John O. Pastore, a former Rhode Island governor and U.S. senator who made his mark with a gift for oratory, has died of kidney failure. He was 93.
Pastore, who died Saturday, had been in a North Kingstown nursing home for treatment of Parkinson's disease.
The son of Italian immigrants, the Democrat Pastore became one of the most respected senators ever produced by Rhode Island. His political career included about four years as the state's governor and 25 years in the Senate; he was the first Italian American to serve in either role.
While in the Senate, Pastore worked hard for passage of the first nuclear test ban treaty, and he became a power on atomic energy and TV regulation, heading committees dealing with both.
"What one man creates today, another will imitate and emulate tomorrow," Pastore said prophetically in 1966 when he introduced a Senate resolution urging a halt to the proliferation of nuclear weapons. "Any nation willing to pay the price can achieve nuclear capability."
He was a little man with a booming voice. Pastore's speaking skills first came to national attention when he delivered the keynote address at the 1964 Democratic National Convention. Reportedly hand-tapped by President Lyndon B. Johnson, Pastore launched a scathing attack on Johnson's Republican rival, U.S. Sen. Barry Goldwater.
At the time, Associated Press wrote of Pastore's fiery speech, which earned him a standing ovation: "The little Rhode Islander, who stands no taller than a two-pound keg of mail-it-home salt water taffy, was in the grand tradition of convention orators."
A Times Washington Bureau writer who had watched Pastore on the Senate floor added: "For a decade he has delighted the public galleries with quick jabs and slashing blows at Senate adversaries who tower above him."
Actually 5 feet 5, Pastore earned nicknames twitting both his diminutive stature and his home state's fame for a breed of chickens known as Rhode Island Reds. The senator was referred to by colleagues and pundits in bird-like nomenclature as "the bantam" and "the gamecock of the Senate."
The politician rose from humble beginnings. His parents raised five children in a four-room tenement apartment on Providence's Federal Hill, the city's working-class "Little Italy." When he was 9, his father, a tailor, died of heart failure, and his mother got a job as a seamstress to support the family.
After graduating from high school, Pastore worked as a clerk at a Rhode Island utility company. But it was law that intrigued him, so he began attending classes conducted by Boston's Northeastern University two nights a week at the Providence YMCA. He eventually graduated from Northeastern with a bachelor of laws degree.
Pastore was elected to the Rhode Island General Assembly in 1934, was reelected two years later, and served as the state's assistant attorney general in 1937-38 and 1940-44.
In 1944, he was elected lieutenant governor, and the following year, at age 36, he became governor when J. Howard McGrath resigned.
Pastore was reelected governor twice before winning a Senate seat in 1950.
He is survived by his wife, Elena; two daughters, Francesca Pastore and Louise M. Harbourt; and a son, John Jr., who was a major figure in the International Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, which won the 1985 Nobel Peace Prize.