Bob “Chief” Lynch was known for his volunteer contributions to the preservation and promotion of Rhode Island’s heritage over the last four decades.
Lynch graduated from Cranston High School and Brown University (Class of 1944). He was a Navy veteran of World War II. He served on the Harry F. Bauer in the Pacific, and participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima. His unit received a presidential citation for shooting down 13 enemy planes during the Battle of Okinawa. Lynch worked at Taco Heaters for 22 years, and had been vice president of marketing. He had also worked at Textron and Carol Cable.
Robert and his wife, Viola, led a community-wide effort in Cranston to save the Governor Sprague Mansion from demolition. By that time, they had already rescued the Joy Homestead, in western Cranston, and helped to convert it into the headquarters of the Cranston Historical Society. The campaign to preserve the Sprague Mansion was successful. Bob Lynch, a prominent Cranston businessman, was the unanimous choice for president. Viola was affectionately known as the “lady who saved Sprague Mansion.”
In 1974, Bob espoused another cause: the revival of the Pawtuxet Rangers, a unit founded in 1774. The Bicentennial Commission helped fund the reorganization of the Rangers as a Rhode Island militia unit. Bob Lynch became its colonel and displayed his gratitude to the commission by offering the services of the Rangers for dozens of Bicentennial events.
Bob Lynch became so involved that he earned a seat on the state commission and the chairmanship of the Parades, Festivals and Re-enactments Committee of ri76. In that position, he supervised a host of Bicentennial pageants, including the parade that attracted over 100,000 spectators to downtown Providence. At this procession, Col. Bob Lynch led his scarlet-coated Rangers along the line of march as he had done in countless celebrations around the state and region, especially the Gaspee Days Parade.
Whether marching in Providence, Warwick, Bristol, Newport, Glocester, Pawtucket or outside state, Colonel Lynch made a memorable impression. Tall, erect, handsome, dignified, this World War II Navy veteran of Iwo Jima and Okinawa became the poster boy of the Rhode Island militia. His no-nonsense demeanor at the head of his unit recalled the seriousness of purpose that had motivated America’s militiamen when these historic commands were first mobilized.
When the Bicentennial was over, Bob served as a volunteer member of the Rhode Island Heritage Commission, eventually becoming its president. He held that position in 1986, during its observance of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Rhode Island.
In addition to his statewide activities, Bob was for over 40 years a member of the Cranston Historical Society, and for several years was its president. Lynch was also an active member of the Cranston Historic District Commission, and worked to on the Carpionato Property project at the former boys’ training school. In addition, he was a vice president of the Cranston Chamber of Commerce, an officer of the Providence Art Club, a member of the Preservation Society of Newport County and a member of the board of managers of the YMCA.
Bob’s Cranston High School sweetheart and lifetime partner, Viola Bak Lynch, embarked with him on another historic-preservation project when they were both at retirement age by establishing the Nathaniel Porter Inn, in Warren. They meticulously restored a rundown 18th Century house and operated it as a quaint inn and restaurant, whose excellence was extolled by Yankee Magazine and several history publications.
Though in their 70s, Bob and Vi commuted daily from their home, on Comstock Parkway, in western Cranston, to run their Warren enterprise. Among the inn’s many patrons were National Guard generals, militiamen and re-enactors who reveled in the programs that Bob and Vi devised for their entertainment and cultural enrichment.
In 2001, Vi Lynch succumbed to cancer. Bob was devastated. He remained still courtly and gracious, but the spark of life had left him. He sold the Inn and retired shortly thereafter.
Bob Lynch is among the 10 Rhode Islanders who had made the greatest volunteer effort over the last half-century to promote our state’s heritage. He was not only a great preservationist and businessman, but also a kind and caring man. He was eager to share his knowledge and was known for his guiding principles.
-Patrick T. Conley