2013-12-27 / Front Page

Lasting Impressions of 2013

By Jack Kelly


Coggeshall principal Michael Franco hugged the last student to leave the school on her way out the door in June. The closing school bell also marksed the end of his career as school principal. (Photo by Jack Kelly) Coggeshall principal Michael Franco hugged the last student to leave the school on her way out the door in June. The closing school bell also marksed the end of his career as school principal. (Photo by Jack Kelly) This year has passed quickly, yet 2013 will leave me with memories and new friends that will last the rest of my life. It also brought stories of hope, determination, heroism, volunteerism, and redemption from the everyday folks of Newport County.

March signaled the beginning of Irish Heritage Month, a celebration of all things Irish, complete with a family-friendly and entertaining parade. Fundraisers for the parade included the annual Green Eggs and Ham Breakfast at Hibernian Hall. This family-oriented breakfast is always held the first weekend of March, because it also celebrates the life of Theodore Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss, whose birthday falls close to the annual event. The afternoon of the first Sunday in March presents the hardy and adventurous with a chance to learn traditional Irish dancing with Donal and Mary Lehane of the Newport Irish Heritage Association. The event, held at Newport’s Forty Steps, honors the memories of Irish immigrants who gathered there to socialize, play music and dance in the 19th and early 20th centuries. (See NTW edition 2/21/13 for more information)


Fifth Ward resident and master carpenter Frank Gillis created a likeness of the Patron Saint of Ireland in 1962. 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade is on March 15. Fifth Ward resident and master carpenter Frank Gillis created a likeness of the Patron Saint of Ireland in 1962. 2014 St. Patrick’s Day Parade is on March 15. An assignment to learn the history behind the simple but elegant statue of St. Patrick that is carried by members of the Ancient Order of Hibernians during the parade, led to an interesting and nostalgic trip through my own childhood. Master carpenter and craftsman Frank Gillis hand carved, painted and used gold leaf to bring the statue to life in 1962. The 2013 parade marked its 50th anniversary appearance. Gillis, who passed away in 1978 at the age of 87, was a legend to children of the Fifth Ward neighborhoods in the 1950s and 1960s. He also had a very devoted dog named Sandy that brought out some very humorous stories from those who knew the two of them. (For more information see NTW 3/14/13 edition)

June 26 marked the end of an era as the Newport school year drew to a close. It signaled the end of neighborhood schools; elementary students would thereafter attend the new Claiborne Pell Elementary School on Dexter Street. The most poignant scene that day was Coggeshall School Principal Michael Franco being hugged by the last student to leave the school. Franco entered retirement that same day, after a long and satisfying career in education. (See NTW 6/27/13)

July brought the hiring of five new recruits to the Newport Fire Department. The recruits were put through an intensive, bootcamp-like two week training period to prepare them for careers as firefighters. I was privileged to follow the men through this comprehensive and rigorous training. All of the recruits passed and made their way onto working shifts for a six-month probationary period. They will receive their firefighter badges in early February. (See NTW 8/22/13)

Five Newport firefighters, along with Pawtucket Fire Department Lt. David Reed, were recognized for their outstanding response to a life-threatening cardiac event suffered by an attendee at the Christmas concert at Emmanuel Church on Dec. 2, 2012. The victim, Jerry Jones of Fort Worth, Texas, has made a remarkable recovery and in an emotional reunion at Station #1, in August, he thanked his rescuers personally. All six firefighters received the Rhode Island Lifesaving Medal and Reed was also awarded the Red Cross Lifesaving Medal. (For more information see NTW editions 8/8/13 and 8/15/13.)

In October, while researching the effects of post traumatic stress disorder and traumatic brain injury on active duty military and veterans and their family members, I met two extremely devoted parents who are trying to help veterans cope with the wounds of war. Beverly Franklin is a Gold Star Mother, one who has lost a son or daughter in service to their country. She knows all too well how the effects of war can change and destroy a beloved child. Franklin has become a strong advocate and passionate voice for those who suffer the unseen wounds of war. She is the Rhode Island liaison for Project New Hope and is a member of the Tragedy Assistance Program for Survivors.

Newport businessman Mike Tobiassen is the father of a local wounded warrior and, in helping his son adapt to the changes in his life, he has become an active member of the veteran community’s support organizations. Tobiassen has established a nonprofit organization to aid amputee veterans in gaining control of their lives. (For more information see NTW editions, (10/31/13, 11/07/13, and 12/12/13)

As the year winds down, it is encouraging to know that Newport has strong citizens who answer the challenges life can bring.

Return to top