John J. McKenna Sr.


John J. McKenna Sr.

special education advocate

John J. McKenna Sr., 83, of Warwick, left this world behind March 12, 2012 surrounded by his treasured family in the home that he loved after a valiant 18-month battle with pancreatic cancer. He leaves his cherished wife of 26 years, Annmarie (Andrews) McKenna.

He was born in Providence to Thomas and Mariah (Kerins) McKenna in 1928. He graduated from LaSalle Academy and Providence College. He received his Masters of Education from Rhode Island College and followed post-graduate studies at University of Michigan, Ann Harbor, and doctoral studies at Boston University.

He championed for the Providence School Department for 33 years, where he became the first Director of Special Education, a position he held for 27 years. He developed the Graduate Special Education Teaching program of Providence College. He was instrumental in developing the RI State Regulations of Special Education. After retiring, he became an educational consultant, grant writer and published poet.

Besides being known for his quick wit, intelligence and charm, he was known as the defender of the underdog. He loved his dogs, the Red Sox, music, dancing, his pipe, his study and a firm handshake. He embraced life, both sweet and bitter. He leaves his family with a profound love, which blankets, sustains, and endures throughout time.

He wrote: “…Slowing if not stemming this malignant growth

is faith on a quest to know

Smothering this angst

is knowing your rallying love

surrounds and fulfills me”

He was the father of Kathleen McKenna Perkins of Exeter, Margaret “Peggy” Boyer and Susan LaMontagne Pepper of Glocester, Elaine McKenna-Yeaw of Warwick and John J. McKenna Jr. of Cranston, along with their mother, Beverly (Murray) McKenna. He also leaves stepsons Matthew Illuzzi of North Carolina and Jonathan Illuzzi of Lincoln; daughters-in-law and sons-in-law; and 17 grandchildren, Allison, Thomas and Emily Boyer, Mariah, Luke, Kathryn and Owen LaMontagne, Elliott Colantuono, Liviah, Jude and Nick Yeaw; Charlotte and Niamh McKenna and TJ, Anna, Stella and Bianca Illuzzi. He leaves his brother, Thomas F. McKenna, and sisters Kathleen Reiss, Margaret “Peggy” Caron. He was the father of the late Brian McKenna and brother of the late Marion McCaughey and Evelyn Patterson. He leaves many nieces, nephews and friends.

His funeral will be held March 17 at 9 a.m. from Thomas & Walter Quinn Funeral Home, 2435 Warwick Ave., with a Mass of Christian Burial in St. Kevin Church, 333 Sandy Lane, at 10 a.m. Burial will be private. Visitation is March 16 from 4-8 p.m.

In lieu of flowers, contributions to VNA Care New England, 51 Health Lane, Warwick RI 02886 would be appreciated. For information and condolences visit