Community was Pete Fontaine’s family

Posted 4/4/24

As soon as I saw Pete Fontaine open the office door, a smile spread across his face, I knew he was up to something.

It was the day before Thanksgiving and everyone was pressing to meet deadline …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

Community was Pete Fontaine’s family


As soon as I saw Pete Fontaine open the office door, a smile spread across his face, I knew he was up to something.

It was the day before Thanksgiving and everyone was pressing to meet deadline and get home.

Pete knew the routine from countless deadlines. Nonetheless, he wanted to chat and at least wish people a happy Thanksgiving. He usually focused on how many people would be around the table and what kind of pies would follow the turkey.  He’d make the rounds , stopping  at the sales department , trading stories with reporters, talking sports with the sports editor and dropping in to bookkeeping where he would pick up his check for his freelance work covering the Town of Johnston for the Johnston Sun Rise newspaper.

Although he lived in Warwick and worked for many years covering sports for the Pawtuxet Valley Daily Times in West Warwick, Johnston was his turf and his home after retiring from the Times. He knew the politicians, the cops, the school principals , the old timers and the regulars. He was at civic events and ceremonies , snapping photos with his pocket digital camera, trading hellos with dignitaries and often lingering as the crowd broke up to hobnob  with friends. He took pride in knowing what was happening in town.

On holiday eves, Pete would visit one of his favorite haunts in Warwick, Antonio’s Bakery.

“You wouldn’t believe the line, it was out the door and into the parking lot,” he’d excitedly report on customers waiting to buy Zeppole on St. Joseph’s Day. Food was Pete’s way of saying thank you.

“You’ll find a little something on your front seat,” he’d say as I downloaded his photos and he’d summarize stories planned for that week’s Sun Rise. The first time that happened, I didn’t know what to expect. I had forgotten what he said by the time I was locking the office door six hours later to head home for dinner.  There, as he said, was a white paper bag with a carefully wrapped apple turnover from Antonio’s.

On holidays he went all out with pies.

By no means did Pete limit his coverage to Johnston. He was a parishioner at St. Barnabas Church in Apponaug and a regular at the Tri-City Elks on West Shore Road. The coverage he gave to organizations was extensive.  He was there for the car shows, kids fishing derbies, installation ceremonies, Easter egg hunts and outings.

Sometimes he was so into promoting an event or organization, he would tell the story three times – once to let readers know the “biggest ever” bazaar was coming up; then coverage from the event and the follow up mentioning all the workers and how successful it was.  Few adjectives were spared to let you know the event was over the top.

A favorite of his was the Greek Festival held in September at the Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Cranston. His affection for the festival was understandable, Pete’s companion of 32 years, Georgia Pappas, is a member of the church and Pete wanted to ensure the community knew it was happening. Last year’s festival was hit with heavy rain on Sunday causing the cancelation of outdoor attractions but that didn’t stop Pete from shining a light on the positive.

 “Nonetheless, the Festival’s popularity extended into late Sunday afternoon and until the 8 p.m. closing time as countless numbers of people came back to enjoy and purchase pastry and the mouthwatering Greek food and pastry even though Oaklawn Avenue was flooded,” he reported.

Following the New Year, we saw less and less of Pete. Medical issues limited his ability to get around. There was the occasional phone call and then about four weeks ago he went silent. We learned he was in the hospital.

Then came the news Thursday that he had died.

Patrick Quinn of Quinn Funeral Home was one of the first to call. He was looking for Pete’s next of kin and background on Pete. At some point, I had heard Pete might by a nominee for the RI Heritage Hall of Fame. That wasn’t the case, however. Dr. Patrick Conley president of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame Conley came up with a program book produced by the 1976 Bicentennial Commission.  Pete served as sports information director for the commission. The book listed Pete’s work as a journalist and sports editor. I learned he directed the largest ever New England Senior Babe Ruth Baseball Tournament at the time and was credited with expanding the RI Senior Babe Ruth Baseball program from five to 48 teams. That was only a sampling. More information was forthcoming and is included in his obituary.

From Patrick Quinn, who was looking to contact family members, I learned that Pete was the adopted son of a couple who had likewise been adopted. Both are deceased.

That revelation answered a lot for me. While I never asked Pete, it explained why he never talked about family or family gatherings at Christmas and other special occasions. I’d ask what he would be doing for the holiday and he would be visiting Georgia’s family or they would be going out for dinner.

“He had no one,” Georgia said Friday as we talked about the service planned for Tuesday at St. Barnabas Church.  Of course, there’s more to the story.

His lack of kin explained why Pete so valued connecting with others and why he visited Antonio’s on special holidays. Warwick and Johnston were more than his home. They were his family.

side up, Fontaine


No comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here