Lloyd Griffin died on November 24, 1999, at the age of fifty nine. His memorial Mass on December 1 at Holy Rosary Church in his native Fox Point was well attended for an ordinary man; but Lloyd was not an ordinary man, and the church was far from over flowing. A few black community leaders were present- notably Cliff Montiero, Mike Van Leesten, and John Rollins--but white politicians were few. The only politico of stature was Fred Lippitt, with whom Lloyd had allied in the hotly contested Providence mayoral election of 1990.
As the Providence Journal once observed: “Griffin anchored his power on his ability to get voters to the polls--or get them to vote by absentee or mail ballot. On election day, he delivered.” But Lloyd Griffin believed that politics was more than a popularity contest. To Lloyd, it was a means of doing good and wielding power, especially economic clout. As the first black councilman from South Providence, Lloyd not only displayed legislative and governmental skills; he excelled at entrepreneurial endeavors. He combined self interest with the public interest in a commendable way. He built more housing for his constituents, provided them with more jobs, and empowered them politically to a far greater degree than any local politician of his era. More than any other single individual, he rescued South Providence from decline.
Lloyd was charismatic, he was blunt, he was strong, he was abrasive, he possessed a commanding presence; and he was successful. It is a rule of human nature that a person with these qualities is not widely liked. During his ten-year reign as councilman (1976-1986), Lloyd was envied, resented, feared, and, above all, respected, but he was not widely loved. He willingly sacrificed affection for accomplishment.
As a councilman from South Providence, Lloyd was heir to a long line of politically adroit, popular, and talented Irish American politicians. In ability and achievement, he far exceeded them all! His style was reminiscent of "Battling Bob" Quinn, Felix Toupin, and Thomas P. McCoy--Rhode Island political mavericks of an earlier era. Like them, he was investigated, castigated, denigrated, and vilified by resentful opponents.
The detractors of these earlier politicians have long been forgotten, while their targets are enshrined in Rhode Island's political pantheon. So it is with Lloyd T. Griffin, Jr.-- the dominant ward leader of his era and the greatest Afro American politician in Rhode Island's history. He has elbowed his way into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.
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