM on January 1, 2009 [5 favorites]

Providence Journal obituary. Excerpt:
He was an old-money millionaire who jogged into his eighth decade among the Gilded Age cottages of Bellevue Avenue, clad in beat-up Bermudas or frayed dress pants and the remains of his Princeton (Class of '40) letter sweater.

He was a champion, as a father of the National Endowmentf or the Arts, of federal patronage of artists -- even after the notorious subsidies to Robert Mapplethorpe and Andres Serrano. But privately, Pell abominated their works and was cool toward toward the absractions of modern art. His taste ran to 19th-century American painters as George Caleb Bingham.
Washington Post obituary. Excerpt:
He was committed to maritime and foreign affairs issues, strongly in favor of abortion rights, a consistent vote for labor and an ardent advocate of arms control and the rule of law in international affairs. First elected to the Senate in 1960, Sen. Pell was aloof, diffident, courteous and self-effacing. Unfailingly polite, he also had quirks, such as jogging in a tweed coat. One of his favorite sayings was "I always let the other fellow have my way." Eccentric and occasionally absent-minded, he was asked during a 1990 election-year debate what legislation he had sponsored that specifically benefited Rhode Island.

"I couldn't give you a specific answer," he averred in a famous reply. "My memory's not as good as it should be."

He went on to win reelection by a margin of almost 2 to 1.
New York Times story about Sen. Pell's death. Excerpt:
He often remarked that he had been motivated to help students meet the high cost of a college education because the G.I. Bill of Rights — the program of federal educational grants to returning service members after World War II — had meant so much to him personally. The fact was that with Mr. Pell’s vast family wealth, derived from an 18th-century royal charter of land from King George III of England, he could have purchased some of the educational institutions they attended, let alone paid their tuition bills.

Mr. Pell, whose ancestors were the original lords of the manor in Pelham Manor, N.Y., lived among the old-money families in Newport. Five of his relatives have been elected to either the House or the Senate, including his father, a one-term representative from Manhattan’s old Silk Stocking District.

After winning his first Senate term in 1960, Mr. Pell, a Princeton graduate, sponsored the preparation of a large two-volume statistical report in 1963 that became the basis of the bill creating the Basic Educational Opportunity Grant, or BEOG, which provided financial aid for the needy to attend college.

Asked in an interview in 1996 how the programs came to be known as the Pell Grants, he wisecracked: “Because there was no Senator Beog!” In fact, the name was officially changed to Pell Grants in 1980 by his admiring colleagues in Congress.
Interesting man. I've never heard a Rhode Islander refer to him except in terms of highest praise, even very right-wing people.
posted by Kattullus at 7:22 PM on January 1, 2009 [2 favorites]

posted by entropicamericana at 7:22 PM on January 1, 2009

or should I say:

posted by entropicamericana at 7:22 PM on January 1, 2009

Fun fact about Claudine Schneider: as a joke in a fundraising dinner speech, she "quoted" Dan Quayle as having said that he wished he had studied Latin more diligently in school now that he needed to tour Latin America. This was subsequently attributed to Quayle, inaccurately but not unreasonably.

Sad news about Sen. Pell. That's what was once meant by public service.
posted by Epenthesis at 7:24 PM on January 1, 2009

another interesting link about his family
posted by brandz at 7:33 PM on January 1, 2009

He's the only reason I could afford to go to college.

Yep. Thank you, Senator.

posted by rtha at 7:39 PM on January 1, 2009


That is sad. I met him only briefly many years ago, but one of my friends, an illustrator whose work I guess he admired, was invited to his house for dinner some time back in the late 80s or early 90s. She found him charming, but definitely on the quirky side of normal. Some of us thought that his eccentricities allowed him to be able to experience what it's like to be an outsider, even with all of his family's advantages. Having that much money and that much social prestige, yet being unwavering in his support for the underdogs was really quite impressive. In the often sleazy world of Rhode Island politics, he really stood out as someone we could be proud to have representing us, tin foil hats and all.
posted by stagewhisper at 7:39 PM on January 1, 2009

Thank you, Senator.
posted by librarylis at 7:57 PM on January 1, 2009

Thanks Senator.
posted by Science! at 8:09 PM on January 1, 2009

posted by aerotive at 8:42 PM on January 1, 2009


posted by Sailormom at 8:50 PM on January 1, 2009

Most of the officials elected by Rhode Islanders are scum that would leave the worst New Orleans ward-heeler feeling slimy after shaking hands, or bumbling idiots that make Bush the Second look like a seasoned and steady hand.

But, every now and again, we get it really, really right - Pell and Pastore, two of the finest men to serve in the United States Senate, sent there from Rhode Island.

