John O. Pastore, 93, a Rhode Island Democrat who became an eloquent and highly respected force on Capitol Hill while serving in the Senate from 1950 to 1976, died July 15 at a nursing home in North Kingstown, R.I. He had Parkinson's disease and dementia.
During his years in the Senate, he became a senior member of the Commerce and Appropriations committees and had served for a time as joint chairman of the Joint Committee on Atomic Energy. He also also had chaired Commerce's communications subcommittee, which had jurisdiction over television and radio.
The diminutive Rhode Islander (he stood 5-feet-4-inches) had been a powerful Senate voice in both senses of the word. A booming orator and former trial lawyer, he is remembered by many for the rousing stem-winding speech he gave as keynote speaker at the 1964 Democratic National Convention in Atlantic City.
His attack on Republican presidential nominee Sen. Barry Goldwater (Ariz.), eloquent recollections of the recently slain Democratic President John F. Kennedy, and ringing defense of the policies and person of the soon-to-be 1964 Democratic presidential nominee, President Lyndon B. Johnson, brought the convention to its feet with a roar.
Sen. Pastore had used his eloquence and keen intelligence on a variety of historic Senate actions. He had been a prominent floor leader in both the successful fight for some of the most controversial portions of the historic Civil Rights Act of 1964.
Long regarded as an authority on atomic energy and all things nuclear, he had been an influential voice in leading the confirmation of the first nuclear test ban treaty, traveling to Moscow for its signing in 1963. He also introduced a nuclear nonproliferation treaty to the Senate, managing it to passage in a vote of 83 to 0.
From his communications subcommittee chair, he had been an early critic of what he regarded as excessive portrayal of both sex and violence on network television. And as both a New Englander and a sports fan, he was instrumental in getting network executives to modify their rules concerning the "blackout" of major sports events.
He also was the author of some of the first modern legislation to limit spending by candidates for federal offices.
John Orlando Pastore was born in Providence, R.I. His father, an immigrant tailor, died when Sen. Pastore was nine years old. His mother raised her five children working as a seamstress. The future senator, who began working as a clerk at an early age, managed to receive a law degree from Boston's Northeastern University, which he accomplished by taking courses the law school offered at the Providence YMCA.
In 1932, Mr. Pastore became a lawyer, opening offices in the basement of the family home. In 1934, he was elected to the Rhode Island House of Representatives and won reelection in 1936. In 1937 and 1938, and again from 1940 to 1944, he served as an assistant state attorney general.
In 1944, he was elected lieutenant governor of Rhode Island, becoming governor in 1945 when the incumbent, J. Howard McGrath, resigned to become U.S. solicitor general. Sen. Pastore won the governorship on his own in 1946 and again in 1948, despite instituting an unpopular sales tax.
His success was attributed to his honesty, oratory, his good relations with the press, and his ability to keep his finger on the political pulse of the voter. One of his methods of doing this was to eat lunch each day in the statehouse cafeteria.
In 1950, he won election to a two-year term in the U.S. Senate. The vacancy was caused by the resignation, again, of McGrath. This time, the former governor and solicitor general resigned to become U.S. attorney general.
Sen. Pastore was elected to a full six-year term in 1952 and won landslide reelection victories in 1958, 1964, and 1970. He did not run for reelection in 1976 and resigned his seat in December of that year.
If he will be remembered in Washington for his speaking ability, the skillful use of his committee assignments and a combative integrity, he may be best remembered in Rhode Island as the first Italian American to win election as governor and senator and as a man who dominated the state's political scene for decades without losing a single election.
In retirement, he had maintained homes in Cranston and Narragansett, R.I. He had spent the past three years in the nursing home where he died.
Survivors include his wife, Elena; a son, Dr. John O. Pastore Jr. of Winchester, Mass.; two daughters, Francesca Pastore and Louise M. Harbourt, both of Springfield; two sisters; seven grandchildren; and three great-grandchildren.