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Portraits of four CCRI presidents are unveiled

Aug. 3, 2015

Nearly 100 staff, students, alumni, faculty and guests gathered at the Community College of Rhode Island’s Knight Campus in Warwick on July 30 to view the unveiling of portraits of each of the college’s four presidents.

The portraits, a gift of the first graduating Class of 1966 to mark the college’s 50th anniversary celebration, are enlarged black-and-white photographs depicting founding president Dr. William F. Flanagan, Edward J. Liston, Dr. Thomas D. Sepe, and current president Ray Di Pasquale. They hang together for the first time in the fourth-floor board room.

“We’re the only college I’ve been to that doesn’t have pictures of the presidents hanging on campus,” said Di Pasquale before each man was celebrated individually for his considerable accomplishments and contributions to the rich history of CCRI.

The program was brief but brimming with emotion, with each portrait unveiled by someone of significance to the subject. Members of the Flanagan family – including sons James and Jack and daughter Ellen – were on hand to pay tribute to their father. Under Flanagan’s leadership, the college ultimately would move from its humble beginnings in a rented factory space, where it was known as “the Miracle on Promenade,” to its main campus in Warwick and expand to add the campus later named in his honor in Lincoln. He served the college until 1979.

“My father would be so thrilled that the Miracle on Promenade became what it is today. The dream continues,” said Jack Flanagan after uncovering the portrait. 

Flanagan also recalled his father coming into his room at the Knight Estate, where the family lived, to tell him the news that his successor, Edward J. Liston, had been selected.

Liston, who died in 2013, continued to expand the purview of the college’s credit and noncredit offerings and shepherded the college through a name change. What began as Rhode Island Junior College became the Community College of Rhode Island in 1980, and a new era of the college’s history began. Liston retired in 2000.

On hand to honor Liston’s memory was his longtime administrative assistant, Linda Sincerny, who worked for him from 1978-89. She recalled him as “the easiest, hardest, most difficult, energetic and insightful person” in her remarks after unveiling his portrait.

“It was a pleasure and an honor to serve him,” she said, citing his open-door policy and his willingness to hand over the reins and let his employees prove themselves.

Sincerny returned to the college and Liston in 1995, and would serve the college’s third president, Sepe, from 2000 until he left the office in 2005. Sepe, after an introduction and portrait unveiling from wife Deborah Aiken, retired associate dean of Enrollment Services, took the floor to speak to the “overwhelming” honor of being commemorated with his counterparts in this way.

“Presidents hold unique positions in organizations,” he said. “The sense of having been in that big chair is something we all share.”

It was Sepe who oversaw the planning for the Newport County Campus, which opened in 2005. He reminisced about bittersweet memories of changing of the guard, dealing with difficult situations and joking about heeding advice from successors. “We each in our own way contributed to CCRI. But we were all here to serve students better. That’s what we’re about.”

Finally, it was Sondra Pitts ’66 who, standing next to former commissioner of the Rhode Island Board of Governors for Higher Education Jack Warner, unveiled the portrait of Di Pasquale.

“You not only met, but far exceeded everyone’s expectations,” said Pitts. “You made the Miracle on Promenade the pride of Rhode Island.”

Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian briefly feted Di Pasquale, who will depart his post as soon as a successor is found. “It’s always nice to be able to look back and know where you’ve been,” Avedisian said of the portrait unveiling event. “We are here today because of these four people.”

Di Pasquale called his tenure as president “a remarkable experience,” saying, “It doesn’t get any better than this.”

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Last Updated: 8/25/16