Nuala Pell was a woman whom Phillipe and Jorge liked, admired, and respected, and we are saddened by her death this week at the age of 89. The homages paid to her — concentrating on her dedication to the arts and humanities, and her dedication, most of all, to the state of Rhode Island — are well deserved. But perhaps we can add a few fillips that will doubtless not appear in other tributes.
Mrs. Pell was tacitly regarded as the everyday dressing gatekeeper for her famously oblivious husband, Senator Stillborn, who cared little about fashion. P&J are sure there were many times when he was sent back to his room by Nuala to change before hitting the street. One notable instance when that didn’t occur was during the 1989 Brenton Reef oil spill, which happened late at night. Phillipe encountered the senator at the Newport Coast Guard station in the wee morning hours, where he was dressed in a lime green shirt, an orange-ish tweed sport coat, and checked pants. Even a golfer couldn’t have dressed as badly. As P waited in line behind Stillborn for the sole phone at the station, he had the audacity to actually turn down the man’s mussed shirt collar, which the senator turned and thanked him for doing. The joke that day among the media reptiles was that Stillborn had obviously dressed himself and departed before Nuala was awake.
Nuala was also courageous in the way she supported the gay activism of her daughter, Julie, a friend of P&J’s who died of cancer in 2006. While her husband was late getting on board with the idea of Julie being a lesbian, Nuala was there front and center backing up her daughter at public events. No small move by a senator’s wife.
Nuala also had the distinction of being close to Albert Einstein when Claiborne was a lecturer at Princeton. Crazy old Al lived in the same apartment building as the Pells and evidently taught the young wife how her to balance her checkbook, for which he was repaid with a few home-cooked dinners. Who knew?
Finally, Phillipe had the chance to work on a health commission with Ms. Pell, doing the writing, editing, and printing of a report that was released at a big luncheon ceremony at the Providence Marriott. Just before the rollout was to begin, P’s boss encountered him, furious, saying, “Nuala Pell just noticed there wasn’t a union ‘bug’ [a small stamped logo showing something is union-printed] on the report. Did you use a non-union printer?!?” Fortunately for P’s career and life, he explained that the union printer he used had already told him about failing to include the bug on the back cover. The fact that Mrs. Pell spotted the omission made P marvel at her attention to detail.
She was one of Rhode Island’s all-time great women — and she lived on her own terms, to be sure.
The political climate
P&J urge anyone interested in climate change and how Rhode Island plans to deal with it in the future to attend the Gubernatorial Climate Change Forum on Thursday, April 24 at Brown’s List Art Building beginning at 9 am. The event is co-sponsored by the Environment Council of RI and ecoRI News.