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John Chafee
John Chafee.jpg
United States Senator
from Rhode Island
In office
December 29, 1976 – October 24, 1999
Preceded byJohn Pastore
Succeeded byLincoln Chafee
Chair of the Senate Environment Committee
In office
January 4, 1995 – October 24, 1999
Preceded byMax Baucus
Succeeded byBob Smith
60th United States Secretary of the Navy
In office
January 31, 1969 – May 4, 1972
PresidentRichard Nixon
Preceded byPaul Ignatius
Succeeded byJohn Warner
66th Governor of Rhode Island
In office
January 1, 1963 – January 7, 1969
LieutenantEdward P. Gallogly
Giovanni Folcarelli
Joseph O'Donnell
Preceded byJohn Notte
Succeeded byFrank Licht
Personal details
John Lester Hubbard Chafee

(1922-10-22)October 22, 1922
Providence, Rhode Island, U.S.
DiedOctober 24, 1999(1999-10-24) (aged 77)
Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
Political partyRepublican
Spouse(s)Virginia Coates
Children6, including Lincoln
EducationYale University (BA)
Harvard University (LLB)
AwardsPresidential Medal of Freedom
Military service
AllegianceUnited States of America
Branch/service United States Marine Corps
Years of service1942–1945
US Marine O3 shoulderboard.svg
Battles/warsWorld War II
 • Guadalcanal Campaign
 • Battle of Okinawa
Korean War
 • Battle of Chosin Reservoir

John Lester Hubbard Chafee (/ˈf/ CHAY-fee; October 22, 1922 – October 24, 1999) was an American politician and officer in the United States Marine Corps. A member of the Republican Party (United States), he served as the 66th Governor of Rhode Island, as the Secretary of the Navy, and as a United States Senator.

Early life and family

Chafee was born in Providence, Rhode Island, to a politically active family. He was the son of Janet Melissa (née Hunter) and John Sharpe Chafee.[1] His great-grandfather, Henry Lippitt, was governor of Rhode Island (1875–1877) and among his great-uncles were a Rhode Island governor, Charles Warren Lippitt, and United States Senator Henry Frederick Lippitt. His uncle, Zechariah Chafee, was a Harvard law professor, and a notable civil libertarian. His cousin was Frederick Lippitt, former House Minority Leader for the Rhode Island House of Representatives. He had two daughters and four sons, one of whom is former Rhode Island Governor and former United States Senator Lincoln Chafee. One of his daughters, Tribbie, died following an accident at a horse show in October 1968 at the age of 14.

John Chafee graduated from a coeducational primary school, Providence's Gordon School, in 1931 and then attended Providence Country Day School. In 1940, he graduated from Deerfield Academy in Massachusetts.[2]

Marine Corps service

Chafee was in his third year as an undergraduate at Yale University when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor.[3] He interrupted his undergraduate studies and enlisted in the Marine Corps,[4] spending his 20th birthday fighting on the island of Guadalcanal from August 8 until November 1942, when the First Marine Division was relieved. After receiving his commission as a second lieutenant, he fought in the Battle of Okinawa in the spring of 1945.

Following the war, he received degrees from Yale University in 1947 and Harvard Law School in 1950. At Yale, he was a member of the Delta Kappa Epsilon (Phi chapter) and Skull and Bones fraternities. In 1951, he was recalled to active service to be a Marine rifle company commander during the Korean War with Dog Company, 2nd Battalion, 7th Marines.[5]

Author James Brady in his memoir of the Korean War and serving as a Marine under Chafee writes: "Nowhere, at any time, did John Chafee serve more nobly than he did as a Marine officer commanding a rifle company in the mountains of North Korea." and that "He was the only truly great man I've yet met in my life..."[6]

Chafee's military awards include three awards of the Presidential Unit Citation, the Asiatic-Pacific Campaign Medal, the World War II Victory Medal, the Korean Service Medal and the United Nations Korea Medal.

Early political career

Chafee became active in behind-the-scenes Rhode Island politics by helping elect a mayor of Providence in the early 1950s. He successfully ran for a seat in the Rhode Island House of Representatives in 1956 and later became the minority leader. He was re-elected in 1958 and 1960, the latter a year when many Republicans were swept from office in his state.

