He stood for Catholic principles

Former Rhode Island Gov. J. Joseph Garrahy is being remembered for his calm leadership and strong devotion to his Catholic faith and pro-life issues. Gov. Garrahy, 81, died Tuesday evening at a West Palm Beach, Fla., hospital with his wife Margherite at his side, according to his son John, who said his father succumbed to heart disease.

“He had very strong faith and a very strong commitment to the church,” said John Garrahy, in an interview Wednesday with Rhode Island Catholic.

John, a member of St. Augustine Parish, Providence – one of five children of the governor and Margherite, his wife of 55 ½ years – said his father was a family man with a firm sense of optimism and Catholic values.

“He was absolutely wonderful. He had such a positive attitude in everything he did. He was so excited by his children’s and grandchildren’s accomplishments.”

A former beer salesman for the Narragansett Brewing Company, Garrahy began his political career as a state senator in 1962. He held the seat until 1968, when he was elected Lt. Governor. After serving nine years, he was elected to the state’s highest office. He served for four, two-year terms, as governor, from 1977 to 1985.

Former State Rep. Bill McKenna, who served as a former chairman of the Rhode Island State Right to Life Committee, and who worked on pro-life legislation with Garrahy when he served as governor, said that the governor worked very well with the late state Sen. Bob McKenna (who passed away last week), who was also well-known for his pro-life views.

“Those were the ‘Golden Years’ for pro-life legislation. We had a Democratic state pro-life platform,” said McKenna, a parishioner of St. Paul Church, Cranston.

He said Garrahy always remained true to the values instilled in him by his Irish-born parents at their home on Esten Street, a half-mile from the State House he would one day serve in.

McKenna said that perhaps Garrahy’s most important achievement in supporting pro-life issues came not through the passage of legislation, but rather through an administrative action he undertook.

Following a 1980 U.S. Supreme Court decision in the Harris v. McRae case – which held that states receiving Medicaid funding were not required to fund abortions deemed medically necessary, but which did not qualify for federal reimbursement – Garrahy denied the use of Medicaid funds to pay for most abortions in Rhode Island, a policy that is still in effect today. [More]