How have Pell grants changed lives?
Former Senator Claiborne Pell has passed away after a long battle with Parkinson's disease.
Claiborne Pell, 90, a six-term Rhode Island Democrat who rose to be chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, died Jan. 1 at his Newport, R.I., home. He had had Parkinson's disease since 1994.
A Yankee Brahmin and former Foreign Service officer who was virtually unbeatable at the polls in a largely Catholic, blue-collar state, he was best known for his sponsorship of the 1972 program that has helped 54 million low- and moderate-income students attend college. He also sponsored the legislation that founded the National Endowment for the Arts and Humanities.
He was committed to maritime and foreign affairs issues, strongly in favor of abortion rights, a consistent vote for labor and an ardent advocate of arms control and the rule of law in international affairs. First elected to the Senate in 1960, Sen. Pell was aloof, diffident, courteous and self-effacing. Unfailingly polite, he also had quirks, such as jogging in a tweed coat. One of his favorite sayings was "I always let the other fellow have my way." Eccentric and occasionally absent-minded, he was asked during a 1990 election-year debate what legislation he had sponsored that specifically benefited Rhode Island.
"I couldn't give you a specific answer," he averred in a famous reply. "My memory's not as good as it should be."
He went on to win reelection by a margin of almost 2 to 1.
The qualities that endeared Sen. Pell to the voters of Rhode Island also endeared him to colleagues on Capitol Hill.
Senate Majority Leader Harry M. Reid yesterday called him "a great American and a giant of the Senate. Any student who has ever received federal aid has Senator Pell to thank for his or her education. The Pell Grants he created revolutionized our education system for generations of Americans who might not otherwise be able to pursue higher education."
...Claiborne DeBorda Pell was born in New York on Nov. 22, 1918. The family had lived in New York since colonial times, and its holdings once embraced much of Westchester County and the Bronx. Among his ancestors was the founder of the Lorillard Tobacco Co. Five of his forebears, including his father, Herbert Claiborne Pell, served in Congress. His father went on to be U.S. minister to Portugal and then Hungary during the presidency of his friend President Franklin D. Roosevelt. When Claiborne Pell was 9, the family moved to Rhode Island and settled in Newport.
Sen. Pell graduated from Princeton University and received a master's degree in history from Columbia University in 1946. During World War II, he served in the Coast Guard in the Atlantic. After the war, he joined the Foreign Service. His positions abroad included a period in Genoa, Italy, where he was a consular officer. His foreign languages included French, Italian and Portuguese.
He participated in the 1945 San Francisco conference that drafted the United Nations charter and was a staunch defender of the institution throughout his life, often carrying a copy of the charter in his pocket.
In the 1950s, he went into investment banking in Rhode Island. He also became registration chairman of the Democratic National Committee. When he decided to run for the Senate in 1960, he demonstrated his prowess on the hustings by defeating two former governors for the Democratic nomination. He was helped in the general election by his strong ties to John F. Kennedy.
He was one of the principal figures in creating the government-financed college grants originally known as "Basic Educational Opportunity Grants." The awards, renamed Pell Grants in his honor in 1980, are the federal government's largest need-based grants to college students.
Sadly, I was not able to gain a Pell grant to go to school, even though we were blue collar. But I know people who did get to go to college dues to Sen. Pell's legislation. Does anyone have any testimony?
Sen. Pell was a true iconoclast. Let's hope that our government now turns more attention to making college affordable for everyone who has the ability to succeed.