Bruce George Sundlun, 91, passed away in his Jamestown home on July 21, 2011. Sundlun was a member of the Democratic Party and was the 71st governor of Rhode Island. He was Rhode Island’s second Jewish governor and the only Jewish governor in the country during his two terms in office.
Following his death, his family released a statement saying he died “peacefully” and “was surrounded by his loving family. As a husband, father and grandfather he was our north star. We are deeply grateful for his love and lessons throughout our lives.”
Sundlun was born in Providence on Jan. 19, 1920, to Walter Irving Sundlun and Jan Zelda (Colitz) Sundlun. His grandparents were Lithuanian Jewish immigrants. Sundlun attended the Gordon School, Classical High School and Tabor Academy.
Following school Sundlun joined the United States Army Air Forces, where he flew B-17 bombers in the 8th Air Force in England during World War II. He was highly decorated in combat, earning a Purple Heart, a Distinguished Flying Cross, a World War II Victory Medal and an Air Medal with two oak leaf clusters, among other awards. He left active duty in 1945 but remained in the Air Force Reserves, eventually reaching the rank of colonel.
Sundlun received his bachelor’s degree from Williams College in 1946 and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1949 with a Doctor of Laws degree. He practiced law as an attorney until 1972, and in 1976 he began his successful business career as CEO of the Outlet Company. His company was responsible for launching WJAR, as well as 10 other radio and television stations. The company also owned 147 retail stores.
Sundlun began his political career when he ran for governor in 1986 and again in 1988, losing both times to Edward
DiPrete. In 1990, the Democratic Party didn’t think Sundlun was the man to beat DiPrete so they endorsed Providence Mayor Joseph R. Paolino Jr.
With his own money, Sundlun entered the Democratic primary and won the nomination. In the 1990 gubernatorial race, Sundlun won in a landslide over DiPrete, 76 percent to 24 percent, the largest majority in state history. Within hours of him being inaugurated, Sundlun closed down 45 banks and credit unions across the state in an attempt to get Rhode Island banking back on track. He was reelected in 1992. In 1994 he lost his party’s primary to Myrth York.
Sundlun was partly responsible for building the Rhode Island Convention Center and the Jamestown Verranzzano Bridge, and also helped arrange financing for the Providence Place Mall. The Bruce Sundlun Terminal at T.F. Green Airport was named in his honor, as he was responsible for the renovations and the redesign of the airport in the early 1990s.