Mr. Licht, formerly of Providence, was Governor of the State of Rhode Island from 1969 to 1973, and served as an Associate Justice of the Superior Court from 1956 to 1968. He was also a member of the State Senate for seven years, and was the only Rhode Island Governor to serve in all three branches of Ste Government. His active involvement with the community benefitted many organizations, particularly the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, the Jewish Federation of Rhode Island, and Butler Hospital.
Frank Licht was born in Providence and obtained a bachelor’s degree from Brown University in 1938 Following his graduation from Harvard Law School, Licht was admitted to the Rhode Island Bar. He then clerked for a member of the First U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston; later becoming a partner in the Providence law firm of Letts & Quinn. He stayed from Letts & Quinn from 1943-1946 before turning his attention to the general welfare of the state.
Licht entered into Rhode Island politics, serving as a state Senator from 1949 to 1956 and then as a judge on the state Superior Court. He sat on the Superior Court of Rhode Island from 1956 to 1968. During t his time, Licht was founding member of the Providence Human Rights Commission, served as the Chairman of the Chapin Hospital Commission, and was a general lecturer at Bryant College.
In 1968, Licht ran for the Democratic nominee for Governor of Rhode Island as the underdog candidate against three term incumbent, U.S. Senator, John Chafee. On November 5, 1968, Licht beat Chafee by a narrow margin of 51% of the vote. He became the first Jewish Governor of the state of Rhode Island, serving from 1969 to 1973.
Licht’s governorship was marked by controversey. Prior to running for governor, Licht ran on a platform opposing the imposition of a state income tax. Licht ultimately introduced such a tax, temporarily at first but thereafter became permanent. However, Licht was determined to help the state and created the Rhode Island Industrial Building Authority, designed to guarantee mortgages or new manufacturing plants, and established the nation’s first statewide job skills bank. He also promoted legislation that would permit the selection of delegates to presidential conventions by direct public vote. Licht created a Board of Regents to oversee public education and two new social services departments: the Department of Social Rehabilitation Services and the Department of Mental Health, Retardation, and Hospitals. Licht used his law experience to initiate state- and federally-funded criminal rehabilitation programs, established youth services bureaus to help keep young people out of trouble, enacted legislation giving courts the option to commit drug users to specialized rehabilitative programs rather than penal institutions, created a fifteen-member Drug Abuse Control Council to advise the governor and legislature in the field of drug addiction and rehabilitation, and reorganized the District Court system.
Licht was also an environmentalist, playing a big role in revitalizing the New England Water Pollution Control Commission. He created an eleven-member Governor’s Council on Environmental Quality, expanding regulatory authority against air and water pollution, and providing tax credits to businesses that included pollution-control systems into their operations. The Licht administration also regulated the use of pesticides.
After leaving office, Licht returned to law. His services to the state were honored in 1986 when the Providence County Courthouse, where the Rhode Island Superior Court, the Rhode Island Supreme Court, and the Rhode Island Law Library are located, and where Licht served as a Justice on the Rhode Island Superior Court, was named the Frank Licht Judicial Complex.
Frank Licht died of cancer on May 30, 1987. He was survived by his father, Jacob Licht; his wife, Dorothy; his three daughters, and four grandchildren. His nephew, Richard Licht, has followed in Frank Licht’s footsteps, practicing law; serving as state senator and lieutenant governor; working as a lobbyist; playing a central role in the expansion of T.F. Green Airport and the construction of Providence Place mall; leading the management of Rhode Island’s financial and human resources and in 2014, becoming a Superior Court judge.