Governor of Rhode Island

Official portrait in the Rhode Island State House
Official portrait in the Rhode Island State House

Chafee was elected governor in 1962, defeating Democratic incumbent John A. Notte Jr. The election was notable for being one of the narrowest in Rhode Island history, Chafee received 50.06% of the vote to Notte's 49.94%, winning by a margin of just 0.12%. However, Chafee quickly became popular with both Rhode Island's Republicans and Democrats, allowing him to win by much larger margins in 1964 and 1966. As governor, Chafee helped create the state's public transportation administration as well as what was known as the Green Acres program, a conservation effort. In 1968 he served as chair of the Republican Governors Association. He served as governor until 1969, when he was surprisingly defeated by underdog Democrat Frank Licht. Reasons ascribed for the defeat include the fact that, after running three times on a strong anti-income tax platform, Chafee now said that such a tax was imperative (indeed his anti-tax opponent went on to champion one in 1971);[7] and that he stopped campaigning after his daughter was killed.[8]

Secretary of the Navy

He was appointed Secretary of the Navy in 1969 by President Richard Nixon. Chafee's tenure as secretary was marked by a willingness to make bold decisions and stand by them. Emblematic of this was his decision to elevate Admiral Elmo Zumwalt as Chief of Naval Operations over 33 more senior officers, and his judicious handling of the USS Pueblo situation, in which North Korean forces, during the previous administration, had boarded and captured a navy intelligence ship. His action as Secretary of the Navy that is most clearly remembered is his disapproval of the recommendation to court martial Commander Lloyd Bucher, the commanding officer of the Pueblo, once the release of the crew had been secured. Because it was clear that the guilt clearly rested on the North Koreans and not Bucher or the sailors on the Pueblo, Chafee stated that "Bucher and his men have suffered enough", and that a court martial would only add insult to injury. He served as Secretary of the Navy until 1972, when he resigned to run for the U.S. Senate.

United States Senator

After an unsuccessful candidacy for the Senate in 1972 against Democratic incumbent Claiborne Pell, Chafee was elected to that body in 1976, the first Republican to win a Rhode Island Senate election since 1930.[9][10] He joined the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works in 1977 and made environmental matters a chief concern, often breaking with his party to the delight of conservation groups. He chaired that committee during his last term in office from 1995 to 1999. As a result of his work, Chafee was a recipient of the Lady Bird Johnson Environmental Award.

Among the bills Chafee fostered while in the minority was the Clean Water Act of 1986, and the 1990 amendments to the Clean Air Act. He also was an architect of the 1980 Superfund program to clean up hazardous waste sites as well as the Oil Pollution Act of 1990. Chafee authored the Coastal Barrier Resources Act of 1982, establishing the Coastal Barrier Resources System (CBRS). Upon Chafee's death in 1999, the CBRS was renamed the John H. Chafee Coastal Barrier Resources System.

Chafee was pro-choice on abortion and supported the North American Free Trade Agreement. He took a moderate stance on taxes and government assistance to the needy. He opposed the death penalty, school prayer, and the ban on homosexuals serving in the military. Chafee was one of the few Republicans to support strict gun control laws. He sponsored a bill that, if passed, would have prohibited the "manufacture, importation, exportation, sale, purchase, transfer, receipt, possession, or transportation of handguns and hand ammunition." Chafee voted in favor of the bill establishing Martin Luther King Jr. Day as a federal holiday and the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1987 (as well as to override President Reagan's veto).[11][12][13] Chafee voted in favor of the nomination of William Rehnquist as Chief Justice of the United States and the nomination of Clarence Thomas to the U.S. Supreme Court,[14] but voted against the nomination of Robert Bork.

During the late 1980s and 1990s Senator Chafee became an advocate for improving the U.S. health care system. He supported legislation to expand Medicaid coverage for low-income children and pregnant women, sponsored legislation to expand the availability of home and community-based services for persons with disabilities and worked to enact legislation to establish Federally Qualified Health Centers. In 1992, he was appointed chairman of the Senate Republican Task Force on Health, and he worked to develop a consensus among Republicans on health care. In 1993, he joined with Democratic Louisiana Senator John Breaux to form the Senate Mainstream Coalition, a coalition of six Democratic and six Republican senators seeking bipartisan consensus on health reform. He sponsored legislation that increased funds to states to assist youths in making the transition from foster care to independent living; recognized the need for special help for youths ages 18 to 21 who have left foster care; offered states greater flexibility in designing their independent living programs; and, established accountability for states in implementing independent living programs. As a testimonial to the late Senator Chafee, the program is now entitled the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program.

