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Claiborne Pell

In office
January 3, 1961 – January 3, 1997
Preceded by Theodore Francis Green
Succeeded by Jack Reed

Born November 22, 1918(1918-11-22)
New York City, New York,
United States
Died January 1, 2009 (aged 90)
Newport, Rhode Island
Birth name Claiborne de Borda Pell
Nationality American
Political party Democratic
Spouse(s) Nuala O'Donnell
Children Christopher Pell, Dallas Pell Yates, Julia Pell (deceased), Herbert Pell III (deceased)
Alma mater Princeton University (A.B.), Columbia University (M.A.)
Profession United States Senator, Diplomat, United States Coast Guard officer
Religion Episcopalian
Military service
Allegiance United States of America
Service/branch United States Coast Guard, United States Coast Guard Reserve
Years of service 1941-1945 (active) 1945-1978 (reserve)[1]
Rank Captain
Battles/wars World War II

Claiborne de Borda Pell (November 22, 1918 – January 1, 2009) was a United States Senator from Rhode Island, serving six terms from 1961 to 1997, and was best known as the sponsor of the Pell Grant, which provides financial aid funding to U.S. college students. A Democrat, he was that state's longest serving senator.


Early years

Pell attended St. George's School in Newport, Rhode Island and received an A.B. in history from Princeton University in 1940.[2] While in Princeton, he was a member of Colonial Club.

Pell enlisted in the United States Coast Guard in 1941, four months before Pearl Harbor. He served as a ships cook, and eventually earned a commission. During the war he served on North Atlantic convoy duty and in Sicily and Italy. After the war he remained in the United States Coast Guard Reserve, and eventually retired with the rank of Captain.[3]

From 1945 to 1952, he served in the United States Department of State as a Foreign Service Officer in Czechoslovakia, Italy, and Washington, D.C.. He was fluent in French, Italian, and Portuguese. In 1946 Pell received an M.A. in history from Columbia University.[2]

Pell was a participant in the 1945 San Francisco conference that drafted the United Nations charter.[2]

Political career

In 1960, Pell won the seat of retiring U.S. Senator Theodore Francis Green after defeating, as an unendorsed outside candidate, two former Governors, Dennis J. Roberts and former U.S. Senator J. Howard McGrath in the Democratic primary.

Pell was largely responsible for the creation of Pell Grants in 1973, originally known as "Basic Educational Opportunity Grants". The Pell Grants provide financial aid funds to U.S. college students. Pell grants initially provided for grants for prisoners because Pell understood that education while incarcerated resulted in a 65% drop in recidivism rates and that resulted in a safer public. Congress later removed that provision even though no one outside was ever denied a grant because of those given to prisoners. For many years there was more money available than was applied for.

He was the main sponsor of the bill that created the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities, and was active as an advocate for mass transportation initiatives and domestic legislation facilitating and conforming to the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea.

In 1987 he was among those selected for the United Nations Environment Programme's Global 500 Roll of Honour, in the first year that award was established.

He served as Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1987-1994.

In his book (Copyright 1972; Lyle Stuart, Inc.) 'The Washington Pay-Off; An Insider's View of Corruption in Government', author and former lobyist, Robert N. Winter-Berger, wrote about Senator Pell's arrest, during a raid on a New York gay bar, in the early 1960s. In 1993, during the bitter confirmation battle over Roberta Achtenberg, a lesbian, as Assistant Secretary for Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity in the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Pell stated that his daughter was a lesbian, and that he hoped that it would not be a barrier to federal employment for her; Achtenberg became the first openly gay person to be confirmed by the U.S. Senate.

Upon his retirement from the Senate, Rhode Island's Newport Bridge was redesignated the "Claiborne Pell Bridge" and the Pell Center of International Relations and Public Policy was established at Salve Regina University, in Newport, Rhode Island, Pell's home town.

Senator Pell also received an Honorary Doctorate from Johnson & Wales University in 1979.

On October 14, 1994, Pell was presented with the Presidential Citizens Medal from President Clinton.

Family & later years

Claiborne de Borda Pell was the son of former Congressman Herbert Claiborne Pell, Jr.. He was the great-great-grandson of former Congressman John Francis Hamtramck Claiborne, great-great-grandnephew of former Senator and Vice President of the United States George Mifflin Dallas and great-great-great-grandnephew of former Senator and Congressman William Charles Cole Claiborne and of former Congressman Nathaniel Herbert Claiborne.[4] He was also a direct descendant of mathematician John Pell. Pell was one of the heirs to what started out as the Lorillard tobacco fortune, although the family has been out of the Lorillard firm for generations.[2]

Pell married the former Nuala O'Donnell, great-granddaughter of George Huntington Hartford, and, as such, one of the heirs to the A&P fortune.[5] They had four children: Herbert Claiborne Pell III ("Bertie"), Christopher Thomas Hartford Pell ("Toby"), N. Dallas, and Julia Lorillard Wampage Pell.[6]

Although from a wealthy background, Pell was renowned in Rhode Island for his lack of pretension and his frugality.

At his funeral, one grandson recalled that his grandfather "jogged in actual business suits that had been reluctantly retired" and "drove a Chrysler LeBaron convertible, which was outfitted with tattered red upholstery, a roof held together with duct tape...when it finally fell apart, he replaced it with a Dodge Spirit, which he had purchased used from Thrifty Rental Cars."[7]

His grandson continued, "When I was about twelve, my father owned an eight foot orange Zodiac, with flaky wooden floorboards and a six horsepower engine. My father would let me take it out on my own... On several occasions my grandfather would volunteer to join me. He would arrive at the dock, sit down on the wooden floorboards, wearing, of course, a full suit. Together we'd knife thru the moored boats and wave at passing boaters. Inevitably someone would recognize him, usually it would be a guy standing about ten feet above us in a sixty-foot SeaRay or a large sailboat, pointing and remarking, "Hey, it's Senator Pell down there. How you doing, Senator?" Grandpa would smile, wave back, happy as a clam in the smallest boat in the harbor, dressed as a gentleman, spending time with his family."[7]

In his later years, Pell suffered from Parkinson's Disease.[8] Pell died on January 1, 2009. He was 90 years old.[9]



External links

United States Senate
Preceded by
Theodore Francis Green
United States Senator (Class 2) from Rhode Island
1961 – 1997
Served alongside: John O. Pastore, John H. Chafee
Succeeded by
Jack Reed
Political offices
Preceded by
Howard Cannon
Chairman of the Senate Rules Committee
1978 – 1981
Succeeded by
Charles Mathias, Jr.
Preceded by
Richard Lugar
Chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee
1987 – 1995
Succeeded by
Jesse Helms


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