Leonard J. Panaggio of Newport was one of Rhode Islands all-time leaders in the promotion of tourism to the Ocean State. Few, if any, before or since, have done as much to promote Rhode Island, and especially Newport, as a tourist destination. Len worked so diligently in the tourism field not only because of his love for the history of Rhode Island, as expressed in his writings, but because he recognized tourism as an industry that could promote the Rhode Island economy. His influence in that industry earned him nationwide attention and respect from the time he became Rhode Islands first tourism director in 1952 until his retirement three (1919-2012) decades later in 1983. During that period he was named State Tourism Director of the Year in 1974 by the Travel Industry Association of America. Len was born in his beloved Newport on February 26,1919, the son of Italian immigrant parents. After graduation from Rogers High School in 1938, he served in the U.S. Army Air Corps in North Africa where he met his wife and lifetime partner, Monique, in Casablanca, Morocco. After the war, Len returned to Newport and briery edited a weekly local newspaper. He was admitted to Brown University, but instead chose a position as director of public relations at Old Sturbridge Village where he could both finance and promote his passion for history. Len returned to Rhode Island in 1952 to become chief of the states Tourist Promotion Division where his dynamism, dedication, and energy made Rhode Island a major tourist destination. He was Rhode Islands premier “rooster booster,” often providing hands- on work for such events as the Newport Jazz Festival, several Americas Cup competitions, the Atlantic Tuna Tournament at Galilee, the Tall Ships visits, the Newport International Sailboat Show, and the Bicentennial of American Independence. After his retirement Len wrote a widely-read and respected column called the “Grist Mill” for the Newport Daily News in which he disseminated his vast knowledge of local history. Len was active in numerous heritage-oriented organizations including The Preservation Society of Newport County, where Monique served as public relations director, the Redwood Library, the Newport Public Library, and the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame on which he is a director emeritus. Len and his wife had two children, Leonard and Madeleine, both residents of Aquidneck Island. He died on February 1, 2012 a few weeks prior to his 93 rd birthday.
Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame
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