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Nuala Pell, Grandmother of Clay Pell, Passes Away at 89

Sunday, April 13, 2014


Nuala Pell, grandmother of Clay Pell and widow of late Senator Claiborne Pell, passed away on the morning of Sunday April 13, 2014 at Newport Hospital at the age of 89.

Pell, a long time advocate for education, the arts, and humanities in Rhode Island, was honored last year by Salve Regina Univeristy by their announcement of the “Nuala Pell Leadership Program in Public Service.” She was also awarded the President’s Medal by Brown University in 1997, which is the school’s highest honor. 

“Our entire family is heartbroken by my grandmother’s passing,” said Clay Pell in a statement released Sunday afternoon. “She dedicated her life to her family and to the service of others. From her work in support of the arts, education, and her humanitarian service, she was a beacon of hope to many. We could not have asked for a better parent or grandparent than Mimi. We will love and miss her more than words can express.”

Prominent members of the Rhode Island government also released statements about the passing of Nuala Pell:

“Nuala Pell's remarkable lifetime of public service left an indelible mark on our state. Alongside her husband, Senator Claiborne Pell, she was a passionate advocate for the arts and humanities and, above all, for the people of our Ocean State. I will always remember her as a cherished friend, and I will miss her deeply. My thoughts and prayers are with the Pell family." – Senator Sheldon Whitehouse

"I was deeply saddened to learn that Nuala Pell passed away earlier today. She was a great friend and an extraordinary woman who was deeply committed to serving the common good. Together with her husband, Senator Claiborne Pell, Nuala served Rhode Island and our nation in so many ways. Her generosity, philanthropy, and commitment to civic duty are a great loss to our state. I extend my condolences to the entire Pell family." – Congressman David Cicilline

"Senator Claiborne Pell was one of the greatest public servants in Rhode Island history, and his wife Nuala has always embodied those same values of selflessness, courage and kindness. I was proud to count the Pells as mentors and friends, and it is with a heavy heart and deep sadness that we say goodbye to Nuala. Her steadfast commitment and service to Rhode Island will never be forgotten. My thoughts and prayers are with the entire Pell family at this difficult time." – Congressman Jim Langevin

Pell’s last major public appearance was on January 28th when she joined grandson Clay Pell at his announcement to become a Democratic candidate for governor. Her passing was confirmed by a spokesperson for Clay Pell through NBC 10.


Related Slideshow: The Pell Family Legacy

In 1960, an unknown political force swept Rhode Island and became one of the most unlikely United States Senators in America. 

Claiborne Pell beat two former RI Governors and held the Senate seat until 1997. Now, his grandson who has ties to the White House and a superstar wife, is gearing up for a run for Governor of Rhode Island. Take a look at the Pell family legacy.

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1960 Election

Claiborne Pell was the son of the United States Ambassador to Portugal and later Hungary. 

Pell was considered a long shot when he ran for the United States Senate in 1960, but he out-worked the Democratic machine and defeated former Governor Dennis J. Roberts and former Governor and U.S. Senator J. Howard McGrath in the Democratic primary. It was one of the biggest upsets in RI political history.

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The Legacy

Pell's legacy was two fold: he was one of the most unque members of the United States Senate; and he built an impressive track record of legislative successes.

He was the author of the legislative effort that created the Pell Grants, he created the National Endowment for the Arts, and he served as Chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Foreign Relations.

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Senate Support

If Clay Pell decides to run for Governor of Rhode Island, it would be hard to imagine that he would not receive strong support from United States Senator Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI).

Whitehouse has enjoyed unyielding support from the Pell family and the matriarch Nuala Pell.

Whitehouse's early support would help push Pell into a very formidable position.

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White House

A Clay Pell candidacy would not only get a boost from his family's reputation, but his own resume would make him credible out of the box.

In April of 2013, President Barack Obama appointed Pell to serve as Deputy Assistant Secretary for International and Foreign Language Education.

This Presidential appointment comes after Pell served as Director for Strategic Planning on the National Security Staff at the White House, "where he helped develop and advance a number of the President’s key national security and global competitiveness priorities across the globe."

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Clay Pell attended Harvard, earned a JD from Georgetown and has passed the RI, MA and US Supreme Court Bar exams.

He is a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Reserve.

Pell also served as a White House Fellow.

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Kwan Factor

Pell married Olympic two-time Olympic medalist, Michelle Kwan in January of 2013 in Newport.

Kwan brings an impressive resume of her own beyond being five-time World Champion and nine-time US skating Champ.

In 2006, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice named Michelle Kwan as a public diplomacy ambassador. 
Her diplomatic position has continued for the Obama Administration as she has worked with Vice President Joe Biden and with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

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