No matter the role, Frank Flaherty looks to make a difference

Posted 4/11/24

Some people greet him as “Your Honor”.

Others, “Mayor”.

But probably over half the state simply calls him “Frank”.

I am referring, of course, to …

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No matter the role, Frank Flaherty looks to make a difference


Some people greet him as “Your Honor”.

Others, “Mayor”.

But probably over half the state simply calls him “Frank”.

I am referring, of course, to former Warwick Mayor and former Rhode Island Supreme Court Justice Francis Xavier Flaherty, who retired from active duty on the state’s highest court in 2020. 

Frank, by all accounts, has had a remarkable career.

I could fill up this newspaper with stories, but I thought I would start with the one I am particularly fond of, and one that I even participated in. 

The year was 1989.

Frank, who was in his third term as Mayor of Warwick, glanced at a New York Times newspaper and noticed a headline that blared to the effect “Outlaws of National Proportion”, and thought to himself,

“What is this”? 

Upon further examination he saw that the “Outlaws” in the article were the cities of Warwick and Cranston, and the Town of West Warwick.

The article described that decades prior, the three communities signed an agreement with the federal Environmental Protection Agency to upgrade their sewer systems and bring the Pawtuxet River to a “Class C” level, but never did it. 

So, Frank immediately got on the phone with the EPA in Boston and requested that representatives come to Rhode Island to discuss this matter, and then phoned Cranston Mayor Michael Traficante, and me in West Warwick.

Soon after, we three Mayors met with the EPA representatives, and Frank started the questioning.

“What’s the Pawtuxet River classified as now?”  The answer: “Class D”.

When Frank asked what that meant, the EPA official explained, “A Class D River is suitable for recreational boating, and fish can live in the river.”

Frank responded, “that sounds pretty good.  What is a Class C?”

The EPA official responded, “In a Class C you have recreational boating, fish can live in the river as well as propagate in the river, rather than upstream.”

He further explained that the cost of the three communities (through upgrades to each of their sewer systems) would be about $95 million dollars combined.”

Frank, clearly exasperated, said “Wait a minute.   You want us to spend $95 million dollars so that fish can propagate in the river? (In full disclosure Frank used another word that we can’t print in these family newspapers).

The reply, “That’s exactly what I said!”

At that moment Mayor Traf erupted out of his chair.  I thought he was going to physically toss the guy out of the building! 

As history would have it, the EPA at that time could not enforce their rulings, rather the enforcement was left to the states.

Luckily for Warwick, Cranston and West Warwick, Ed DiPrete was Governor and declined to enforce it.

Over the years many upgrades were made to each community’s sewer facilities, but not a one-time draconian fix of $95 million (1989) dollars. 

That’s Mayor/Judge Frank Flaherty.

As quick as they come, and a funny guy when you get to know him. 

Move to Warwick

A little background on Frank Flaherty. 

Born in Providence to Eugene (a mechanic by trade and service manager for a large automobile dealership) and Gertrude (a school crossing guard and homemaker) Flaherty.

Frank and his 3 brothers and sister would move to Warwick when Frank was around 10 years old.

He would attend Warwick schools and graduate from Bishop Hendricken High School.

Frank then attended and graduated from Providence College in 1968. 

After graduation, Frank joined the United States Army where he served our nation with great honor, as an Infantry Platoon Leader in Vietnam.

Frank’s service was exemplary, being awarded 3 Bronze Stars (2 for Valor, and 1 for Meritorious Service), 2 Army Commendations for Valor and Meritorious Service, 3 Air Medals, Service and Campaign medals, the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry, a Civic Action Award, and a Combat Infantryman’s Badge. 

 When he returned to Rhode Island, Frank attended Suffolk University Law School in Boston, where he received his Juris Doctor degree.

 He started his governmental career as an Assistant City Solicitor in Warwick from 1975 to 1978, leaving the position when he was elected as a Ward 6 City Councilor, serving until 1985 (his final two (2-year) terms found him unopposed).

In 1985, then Mayor Joe Walsh decided to run for Governor, so Frank decided to put his hat in the ring for the position.

It was a three-way race between Frank and two political powerhouses, Joe McGair and the late Joe Gallucci.  

Frank would prevail in the contest in what Frank described as “really good candidates.”

