NEW: Former RI State Senator Sapinsley Passes Away

Tuesday, December 09, 2014


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Lila Sapinsley

Former Rhode Island Senate Minority Leader Lila Sapinsley passed away in Providence on Tuesday December 9 at the age of 92.  

Sapinsley was married to John M. Sapinsley, who passed away in 2012.  The Sapinsleys, who were active in the arts, endowed a theater at Rhode Island College. 

“I was very saddened to learn of the passing of a dear family friend, Lila Sapinsley. She was a courageous and intelligent public servant who cared deeply for many Rhode Island causes, particularly issues that had an effect on women. In the 1960s, she was a key early supporter of my father. Lila also became my political mentor when she chaired our committee for the 1986 Constitutional Convention. She was the epitome of grace. It was a pleasure to serve with her. Today, Rhode Island lost a woman who dedicated many decades to making our State a better place to live and work," said Rhode Island Governor Lincoln Chafee.  

“I have long admired Lila Sapinsley for her strong leadership, exceptional intellect, and gracious style. She never stopped working for her community, including as recently as this election cycle when she wrote from experience about the constitutional convention referendum. She was a pioneer who opened the door for generations of women to follow. The thoughts of all of us in the Senate are with the Sapinsley family during this difficult time," said Rhode Island Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed.

Sapinsley Bio

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Sapinsley is a member of the RI Heritage Hall of Fame

Sapinsley's alma mater, Wellsley College, bestowed on her the alumnae achievement award in 1974, and provides the following biography for her on their site:

Sapinsley, born in Chicago, is known for her thirty years of service to the State of Rhode Island, dedication to community organizations, and her inspiring political career. She graduated from Wellesley College in 1944 with a psychology degree.

After campaigning for Governor Chafee in 1965, Sapinsley was appointed a trustee of Rhode Island State Colleges, a group that is responsible for promoting and governing higher education in Rhode Island. She became the board’s first female chair in 1967 and became increasingly frustrated with the state legislators’ unwillingness to give financial aid to institutions of higher education. This role prompted her to run for her first of five terms in the Rhode Island Senate. In 1974, just two years after joining the Senate, she was elected Republican minority leader and, again, became the first female to hold this post. Sapinsley worked to promote open government, women and minority rights, and educational reform.

In 1984, Sapinsley unsuccessfully ran for lieutenant governor, yet she became chairwoman of the Rhode Island Housing and Mortgage Finance Corporation (RIHMFC) a year later. After two years of working to legitimize the RIHMFC’S reputation, she became the commissioner of the Public Utilities Commission, a title she held until her retirement in 1993. Even in retirement, Spainsley served as a volunteer for the Providence Public Library; for Durcas Place, a parent literacy center; as a co-chair of Senator John Chafee’s campaign for re-election; and as president of her Wellesley College class for a term.

Sapinsley has served on the Board of Trustees for the American Civil Liberties Union, the Mental Health Association of Rhode Island, Planned Parenthood of Rhode Island, Temple Beth El, Wellesley Center for Research on Women and many more. Her awards include honorary degrees from the University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College and Brown University; Legislator of the Year Award, National Conference of Republican Legislators; two-time Woman of the Year, Governor’s Commission on Women and inductee to the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.


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