John Orlando Pastore was born in the Federal Hill section of Providence on March 17, 1907 to Michele and Erminia (Asprinio) Pastore. He married Elena Caito in 1941, and the couple had three children, Dr. John O., Jr., Frances Elizabeth, and Louise Marie. John attended Providence public schools and received his Bachelor of Law degree from Northeastern University in Boston, Massachusetts after studying in its school’s Providence extension in the YMCA.
John began his public service with his election to the House of Representatives in 1934. He was reelected two years later and served as attorney general in 1937-1938, and then again from 1940-1944. Chosen by the Democrats to be the running mate to the popular J. Howard McGrath in 1944, Lieutenant Governor Pastore rose to the position as governor the following year when McGrath resigned to accept the post of United States Solicitor General in October 1945. The first Italian American governor in the country, Pastore was elected in his own right in November 1946, and reelected in 1948.
Winning a Senate seat in 1950, he served until his retirement in 1976. Pastore then returned to the state and contributed to Democratic politics and Rhode Island industry. Awarded honorary degrees from Providence College, Rhode Island College of Education (RIC), Rhode Island College of Pharmacy (URI), Bryant College, Brown University, Northeastern University, and Salve Regina College, Senator Pastore was recognized throughout the country as an advocate for the underprivileged and the downtrodden of all ethnicities. Throughout his career, he worked to improve the state’s industrial development and was very supportive of President Lyndon Johnson’s civil rights and Great Society programs. In fact, he was instrumental in the passage of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and earned recognition for his stirring keynote address to the Democratic National Convention that same year.
Serving on the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy, Pastore advocated the responsible development of atomic energy and contributed to the passage of the Limited Nuclear Test Ban Treaty of 1963 and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty of 1969. According to the Senator, “somehow we’ve got to develop the technique of living together in a spirit of peace unless we expect the world and civilization to be destroyed.”
In addition, Pastore served on the Senate Commerce Subcommittee on Communications where he is best known for the creation of the Communications Satellite Corporation in 1962 and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting five years later. Pastore petitioned for responsible censorship of the airwaves. One of Rhode Island’s most prolific and popular leaders, Pastore died on July 15, 2000, at the age of 93, and was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1972. The state medical health center near his Cranston home has been named in his honor, and in 2007, his son, Dr. John O. Pastore, a medical missionary (Doctors Without Borders) and advocate of international peace, joined his father in the Hall of Fame.
For further reading: Morgenthau, Ruth. Pride Without Prejudice: The Life of John O. Pastore. Providence: Rhode Island Historical Society, 1989.
Debra A. Mulligan