Biography - Dave Talan
Dave Talan for Mayor of Providence
Issues - Dave Talan
News Stories - Dave Talan
State of the City - Dave Talan Links - Dave Talan Contact - Dave Talan


Mary Ross 1923- 2006
The Republican Party lost a good friend with the passing of Mary Ross, the first black
Republican ever elected to the R.I. State Legistlature.
<<Back to News Stories

Population: 176,862
Elevation: 115 feet
Land area: 18.5 square miles
Remembering Mary Ross

MARY ROSS - 1923 - 2006

The R.I. Republican Party has lost a good friend with the recent passing of Mary Ross. Mary was the first Black Republican ever elected to the R.I. State Legislature.

Mary's many friends are invited to a memorial mass this Saturday, September 23 (Mary's 83rd birthday), at 4:00 P.M. in the Assumption Church on Potters Ave. in Providence; to be followed (at about 5:00 P.M.) by a reception in the West End Community Center (which Mary helped to found), where people will be able to share their memories of Mary's life. The Community Center is located at 109 Bucklin St; opposite Gilbert Stuart Middle School, which is behind Knight Memorial Library on Elmwood Ave.

Mary's election in 1992, at the age of 69, in the most heavily Democratic House District in the state (which had previously been held by the Speaker of the House), drew nationwide attention and front-page coverage from the Providence Journal.

The Editor of this Update was Mary's campaign manager in that race, and served as her Administrative Assistant while she held office. I had first met Mary 20 years earlier, when she was a leader in P.A.C.E. (People Acting through Community Effort), the coalition of block clubs on Providence's South Side and West End, which fought for services from the city government. We hit it off right away, and remained close friends ever since.

It was refreshing to see the State Legislature from the viewpoint of a 70-something outsider, who was always amazed at the things that went on at the State House. Mary would call me every morning at 7:30 A.M. to describe what had happened the previous night, at the lengthy evening sessions. I remember one night, when she called me at 11:00 P.M., and said "We got out early tonight, so I thought I would call you now, instead of waiting until the morning."

Mary never took advantage of the perks that a legislator had available (even though she was only paid $300 a year at the time). She did not even take the special license plates available to legislators. There was only one special privilege that Mary truly enjoyed. She loved calling radio talk shows, and was thrilled that, when she called Arlene Violet's show, she got on right away, instead of being put on hold for 45 minutes.

The most important thing in Mary's life was her family. She was the matriarch of a large clan, now numbering over 100 children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, and great-great-grandchildren. She got personally involved in all their problems and accomplishments. But as large as her family was, there was always room for more. Because I spent so much time at her house, she said I was "like a son" to her. Sometimes, when introducing me to a stranger, she would forget to use the word "like", and would introduce me as her son. Since I am white and she was Black, I often got some strange looks from the other person, as if they were trying to figure out who the father could possibly be.

The following story from Wednesday's Providence Journal, describes a little more of who Mary was.

Bob Kerr: Mary Ross was the woman people called
01:00 AM EDT on Friday, September 22, 2006

There was no funeral for Mary Ross, no viewing of her body. That's the way she wanted it.

"She wanted it to be festive," says Joanne Scott, Ross's daughter. "My mom did not want people sitting around crying."

So tomorrow, following a memorial Mass in Assumption Church on Potter's Avenue, there will be a celebration of Mary Ross' life at the West End Community Center, in Providence. There will be an open microphone. People can say how they were touched by this life force in the West End.

Ross, who got her GED and driver's license when she was 50 and a seat in the state House of Representatives when she was 69, would have been 83 tomorrow. She died two weeks ago at the home of her daughter, Gloria Searight, on Sassafras Street, in Providence.

There are few like her, and it is doubtful anyone will fill the special place she occupied in her community. Ross, who retired as a teaching assistant in Providence, was the one who insisted that things work as they're supposed to. She was the one who got in the face of drug dealers and slumlords. She was the one who people in the West End called.

As we talked of Mary Ross Wednesday morning, three of her nine children -- Searight and Scott and Herb Ross, Ross's son -- sorted through just a small part of the collection of citations, proclamations, photographs and newspaper clippings that tell of a life well-lived, whether in the peaceful company of the birds in her backyard or the more contentious company of politicians on Smith Hill.

On one of the plaques given at one of many tributes are the words "For doing things that others would not do, could not do or couldn't find the time to do to make the West End a better neighborhood."

Mary Ross did things, and many of them involved the Bucklin Street pool, which she supervised for 11 years during the summer.

It was there, from her seat on the deck overlooking the pool, that she got to know and befriend and counsel hundreds of children. And it was there that she saw the drug dealers brazenly doing business. Sometimes, she confronted them. Sometimes, she went to City Hall, to the office of then Mayor Buddy Cianci, to demand action on not just the drug dealing but the prostitution, public drinking, bad housing and the long list of problems that kept the neighborhood from being what she knew it could be.

Gloria Searight said Wednesday that she wished Cianci could be at tomorrow's celebration at the community center. He would have good things to say about her mother.

"She cared," says Scott, "and she tried to improve the quality of life of everybody around her."

Herb Ross remembers when he was young and he had to shovel snow and cut the grass for neighbors. It was part of being Mary Ross's son.

Searight says there were times when her mother was a state representative and she would call her at 11 at night and she wouldn't be home. She would be off dealing with a constituent concern.

"Everybody knew you could call Miss Ross," says Scott.

The children say they were actually relieved that Ross didn't serve a second term in the legislature. They thought she needed to slow down some in her early 70s.

Then she was appointed to the state Board of Regents.

It will be hard to find the next Mary Ross. It might be impossible.

Tomorrow, someone will walk to the microphone and properly call her a legend in the West End. / (401) 277-7252
Online at:

Home - Dave Talan Get Involved - Dave Talan Events - Dave Talan
Copyright 2006-2007. Dave Talan for Mayor. All Rights Reserved.