The marvelous story of Rhode Island’s own John Joseph McLaughlin leads one through more twists and turns than a Rocky Point roller coaster. Born on March 29, 1927 to Augustus and Eva (Turcotte) McLaughlin, he grew up in the neighborhoods of Edgewood and Mount Pleasant. His earliest run at greatness included stints as a pharmacy soda jerk, Triggs greenskeeper and caddy, Narragansett Park racetrack money-runner and a stock boy at Shepard’s department store.
After successfully negotiating Blessed Sacrament Elementary School and LaSalle Academy, John entered the seminary, was ordained a Jesuit priest in 1960, obtained Master’s degree in Philosophy and English from Boston College, and ultimately received a doctorate in Communications from Columbia University.
He put his academic training to good use, teaching at Fairfield Prep and Fairfield University and serving associate editor of America magazine, a Jesuit publication. In a stunning change of direction, John “tiptoed” onto the political scene in 1970 by brashly challenging the iconic Senator John Pastore in McLaughlin’s very first, and Pastore’s very last, political campaign.
Garnering almost one-third of the vote, McLaughlin soon became a fixture on the national political stage. He was quickly recruited by the Nixon administration and became a presidential speechwriter, a stint which continued into the Ford White House. With his forces deploying in other theaters of action, he sought and received release of his priestly commitments in 1975.
In his new status, he blitzed the national lecture circuit, seized a position as the Washington editor of the National Review, mustered up a public relations firm, and launched his immediately successful television enterprise–The McLaughlin Group.
Hard-hitting, provocative, innovative, controversial, and always entertaining, McLaughlin’s trend-setting show took the national television industry by storm. Imitated but never equaled, John McLaughlin pioneered and mastered the panel/debate format that in 2015 will be approaching its 35th year of unbridled popularity.
Incubation in little Rhode Island most certainly did not produce a timid Hall-of-Famer. Ronald Reagan once observed, “The United States needs a tax increase like John McLaughlin needs assertiveness training.” John McLaughlin is indeed a Rhode Island original; our own swashbuckler on loan to the nation.