When the Providence Journal asked in 1979, “Does Anyone Out There Hate this Man?”, they weren’t kidding. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t have good …
When the Providence Journal asked in 1979, “Does Anyone Out There Hate this Man?”, they weren’t kidding. You would be hard pressed to find anyone that didn’t have good things to say about former Warwick Mayor Joe Walsh.
Sitting with him recently over a cup of coffee at Café Tempo in the Apponau, was a walk down memory lane over people and places of years gone by, and a wide-eyed remembrance that this is a man who is still in the center of the political universe, and someone that still has a lot of innings left in the game.
Joseph W. Walsh grew up in South Providence where he attended St. Michael’s School, and then followed the course of so many Rhode Island attorneys: La Salle Academy, Providence College and ultimately receiving his Juris Doctor degree from the Georgetown University School of Law.
After law school, he practiced law in Warwick, marrying his sweetheart Ginette along the way.
The couple have two children, a son Billy and daughter Shana, who would eventually bless the couple with two grandchildren, Liam and Lennox O’Connell.
Joe caught the political bug in 1968, when he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives, winning as a Democrat in a then Republican stronghold.
He would serve in the House for two years, and then ran for State Senate in 1970, serving for six years, including two years in a leadership position as Majority Whip.
In the Senate, he successfully championed women’s rights, protecting civil liberties, and strongly pushed for criminal justice reform.
In 1976 he was elected Mayor of City of Warwick and immediately went to work tackling a significant budget deficit and would eventually lead Warwick to fiscal stability by launching a reevaluation and “good management, a job freeze and tight fiscal controls,” He paid the deficit off in 4 years and synchronized the City’s fiscal year so that it could eliminate the recurring need for costly Tax Anticipation Notes.
Asked what the community feeling was like in those tight years he said, “We had monthly “gripe sessions” on the first Wednesday of every month… they were fabulous!” So much so that they lasted for all 8 years of his tenure.
He said the gripe sessions were a “very, very good vehicle to communicate with people. It also gave the public confidence that they would be heard.”
That sentiment was echoed by former Democrat State Chairman and Walsh staff member Guy Dufault.
He said, “Mayor Walsh was an elected official who clearly was ahead of his time.”. “In an era when government transparency was first taking shape, Joe saw the future. His introduction of monthly residence meetings called “Gripe Sessions” not only brought government to the people but more importantly people to their government.” He continued, “this approach was rightfully acknowledged in seminal literary work about government in the era, “Megatrends” by John Naisbitt.
“Joe was a national leader in government reform. He built on the strong foundation in Warwick left behind by Mayors Phil Noel and Gene McCaffrey”. “As Mayor, Joe Walsh was a doer. I always left his office marveling at his desire to create a “better” city. Joe’s vision almost a half century ago gave Warwick state of the art recreational facilities and financial stability still evident today. A remarkable public servant, with a remarkable record.”
These days, Joe heads what is arguably one of the top government relations firms in the State, Government Strategies, Inc. based in Warwick.
He is joined by son Billy (who is an attorney) and long-time colleague Gayle Wolf.
The firm specializes in construction, finance, and housing, and even though Joe is affectionately called “the Dean of Rhode Island lobbyists”, he still has time to do what he loves best – pitch in and help various non-profits and community-based organizations.
The list of organizations that he has helped wouldn’t fit into this column, but here are a few:
- Past Chairman of the Board of Rhode Island Red Cross
- Past Chairman of the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs
- Past Vice-Chairman of United Way
- Chairman of the storied Providence Performing Arts Center for over 32 years and counting
As a matter of fact, we can tip our hat to Joe for leading the way to expanding the PPAC building so that it could accommodate the spatial demands of A-List performances like Phantom of the Opera.
He has also been recognized by various organizations for his good work, including induction into the prestigious Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame, the Rhode Island Criminal Justice Hall of Fame, and was the Warwick Boys and Girls Clubs Man of the Year in 1985.
Asked how he continues to keep his pace (everyone in the political world knows that if there’s a fundraiser to help someone – you will probably see him there), he just smiles.
His phone is always ringing, not only from his many clients, but from people calling for help.
Asked about the retirement question he just laughed and said “I have no plans to retire. I enjoy working. I enjoy being active and I especially enjoy going to events with my grandchildren.”
Joe Walsh still has the same passion for helping people.
He seems to be everywhere, and he pitches in without hesitation.
He never looks for laurels.
He is quite circumspect about it all.
He’s a guy who worked with presidents and a guy who quietly donated a kidney to his brother.
Rhode Island is blessed to have the involvement of Joe Walsh.
Let’s hope there are many more years of it.