By Susan A. Baird
PBN Web Editor
NEWPORT – Former President William Jefferson “Bill” Clinton; Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr.; at least 11 other U.S. senators and two members of the U.S. House of Representatives; and the Liechtenstein head of state, Prince Hans Adam, were among those who gathered in the City by the Sea today to mourn former U.S. Sen. Claiborne de Borda Pell.
The service at Trinity Episcopal Church was to feature eulogies by Clinton, Biden, U.S. Sen. Edward M. “Ted” Kennedy, D-Mass., and U.S. Sen. Jack Reed, D-R.I., as well as Nicholas Lorillard Pell, a grandson of the late senator. Others attending the funeral included the remainder of the Rhode Island Congressional delegation – U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse and Reps. Patrick J. Kennedy and James R. Langevin – as well as U.S. Sens. Jeff Bingaman, D-N.M.; Christopher J. Dodd, D-Conn.; Orin G. Hatch, R-Utah; John F. Kerry, D-Mass.; Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt.; Joseph I. Lieberman, I-Conn.; Richard G. Lugar, R-Ind.; and Harry Reid, D-Nevada, the Senate majority leader.
“We gather to remember a man who changed the circumstances of tens of millions of people. He literally was my mentor,” Biden told the gathering, according to New England Cable News.
Pell had served in the Coast Guard during World War II, and later as a foreign-service officer in the State Department, before being elected to the Senate in 1960. He served as a senator for 36 years, achieving key posts that included the chairmanship of the Foreign Relations Committee. Biden, a Delaware Democrat who is currently serving as the Foreign Relations chairman, would have completed his own sixth term in 2014 had he not been elected vice president.
“There was something almost magical about this man who was born to aristocracy, but cared about people,” former President Clinton said, according to NECN.
Pell – who died early Thursday at his home in Newport, after a long battle with Parkinson’s disease (READ MORE) – was born in New York City in 1918, an heir to the Lorillard Tobacco Co. fortune and a scion of long line of lawmakers.
He is best known for his sponsorship of the federal college-grant program that now bears his name. Since its establishment in 1973, the Pell Grant program has provided billions of dollars of assistance to students from low- and middle-income families.
He also is remembered as “the driving force behind the establishment of the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities,” as Salve Regina University noted in a statement this weekend. The Newport school is home to the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, which was established by Congress on Sept. 26, 1996, after Pell’s retirement from public service.
The State of Rhode Island also honored him after his retirement, bestowing his name upon the former Newport Bridge between Jamestown and Aquidneck Island, in recognition of his longtime advocacy of mass-transit and transportation infrastructure projects. Other honors during his career included a spot on the U.N. Environment Programme’s Global 500 Roll of Honour in 1987, the year that program was established.
A reception at the Pell Center – where a guest book was available for signing – followed the 10 a.m. funeral service at Trinity Episcopal. Another guest book will be available for signing through next Monday, Jan. 12, in the Rotunda of the R.I. State House, where portraits of the late senator are on display.
Pell’s survivors include his wife and fellow patron of the arts, Nuala (O’Donnell) Pell, an heir to the founders of the Great Atlantic and Pacific Tea Co. (now, A&P); a son, Christopher T.H. Pell; and a daughter, N. Dallas Pell. They also were the parents of Herbert C. “Bertie” Pell III, who died in 1999, and Julia L. Pell, who died in 2006.
Additional information and an online guest book are available from O’Neill-Hayes Funeral Home at www.onhfh.com. On the O’Neill-Hayes home page, go to the Recent Obituaries column at far right, and click on Claiborne Pell; to submit condolences, go to the Pell obituary, then click on the Sign Guest Book link near the top of the page.