There Walked a Great Man

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Yesterday, February 28, 2015, Rhode Island lost a great man  and I lost a cousin who meant much more to me that I realized. Michael Lenihan, a hero in our family and in our native

state, was a giant in Rhode Island politics, fighting to root out corruption and to make the state a great and decent place to live and raise a family.

He was, as well, a great family man. I will leave it to his immediate family member to describe his stature in their lives. For me, there is a hole in my heart that I did not expect. He and I have not spent much time together for quite some time. But he was a part of my family in a way that I am only now discovering. If people live on in the memory of their descendants, than something is lost in the fabric that is our family. He knew stories about grandparents, uncles, aunts and cousins that I didn’t know. In return, I wrote stories about our family that surprised and delighted him. He often left me comments on my writings and on my adventures in life.

The greatest honor that his daughter, Meghan, could have given me was not to be a pall bearer for him, which I will be and am so very proud and humbled to be. No, the greatest honor was that she told me the niht he died that he enjoyed reading my essays to his grand daughters, Victoria and Bryanna.

I miss Mike and may write something much more substantial about him in the future. But for now, I wish to plagiarize the Rhode Island press and list some of the remembrances that were published today.

Honesty, Idealism, Pragmatism, Courage

“Senator Lenihan was an honest man and a charismatic leader who always put the needs of his constituents first. He was a fierce advocate for transparency and accessibility in government and his strong moral compass defined his distinguished career in public service. My thoughts and prayers go out to the Lenihan family. We cannot thank them enough for letting Mike dedicate so much of his time and passion to making Rhode Island better.”  – Congressman Jim Langevin

Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 4.36.49 PM“I considered Mike a friend. Mike had an idealism about him that one couldn’t help admire. He also understood the pragmatic side and was willing to work with others through challenging legislative initiatives.”  – Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed

Michael Lenihan “personified what it meant to be an honest elected official who cared about people.”  -Gary Sasse, founding director of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University and former director of the Rhode Island departments of Administration and Revenue.

Former Common Cause Rhode Island Executive Director H. Philip West Jr. said what made Mike unique was his courage to stand on principle. Mike was the only three-time recipient of Common Cause’s Public Service Achievement Award.

“Michael Lenihan had the courage to stand up and do what was right, even if he knew he was going to get pummeled for it,” said West. “He was always willing to take on the bills that went to the heart of the matter.”

“Mike was a senator’s senator. He was not just a great senator, he was a role model for senators. He was a great public servant who always put his constituents first. The people of Rhode Island have lost a statesman.”  – Sen. Jim Sheehan, Dist. 36

A Wonderful Guy

“He was a guy who was really shunned and put on the back bench for wanting to push for good government, but over time he became one of the most respected legislators in the state.” “Mike was, to me, a remarkable mentor and someone who really encouraged me to get involved in government. He was just a wonderful guy. His goal was service. He was not interested in limelight, awards and praise.”  -East Greenwich Town Councilor Mark Schwager.

“Mike Lenihan’s life of public service: He could not fly, he wore no red cape, but he was a hero, someone to admire for his tireless efforts to prove that you could fight the good fight and win. May he rest in peace.” – Senator Jime Sheehan.

 Respected by Republicans and Democrats Alike

“Michael was respected by Republicans and Democrats alike. Prior to 1988, when it was a Republican majority council, they actually elected Michael president.”  – Bill Sequino, who served as town manager for East Greenwich from 1988 to 2013.

Michael’s Verbal Skills

Both Sequino and Sheehan commented on Lenihan’s verbal skills.

“He was very erudite,” said Sen. Jim Sheehan. “He was just so meticulously fair minded. He was always so well researched and always brought logic to bear on any type of issue he grappled with. When he took a stand on an issue and got up on the Senate floor, everybody listened. When Mike got up, you wanted to hear what he had to say because, frankly, he could change your mind.”

On Raising Money

The biggest challenge for any candidate is raising money, something Lenihan always found distasteful. He said he didn’t want people to feel they had to contribute something in order to get decent government, but nevertheless he knows it is out there and a fact of life.

On Teaching. Mike taught for many years in Scituate.

“My son’s fiancee, Heather, tells me he was her ‘favorite teacher ever’ in Scituate!” -Kathy Anne Blackburn.

On Family

Election night parties were a regular feature at the Lenihan home, which was always open to friends, colleagues and family. “With Mike, you got his whole family,” said Town Councilor Mark Schwager. “It’s just such a great family. I really just enjoyed being part of that family.”

“Mike loved his family,” said Sen. Jim Sheehan. “The amount of time he put in to help making this a better state really says a lot about the sacrifices he was willing to make. For that we owe him a debt of gratitude.”

Joseph Michael Lenihan, Rest in Peace.Screen Shot 2015-03-01 at 4.34.18 PM


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