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An Uncommon Man

The Life and Times of Senator Claiborne Pell

By G. Wayne Miller

Publication Year: 2011

The only biography of Claiborne Pell, the six-term senator from Rhode Island best known as the sponsor of the educational Pell Grants Claiborne Pell (1918–2009) was Rhode Island’s longest serving U.S. senator, with six consecutive terms from 1961 to 1997. A liberal Democrat, Pell is best known as the sponsor of the Pell Grants. He was also the force behind the creation of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and a visionary in high-speed rail transportation and other areas. An early environmentalist and opponent of the Vietnam War, Pell left his mark on several treaties and peace initiatives. Born into the wealthy family that settled the Bronx, New York, Pell married Nuala O’Donnell, an heiress to the A&P fortune. He lived on the waterfront in exclusive Newport, Rhode Island, yet was a favorite of blue-collar voters. Frugal and quirky, he believed in ESP and UFOs, and was often seen jogging in a sports coat and shorts. Both his hard work and his personality left an indelible mark on this small but influential state—and on America. This lively biography was written with the cooperation of the senator’s family, and with exclusive access to family records and the extensive archives at the University of Rhode Island.

Published by: University Press of New England


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pp. 1-3

Title Page, Copyright, Dedication

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pp. iii-v


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pp. vii-vii

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pp. 1-9

Dawn had barely broken when the crowd began to build outside Trinity Episcopal Church in Newport, Rhode Island. A frigid wind blew and snow frosted the ground. Police had restricted vehicular traffic to allow passage of the motorcade, soon to arrive, carrying a former president, the vice president-elect, and dozens of U.S. senators, representatives, and other dignitaries. Men in...

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1. The Most Unlikely Candidate

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pp. 10-33

On April 9, 1960, Rhode Islanders learned that a memorable primary election was likely to unfold later that year. Congressman John E. Fogarty announced he would not seek the Senate seat that would open upon the retirement of Theodore F. Green, the ninety-two-year-old patriarch of Rhode Island politics who had served in Washington since 1936. The popular Fogarty said he ...

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2. Only Child

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pp. 34-69

More than one hundred people gathered the morning of November 3, 1915, at the Episcopal Church of the Heavenly Rest on New York City’s Upper East Side to celebrate the wedding of a woman and a man who, like them, stood prominently in American society. An account of the ceremony and the reception that followed at the St. Regis New York hotel, built by John Jacob Astor IV, who had gone down ...

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3. Land and Sea

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pp. 70-100

On the evening of August 2, 1941, the American embassy in Budapest, Hungary, attempted to reach the president of the United States by telephone. It was midday in Washington. For a moment, the connection was made; Herbert Pell, minister to Hungary, heard Roosevelt’s voice. The president was saying he couldn’t hear who was calling. Then the connection was lost. The next ...

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4. Vision

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pp. 101-127

At 12:23 p.m. on January 3, 1961, outgoing Vice President Richard M. Nixon administered the oath of office to Rhode Island’s new senator. A minute later, Claiborne deBorda Pell signed the Senate register and went to his seat in the second row of the Democratic section, ahead of John Pastore, the state’s senior senator. Pell’s wife, children and parents watched from the gallery. Five ...

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5. History Making

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pp. 128-182

On March 10, 1967, Pell received a letter from a woman in Manhattan, Kansas. Helen Melaragno wrote of the disgrace she felt in America’s still-escalating role in the Vietnam War. By that point, Johnson had committed nearly 400,000 troops to the conflict and additional tens of thousands were on the way. More than 8,000 Americans had died. North Vietnam was under attack from U.S. B-52 bombers, which were ...


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pp. 183-187

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6. Heart and Soul

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pp. 188-240

The year 1973 began on notes of triumph and promise for Pell. When he returned to Washington after the holiday break, he could look forward to six more years in the Senate; his Pell Grant program was firmly in hand; and the war he’d so long opposed was about to enter its final stage with the signing, in Paris, of a cease-fire agreement. Pell’s legislative agenda for the start of his third term ...

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7. Foreign Relations

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pp. 241-285

When he finally realized his longtime goal of chairing the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, in January 1987, after Democrats had resumed control of the Senate following the 1986 midterm elections, Pell took charge with a record of helping to ease global tensions and encourage responsible stewardship of the planet. The Vietnam War that he had so strongly opposed was long over. His Seabed ...

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8. Life After

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pp. 286-295

Pell kept a prominent profile and an active but not overburdened schedule in his first year out of office. He spent time in his new office at Salve Regina University’s Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, in Newport, which had been established with a $3-million U.S. Department of Education grant the previous fall. In January, he dressed in black tie and joined Nuala at the ...

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pp. 296-297

The sun was breaking through an overcast sky as Nuala Pell left her home and rode down Bellevue Avenue past her father-in-law’s former estate, now the headquarters of the Preservation Society of Newport County. A writer was at the wheel. It was Veterans Day, 2009. The car passed the Tennis Hall of Fame and First Beach and continued into Middletown. St. George’s School came into view as the car traveled past Hanging Rock, a massive outcropping...

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pp. 299-301

This book began one day in June 2009 with a phone call. It was Nuala Pell, who I had last seen at her husband’s funeral, on January 5 of that year. I covered Pell’s funeral for The Providence Journal, where I have been a staff writer for most of my long career as a journalist. “Have you ever thought of writing a biography of Claiborne?” Nuala asked on that early-summer day. In fact, I had not. I had written about Claiborne Pell several times over the years, most ...

Author’s Notes

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pp. 303-309


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pp. 311-324

E-ISBN-13: 9781611681871
E-ISBN-10: 1611681871
Print-ISBN-13: 9781611681864
Print-ISBN-10: 1611681863

Page Count: 356
Illustrations: 29 illus.
Publication Year: 2011

OCLC Number: 757827316
MUSE Marc Record: Download for An Uncommon Man

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Subject Headings

  • Pell, Claiborne, 1918-2009.
  • Legislators -- United States.
  • United States. Congress. Senate -- Biography.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1945-1989.
  • United States -- Politics and government -- 1989-.
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