 Asked to describe his tenure as Mayor he said, “it’s really two full-time jobs.  It’s a full-time administrative job and a full-time political job with a small P.”  “You are constantly out and about with people at functions and events, I was more geared to be an executive rather than a legislator.  That’s why I didn’t run for Congress when the opportunity arose.  It was great stuff because I had great people around me.  I loved being with people.”

The mayor he succeeded, the legendary Joe Walsh, said this about Frank.

“Frank was especially qualified to be Mayor because prior to being Mayor he was the Labor Counsel for the City of Warwick, as well as a Councilman for 6 years.   Not only was he well prepared but add to that his natural intelligence and leadership abilities, and it was a big win for the City of Warwick!” 

Frank left the mayor’s office in 1991 after an unsuccessful run in the Democratic Gubernatorial primary.

The first of two such campaigns, with the second being a nail biter.

He would then return to practice law for about 12 years, and simultaneously kept his hand in government by serving for 5 years on the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education.

 Nominated for Supreme Court

In 2003 Frank received one of the most important telephone calls in his life from Republican Governor Donald Carcieri, telling him that he was nominating him to one of the two vacant positions on the Rhode Island Supreme Court.

 Frank said the call was “life changing.”  

He said he loved practicing law and was never really inspired to be a judge until later in life.

He further explained, “there were talks of potential judgeships, but when the Supreme Court vacancies arose, I decided to apply.”

He continued, “You have to remember I was 55 by then and the kids were out of school except for the youngest”.  He had four children with his first wife Donna, who sadly passed away in 2004.  The children are Nicole, twins Michael and Brendan, and Sean.  Frank remarried current wife Joan (Miller) in 2013.

“When I applied, I didn’t know Governor Carcieri, but he appointed me and current Chief Justice Paul Suttell.   It’s the highest form of work that a lawyer can do.  The Supreme Court has a lot of resources and hears a lot of cases.  Including sad cases.”

“I loved it because you can make a real difference.    I could have gone on, but I thought it was time.

I didn’t want to keep the seat for the sake of keeping it.   It was time for someone else to take the seat.” 

The person who took the seat, Associate Justice Erin Lynch Prata, said this of long-time family friend Justice Flaherty: “Frank remarked at the end of my first term, in a gathering of all of our Court staff, that I was the only Lynch that never voted for him for Mayor.  What he didn’t say was that I was only 10 when he ran the first time, and 15 by the time he left office!”

She continued, “Frank Flaherty is a giant not just in the Judiciary, but in the legal community as a whole.”

“Having known Justice Flaherty since I was a child, it was not until I came in to meet with him when I was appointed to the Court that he became a good friend and invaluable mentor to me.  He was patient and kind, but most importantly encouraging; someone so much more experienced, and certainly much wiser than me, treating me as an equal, telling me that I am doing a great job and that I belonged here.  Something that I am not always so sure of.”

“He answers my calls immediately and is always ready with advice, to just listen if I need him to, or to tell me to trust my instincts.”

She then added, “I moved into his chambers when he retired, and in the top desk drawer he left me a note.   Included with his advice and encouragement was the statement, “make sure to keep it all in perspective.   This is what you do, not who you are.”   That note still sits in the same spot in that drawer.”

 Frank, as you can imagine, is not about to spend his retirement years sitting on a bench in Warwick Neck feeding the seagulls.

Rather, he continues to keep his hand in the law by doing “a lot of mediation and arbitration on a private basis.”

He still teaches at Roger Williams Law School and is a long-time member of the Board of the New England Institute of Technology.  He is the Chairman of the Board of Advisors of Bishop Hendricken High School where he is an alumnus and is member of the Warwick Historic Cemetery Commission. 

I couldn’t help but ask Frank a final question while we were finishing our coffees at Café Tempo.

What does he think about politics today?

He didn’t hesitate. 

He said, “unfortunately it’s mean and more personal.   When I was in politics, the opponent was simply someone on the other team.  When it was over, we shook hands.   Now it’s much more personal.” 

Frank Flaherty will go down in history as a great patriot and leader, and one who served his City ,  State and Country with great honor.

Even though he and I are on “different teams”, I always admired him for those accomplishments.

He is also the author of the funniest line I ever heard in politics.  The hysterical fish line.

I’m proud to call him my friend.

meeting, Flahrety


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