Barbara Papitto

Inducted: 2023
Born: 1951

Barbara A. Papitto was born in Providence on April 4, 1951, to Emile and Flora (Dandeneau) Auger. The youngest of five siblings, she grew up in the Wanskuck neighborhood of Providence with her four brothers. Her parents worked in local mills and factories, earning only minimum wage. Yet, even on the tightest budgets, her mother, Flora, always set aside money for the Catholic Church and United Way. Flora thereby taught charity to Barbara from an early age. That virtue guided Barbara through decades of volunteerism and philanthropy that undoubtedly reinforced the boundless generosity of her husband Ralph, who, unlike Flora, had millions to give to children, students, and those underserved communities in need.

While her Hall of Fame husband (Class of 2016) was creating his impressive business empire, Barbara, a St. Xavier’s Academy graduate, worked for an engineering and architectural firm that was heavily involved in building government-assisted housing in Greater Providence. Barbara’s thirst for knowledge in math and finance led Ralph to encourage her to enroll at Bryant University, his alma mater, where she received both undergraduate and graduate degrees in accounting. Her skills perfectly complemented those of Ralph.

Over the last 40 years, Barbara has given her time to organizations and causes where she believes she can make a difference. She is currently on the Board of ReFocus, Inc., a non-profit human service agency serving adults with differing physical and developmental needs and supports St. Mary Academy – Bay View.

In 2008, Ralph and Barbara founded a program to help inner-city children strengthen their reading skills and earn scholarship funds called “The Read to Succeed Program.” It has funded more than $2.2 million in scholarships thus far. In December 2020, Barbara founded the Papitto Opportunity Connection (“POC”) to create educational opportunities and to support children impacted by systemic racial injustice. Since its inception in December 2020, her POC has pledged over $55 million in multi-year grants to over 250 local organizations ranging in size from 10 million dollars to Lifespan Health Systems to hire, train, and promote 1,000 people of color to smaller grants that have an enormous impact on existing programs. She is committed to funding the POC well into the future so that Rhode Island’s communities of color know they have a partner for the long term. For Barbara and her fellow trustees, attorney John Tarantino and accountant Ed Pieroni, it was imperative that the foundation’s advisory board be composed exclusively of people of color representing different communities and areas of expertise.

Recently, Barbara was honored by the Diocese of Providence for her $4.5 million donation to complete the restoration of the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul towers. The gift is the largest single donation ever made to the Diocese of Providence. She has also established two educational endowment funds within the Catholic Foundation of Rhode Island in honor of her husband, who died in 2019 — one for students at the Bishop McVinney School in South Providence and the other for seminarians.

Barbara is transforming philanthropy with her commitment to listening to Rhode Island’s communities of color, particularly young people, and shining a light on their innovation and cultural wealth.

Barbara’s life exemplifies what theologians regard as the three essential virtues — she possesses firm faith, inspires hope, and dispenses charity. These three virtues, says Aquinas, “capture the essence of life.”

Barbara Papitto was inducted into The Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 2023.

For additional reading:
“Barbara Papitto is invested in reducing barriers for people,” Providence Journal, Feb. 4, 2022.

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