NEA R.I. President Purtill to retire in December

CRANSTON – A longtime leader within Rhode Island’s largest labor union will call it a career at the end of the year.

The National Education Association of Rhode Island announced Thursday that its president, Lawrence E. Purtill, will retire on Dec. 30 after being with the labor union for 36 years, 23 of them as its president.

NEARI said Sen. Valerie J. Lawson, D-East Providence, who is the association’s vice president, will serve as president until May 2023. At that time, Lawson will be eligible for election by the association’s delegate assembly, NEARI said.

It is unclear why Purtill decided to retire; NEARI did not specify the reason when asked by Providence Business News. In a statement, Purtill said he looks forward to spending more time with his family and on a bicycle racetrack.

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“It has been my great honor to represent … the active and retired members of NEARI,” Purtill said. “Our union is strong, and I have full faith that strength will continue under Val Lawson’s leadership.”

Purtill said serving as NEARI’s president allowed him to “have a broader impact on the lives of Rhode Island’s students” at all grade levels by advocating for legislation and programs to improve public education, both now and for the future.

NEARI said Purtill’s accomplishments with the union – which has 12,167 members, according to the 2022 PBN Book of Lists – includes leading NEARI to join the Rhode Island AFL-CIO in 2012, and collaborating with educators, elected officials and community allies to increase awareness of mental health concerns and social and emotional learning.

NEARI also said navigating the union through the COVID-19 pandemic was one of Purtill’s greatest challenges, but he said it’s the one he is most proud of. Purtill will remain active with the union’s mental health advocacy committee and planning the union’s annual mental health summit.

“Want to stay involved in different areas, especially mental health and fighting for the rights of every individual,” Purtill tweeted Thursday.

James Bessette is the PBN special projects editor, and also covers the nonprofit and education sectors. You may reach him at You may also follow him on Twitter at @James_Bessette.