by Florence Markoff

The story of Rhode Island's first Italian-American governor and United States senator.


Circa 1958 campaign postcard.

The place is the convention hall of the Democratic Political Convention in Atlantic City, New Jersey. The year is 1964. The atmosphere is packed with excitement as a small man steps to the podium and starts to speak. The audience is about to hear the keynote speaker of the evening.

As the immense audience listens, they recognize a great oratorical talent. Millions of television viewers all over the country see and hear the speaker for the first time, but Rhode Islanders know him well. They have followed the career of John Orlando Pastore for many years.

Pastore was born on Balbo Avenue in the heart of Federal Hill in Providence. It was the beginning of the twentieth century and Federal Hill was a new home for thousands of Italians pouring into America. Pastore's mother, a young woman just arrived from Italy, never dreamed that her second son would one day be Rhode Island's first governor and United States senator of Italian descent.

After graduating cum laude from Classical High School, Pastore couldn't afford to go to college and went directly to work. At his mother's insistence, he enrolled in a night law course given by Northeastern University at the Providence YMCA. After he passed the bar in 1932, in the depths of the Great Depression, he opened his first law office in his mother's sun parlor. It didn't take long for his abilities to be noticed. He was elected to the state assembly and then went on to the Attorney General's office. As a state prosecutor, he showed his skill as an orator. His rich resonant voice would boom through the courthouse corridors.

His career became meteoric. He was elected lieutenant governor [1944-1945], then twice as governor [1945-1950], and finally United States senator [1950-1976].

There were those who said his spectacular career was possible only because he was at the right place at the right time. But political scientists saw more than just extraordinary luck in his career. They described his life as one of those rare life dramas when the man and the hour meet… and the man stands up and is ready to face the challenge of the times.

It was a long, difficult journey from Balbo Avenue in Providence to the governorship and the United States Senate. The mantle of leadership was carried in true Rhode Island spirit by John Orlando Pastore—a Rhode Island Portrait in Sound.

Providence resident Florence Markoff (1927-2017) was a speaker, performer, storyteller, and radio personality.

The story of John Orlando Pastore, Rhode Island's first Italian-American governor and United States senator, is featured on Rhode Island Portraits in Sound, volume 1.

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This article last edited January 28, 2003

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