Middletown is facing the loss of longtime public servant M. Theresa Santos, both personally and professionally. Many feel “M. Theresa Santos was Middletown.”
Santos, 88, passed away May 27. A lifelong resident of Middletown, she served the town for 24 years, from 1966 to 1990, in various capacities and was known for her efforts in the finance office. She was first voted onto the Middletown Town Council in 2000 and worked constantly for local seniors, and on countless issues impacting residents. Town Administrator Shawn Brown has ordered town flags to be lowered to half-mast in her honor.
“She was all about Middletown and taking care of its citizens,” Town Council President Paul Rodrigues said. “When she did something, or proposed something, her dedication accomplished it. We are getting sidewalks on Aquidneck Avenue because she wanted them. Her legacy will live on in town.”
“Theresa was one of a kind and I learned so much about the town and its residents from her,” Brown added. “She always wanted to make Middletown the best place it could be and held us all to a high standard so that it would be possible. She definitely made Middletown a better place to live, work and play and I know we’re all missing her already.”
Santo was a tireless advocate for her community, including senior housing, which was accelerated under her watch, sidewalks on dangerous stretches of roads, a limit on taxes, building the War Memorial at Paradise Park and historic preservation. She was also a dedicated supporter of the Middletown Historical Society.
State Senator Louis P. DiPalma said he looked back on the years he served with Santos on the council fondly.
“The loss of Councilwoman Theresa Santos will have a big impact on the Town of Middletown,” Di- Palma said. “Having served with Theresa while were both on the Town Council from 2004 – 2008, I can emphatically say she was stalwart in preserving the history of our town. While gone from us, she will not soon be forgotten as she has certainly left an indelible mark on us all.”
She was a stickler in counting the pennies. At home, she would knit, crochet and make jewelry. She was often the recipient of playful banter among councilors for her unusual perspectives and questions on issues under discussion.
“M. Theresa Santos left a positive mark on Middletown that will be felt long after she is gone,” said Middletown’s public affairs officer, Matt Sheeley. “She always did what she thought was right and worked tirelessly for her town. We will all miss her wonderful sense of humor, her ability to connect with everyone and her belief in Middletown.”
The town must now fill the void she has left on the seven-member council. Some assumed the seat would go to the next highest vote-getter from the November election, but that is not so. In filling that vacancy, Section 209 of the Town Charter leaves that responsibility to the Town Council.
According to the charter, “If a vacancy occurs in the membership of the council, for whatever reason, the remaining members of the council shall select a qualified person to fill the vacancy until the next regularly scheduled state or town election, at which time the electors shall elect a qualified person to complete any unexpired portion of the term.”
“There have been no discussions among the council about how Theresa’s seat is to be filled at this point. The item will be on the council’s June 5 agenda for discussion,” Sheeley told Newport This Week.
The council last faced this dilemma in 2021 after longtime President Robert Sylvia resigned. At the time, the Town Council unanimously approved a motion to direct town clerk Wendy Marshall to reach out to the top vote-getters among the unsuccessful candidates of the 2020 general election to gauge their interest in filling the seat.
The candidate who came closest to winning a council seat was Kathleen Ventura, followed by Christopher Logan. After Ventura declined the offer, Logan got the call, and he has served since.
In November 2022, councilor Barbara VonVillas was just 10 votes behind Dennis Turano, who was the seventh top vote-getter, ending VonVillas’ long reign on the council.