(And Linc Chaffee fought an awe-inspiring rear-guard action to save the soul of the Republican party. He was too late and too few, but he remains well liked even though his Party is now deadly poison to New England voters. Wyrd is, he's going to run against Gooper stumblebum Gov. Carcieri in the next primary, because lord knows, the Dems won't nominate an electable alternative.)
posted by Slap*Happy at 9:03 PM on January 1, 2009

And I just filed my FAFSA today. Thanks, Senator.
posted by punchdrunkhistory at 9:20 PM on January 1, 2009

i did not know this was the person my pell grants were named after. i owe this man many thanks for my college degree. i am glad to learn he lived such a long and meaningful life.
posted by lapolla at 9:22 PM on January 1, 2009

Aw, man! It was pretty awesome to live in Rhode Island when he was Senator, even if I was a bit to young to know a lot about him.

RIP, Senator.
posted by Snyder at 9:35 PM on January 1, 2009

I don't want to get too specific here, but this man was the reason that i went through my latest year of college. So thank you you sir, and god bless you.
posted by dead cousin ted at 9:44 PM on January 1, 2009

Honestly, I never really connected that there was a person my grant was named for, nor that he was still alive. In terms of the mountain of costs for college, the Pell grant wasn't enormous, but I couldn't have gotten through university without it. Thank you, Senator Pell.
posted by Ghidorah at 12:51 AM on January 2, 2009


But knowing the electorate, he'll probably be reelected.
posted by dawiz at 1:01 AM on January 2, 2009

Pell grants got me through.

Who are the modern Claiborne Pells?



posted by telstar at 1:16 AM on January 2, 2009

Thank you Senator. Your grants helped make a college education possible for me, too.

It's a shame the program has been underfunded for so long (though not surprising given the last 8 years). An excerpt from wikipedia:
Due to high increases in the cost of post-secondary education and slow or no growth in the Pell grant program, the value of Pell grants has eroded significantly over time. In 2005-06, the maximum Pell grant covered one-third of the yearly cost of higher education at a public four-year institution; twenty years ago, it covered 60% of a student's cost of attendance.
posted by Davenhill at 2:24 AM on January 2, 2009

not to take any thing from Pell, but remember his colleague John Chafee.

2 great men from little Rhody.
posted by lemuel at 2:36 AM on January 2, 2009

He did more to put me through school than my parents did. He will be missed.

posted by Afroblanco at 3:21 AM on January 2, 2009

I never knew and I regret that I did not praise a good man before he passed.
posted by jadepearl at 5:18 AM on January 2, 2009

Photo slideshow from throughout his career.
posted by Kattullus at 5:42 AM on January 2, 2009

He also helped me go to college. Over the course of my life, I will repay the government 100s of times over in terms of increased tax revenue due to my education.

Unfortunately, Pell Grants are now a relatively minor part of financial aid due to the growing costs of education. Many if not most students face bills between $10,000 and $30,000 a year for tuition, room, and board, yet the maximum Pell Grant is something like $4,000 due to underfunding by our wonderful past Congress. Most students are forced to take out huge loans (which is currently complicated by the credit crunch) and many must skip college or downsize from a better college they could get into to one that is simply somewhat affordable. Some schools that were ready to spend endowment money on financial aid have seen their endowment portfolios dive with the worst stock market decline since the great depression. Education funding, like so much of the rest of the U.S. economy, is on the brink.

I very much hope the incoming government realizes, as Senator Pell, did how important education investments are to our collective future.
posted by Muddler at 6:57 AM on January 2, 2009

Aw. I'll be pouring out a bottle of Autocrat in Pawtucket tonight. Well, not really. I'll probably just drink it.
posted by Uppity Pigeon #2 at 10:10 AM on January 2, 2009 [1 favorite]

I'm another one who Senator Pell indirectly helped through college. Every dollar I got though my Pell Grant was a dollar I didn't have to work for during classes, or pay off (with interest) since I graduated.

Thanks, Senator. Wish there were more people who valued education the way you did.
posted by ubersturm at 1:23 PM on January 2, 2009

Thank you, Senator.
posted by kjh at 2:10 PM on January 2, 2009

not to take any thing from Pell, but remember his colleague John Chafee.

Claiborne Pell and John Chafee. Now that was how noblesse oblige was supposed to be done, old school. Truly an era is gone.
posted by jonp72 at 3:14 PM on January 2, 2009

People all over Rhode Island are mourning this. He was one of the (few) good ones.


Here is coverage of the funeral, which took place today.
posted by lunit at 12:50 PM on January 5, 2009

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