Chafee sat on the U.S. Senate Select Committee on Intelligence and was chairman of the Senate Finance Committee's Subcommittee on Health Care, but his biggest imprint was on environmental concerns. He also served in his party's leadership, chairing the Senate Republican Conference from 1985 to 1990.

On February 12, 1999, Chafee voted against both articles of impeachment against President Bill Clinton.

On March 15, 1999, Chafee announced he would not seek re-election in 2000.[15]

In October 1999, less than two weeks before his death, Chafee was one of four Senate Republicans to vote in favor of the Comprehensive Test Ban Treaty. The treaty was designed to ban underground nuclear testing and was the first major international security pact to be defeated in the Senate since the Treaty of Versailles.[16][17] His last major act was authoring and sponsoring the Transportation Equity Act for the 21st century, which authorized funding for transportation programs for the next six years.[citation needed]


On October 24, 1999, around seven months after Chafee announced his retirement from the Senate, he died from heart failure at the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland, two days after his 77th birthday. President Clinton eulogized him, saying, "He embodied the decent center. For him, civility was not simply a matter of personal manners. He believed it was essential to the preservation of our democratic system."[18] Chafee was succeeded in the Senate by his son, Lincoln, who went on to win a full term in his own right in 2000.


The USS Chafee (DDG-90), the John H. Chafee Blackstone River Valley National Heritage Corridor and the John H. Chafee National Wildlife Refuge were named in his honor.

Bryant University in Smithfield, Rhode Island named its World Trade Center on campus after John H. Chafee for his continuing support for global trade and his association with the university.

The Chafee Social Science Center at the University of Rhode Island is named in his honor. It is the tallest building in southern Rhode Island.

The Foster Care Independence Act of 1999, passed on November 23, 1999, after his death, is known as the John H. Chafee Foster Care Independence Program. The programs are administered at the state level by Social Service Agencies. One such program, in example, is the North Carolina Links program

Awards and honors

Statue in Colt State Park
Statue in Colt State Park

See also


  1. ^ "1". Archived from the original on August 10, 2011. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
  2. ^ "Boyden, Deerfield Headmaster 66 Years, Will Retire in June" (PDF). Fulton History. Retrieved June 10, 2014.
  3. ^ Holman, Kwame (October 25, 1999). "A Voice of Moderation; Remembering long-time Senator John Chafee of Rhode Island". Online Newshour. PBS. Archived from the original on January 25, 2000. Retrieved October 24, 2008.
  4. ^ "Funeral held for Rhode Island Sen. John Chafee". CNN. October 30, 1999. Retrieved October 24, 2008.
  5. ^ Brady The Scariest Place in the World, p. 60.
  6. ^ Brady, James, The Coldest War: A Memoir of Korea P. 120, 134
  7. ^ Historical Note
  8. ^ "In Memoriam: Senator John H. Chafee (1922–1999) – 1999 December – WRMEA".
  9. ^ Mulligan, John E. (October 26, 1999). "R.I.'s senior senator dies from heart failure". Providence Journal. Archived from the original on October 26, 2000.
  10. ^ "A Super Tuesday for Lincoln Chafee".
  11. ^ "TO PASS H.R. 3706. (MOTION PASSED) SEE NOTE(S) 19".
  14. ^ "Congressional Record–Senate" (PDF). United States Senate. September 17, 1986. p. 23803. Retrieved May 17, 2020.
  15. ^ "2000 Senate races heating up". CNN. March 15, 1999. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  17. ^ Dewar, Helen (October 14, 1999). "Senate Rejects Test Ban Treaty". Washington Post.
  18. ^ Rubin, Alissa (October 26, 1999). "Senate Centrist John H. Chafee Is Dead at 77". Los Angeles Times. Retrieved October 9, 2014.
  19. ^ Gearan, Ann (August 9, 2000). "Clinton Awards Freedom Medals". ABC News. Retrieved May 29, 2021.
  20. ^ "Previous Audubon Medal Awardees". January 9, 2015.
  21. ^ Mastrati, Gail (June 17, 2003). "GOVERNOR CARCIERI TO DEDICATE CHAFEE STATUE AT COLT STATE PARK". RI Department of Environmental Management. Retrieved August 31, 2015.

External links

This page was last edited on 18 May 2022, at 03:49
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