Intertwined love of arts to help youths overcome violence

Pagliarinis, student to be honored at Jan. 26 event

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What started out as an inquiry about the Cranston Cultural Arts Council more than a year ago is leading to the recognition of the late John V. Pagliarini, his widow Florence and their profound love of the arts.

“He believed that everything you touch or use is designed by an artist,” said John R. “JR” Pagliarini of his father.

JR looks around the kitchen of his Warwick home. His point is well taken. From the flooring to the table and chairs, plates, utensils and curtains all, at one time, had an artist’s touch.

Pagliarini, who died Dec. 3, 2009, was a creative man who employed his artistic talents throughout his life.

JR remembers his father doing the cooking, singing and sewing. He designed and made the wedding gown of his sister, Karen, as well of those of her bridesmaids.

“His sewing room was his man cave. He would be there until one or two in the morning creating outfits…everything had to be a work of art,” he said.

JR pulls out his cell phone and scrolls to a picture taken of him in the ’70s. He’s hair is long in the style of the time. He’s wearing a beige jacket that he’s holding open to reveal a colorful lining.

“It’s my jacket of many colors. He made it,” says JR.

Rebecca Flores, of the Natasha Love Foundation, says the Pagliarinis were the perfect couple for the nonprofit to honor. She founded the foundation in memory of her daughter Natasha Love Gonsalves. Natasha, a graduate of Cranston High School West, was killed in March 2008 at a party when a love triangle she was not involved in led to an altercation. She was stabbed to death in a situation she was trying to pacify. She was 18.

The third annual Inspiration of Love Youth Artist and Leadership Recognition will be held Jan. 26 at 7 p.m. at the Shriners Imperial Room in Pawtuxet. Tickets are $50 and are available by calling Flores at 935-4960.

The Pagliarinis will receive the Thomas McGovern Humanitarian Award. Also being recognized that night will be Sebastian Espinal Bencosme, who will receive the Youth Respect Award. Flores said Sebastian is a regular at the Artists Exchange and epitomizes the ideals of respect and love the foundation aims to promote. The foundation espouses non-violence by channeling teenage feelings of alienation or hostility into the arts.

It was at an Artists Exchange event that Flores crossed paths with JR and his mother. She learned that Pagliarini was a co-founder of the Cranston Cultural Arts Council, which became defunct after Pagliarini’s death only to be revived about 18 months ago by Cranston Councilman Steve Stycos.

Pagliarini was a member of the Cranston High School Class of 1944, who went on to serve in the U.S. Army stationed in the Philippines during World War II.

“He was a staff sergeant, but they called him ‘general,’” said JR. His father had a reputation for speaking his mind and, apparently, taking a leadership role. That’s evident from the numerous positions he held from chairman of the Rhode Island State Council on the Arts, Chairman of the Cranston Memorial Veterans Scholarship Fund to co-chair of Cranston inaugural ceremonies in 1979 and 1983 and the gubernatorial inaugural festivities in 1985, 1987 and 1989.

Pagliarini found a wife and a soul mate in Florence, who has a passion for the theatre and the performing arts. They met on the dance floor at Rhodes on the Pawtuxet and on their first date in 1953 they attended a performance of the musical “Wonderful Town” in Boston that set their romance spinning. Florence, a graduate of Cranston High School in 1948 (there was no East and West in those days) went on to major in English literature at Rhode Island College. After graduating, she taught in Providence schools and then in Cranston, where she taught for 34 years before retiring.

They shared the same interests and their relationship grew from there. As shows often previewed in Boston before opening in New York, they were up on the entertainment scene. That interest grew and became a big part of their married life.

Florence has attended more than 1,000 performances around the world. Among those she has seen and in many cases personally met are Judy Garland, Vivian Leigh, Ray Bolger, Frank Sinatra, Al Pacino, Lauren Bacall, Placido Domingo, Julie Andrews and Robert Redford…and that’s just a sampling of the list.

JR didn’t inherit the artistic genes of his parents unless you consider politics an art.

He has served in various positions from chief of staff to campaign director and director of constituent affairs for mayors in Warwick and Providence as well as Governor Lincoln Chafee and Senator Lincoln Chafee. He has also worked in the fields of health care and energy and is presently president of Fabiani & Pinto of Providence that has been working with Commerce RI to promote trade with Ireland.

Flores started the Natasha Love Foundation with five of her closest friends. The nonprofit organization seeks to point young people in the right direction by capitalizing on their skills. Natasha was a musician who loved to play piano and sing at the Providence Music Mansion. Selena inspired her. She wrote poetry. She modeled and was a contestant in Miss Teen USA. In her spare time, Natasha volunteered with the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society and was chosen to mentor young female inmates at the ACI – inmates like the 18-year-old girl who took her life.

Florence has met Flores and knows the story of her daughter. She’s overwhelmed that she is being honored along with her late husband. That comes as a surprise. But she feels she has a companion to share the experience.

“He [her husband] brought a lot of wonder and beauty into my life…he’s with me every day,” she said.

Now she is sharing that honor to help young people bring purpose to their lives, a cause that as a teacher Florence has devoted much of her life.

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