We lost one of the good guys today. Rhode Island's Senator Claiborne Pell, largely out of the public eye following his retirement from the Senate in 1996 due to Parkinson's Disease, passed away shortly after midnight today.
While local radio hosts enjoyed mocking his odd speaking style and failing memory over the last few years, the almost 55 million Americans who received government aid to go to college since 1972 should be thanking Senator Pell tonight for his pioneering work to create the Basic Education Opportunity Grant Program, now better known as Pell Grants. He helped write the charter for the U.N., wrote the legislation creating the National Endowments for the Arts and the Humanities, served in the Coast Guard (starting as a ship's cook despite his wealthy and aristocratic background and eventually retiring as a Captain), and was a fixture in Rhode Island for my entire life. Along with the late Senator John Chafee, Pell illustrated how government could and should work to help better the lives of all Americans through opportunity and education.
Sadly, there seem to have been too few politicians like Pell and Chafee recently. Hopefully, that might change in the next few years.
Rest in peace, Senator.