This year’s honoree of the Defender of Life & Faith Award is Rhode Island’s former Governor, the Honorable Donald Louis Carcieri. I’d first like to take a moment to express our deepest sympathy and condolences on the loss of your beloved wife, Suzanne, who passed a year ago this past November. She was an inspiration, a woman of deep faith who radiated warmth, and one could plainly see that you two were a team. Hand in hand, as you were often seen, you have been a force for good: practicing love of neighbor, protecting the institution of marriage from efforts to erode its meaning and dignity, promoting respect for the sanctity of human life, and doing all of this courageously, often in the face of strong opposition. Rhode Islanders owe a debt of gratitude to you, Governor, and the First Lady for her support, in fighting the good fight, for life and faith.
Governor Carcieri grew up Catholic in East Greenwich, RI, the oldest of five. A top student in high school, the Governor also excelled in basketball, baseball, and football, while at the same time serving as Class President every year and then as President of the student body in his senior year (a classic under-achiever).
Gov. Carcieri attended Brown University on scholarship, and played varsity football & baseball. After graduating with a degree in International Relations, he married his high school sweetheart, Suzanne. The two have four children: Mathew, Alison, Jill, and Sarah. After college, the Governor took a job as a high school math teacher. After a couple years, he joined Old Stone Bank, and within 10 years had become their Executive Vice President.
In 1981, Gov. Carcieri took a radical path. He decided to apply his for-profit executive skills to the non-profit agency Catholic Relief Services (CRS. The family moved to Kingston, Jamaica, where the Governor headed up the CRS West Indies operations, while the First Lady taught college science, and their children attended the local schools. This 2-year experience had a profound impact on the Carcieri family, and they became life-long supporters of the Missionaries of the Poor and the Mustard Seed Communities. (In fact, some 30+ years later, the founder of the Mustard Seed Communities, gave the homily at the First Lady’s funeral.)
When the family returned to Rhode Island, the Governor joined a unit of Cookson, a manufacturing conglomerate. Eventually, he advanced to Chief Executive Officer of their U.S. unit & Managing Director of their global operations. Reluctant to move the family to their London headquarters, and at variance with the firm’s direction, the Governor exercised his option and quit Cookson at age 55.
As a life-long resident, he had observed the state’s poor fiscal management, outright corruption, and under-performance for a state so rich in resources and potential. So he decided to run for Governor!
Like another political neophyte we know, he was an outsider with strong business and executive experience. Without even the endorsement of his party, he sailed to victory! Governor Carcieri proceeded to serve two terms (from 2003 to 2011) as a staunch Republican who clashed repeatedly with liberal politicians who wanted to erode Faith and Christian values. But Governor Carcieri didn’t compromise those values. Instead, being a man for all seasons, he fought the good fight to protect life, defend the dignity of marriage, and champion family values. I’d like to highlight some distinctions in Governor Carcieri’s two terms.
> The Governor showed great compassionate leadership in the aftermath of the Feb. 20, 2003 Station Night Club Fire.
> He signed legislation closing the bizarre “indoor prostitution” loophole, finally making prostitution illegal in the state, wherever it occurs, and establishing real penalties on those involved in, or financially benefitting from, the practice.
> Gov. Carcieri defended traditional marriage. He was quoted as saying, “[gay marriage] is not a civil right.” During his tenure, the Governor successfully resisted efforts to recognize same-sex marriage in the law.
> The Governor’s vetoed two same-sex measures. One measure sought to erode the state’s marriage laws by granting same-sex partners the same right as a spouse regarding burial, something the Governor saw as part of a “disturbing trend … of the incremental erosion of the principles surrounding traditional marriage.” The other measure sought to elevate the status of gender identity and gender expression by giving them specific recognition under the state’s hate crime law; the Governor explained his veto of the measure observing that the law already addressed actions motivated by “sexual orientation” and “gender prejudice.” Providence Bishop Thomas Tobin praised Governor Carcieri for being “consistent and courageous … in upholding the traditional definition of marriage.”
The Governor worked honorably promoting respect for the dignity and sanctity of human life during his two terms as Governor.
> During the Governor’s tenure, the threat of his veto likely discouraged potential legislative efforts by the abortion lobby.
> At a 2009 Rhode Island Right to Life Rally in the State House, Gov. Carcieri decried then-President Obama’s reversal of the Mexico City Policy which had banned U.S. taxpayer funding of groups that promote or perform abortion overseas.To the dispirited pro-life crowd, the Governor offered words of inspiration:
“Let me encourage everything you are doing. Don’t give up! You’re on the right side of the issue. You know that. There’s no debate on the issue. … It’s pretty clear to anyone who thinks about it for very long.”
> This past year, writing against the bill to radically expand the “right to abort” children in utero through all nine months, Governor Carcieri joined former Speaker Democrat Matthew Smith and former First Lady Margherite Garrahy to publish an Opinion piece in the Providence Journal. In it, they implored the General Assembly to reject the lies and deception of the “choice” lobby which “deems abortion to be a woman’s prerogative to destroy her baby at any time, for any reason.” They urged the legislators to consider the values on which this nation was built and on which it has thrived:
“We never viewed abortion as a political issue, rather we have always viewed the protection of all life as a moral absolute that is the foundation of a God-fearing community and nation. The primary purpose of any government … is the protection of its inhabitants. When political powers decide that some lives are expendable for the perceived benefit of others, then they will have abandoned that purpose, and any life can subsequently be destroyed at political whim. If today it’s babies, tomorrow it can be any group out of favor with the political powers.”
Gov. Carcieri recorded robocalls to pro-lifers urging them to call their state legislators to vote no on the bill, and he stood in solidarity with fellow pro-lifers at the State House. Sadly, the extreme abortion bill (the so-called Reproductive Privacy Act) passed using deceptive tactics and shell games between committees.
In an interview following the bill’s passage, the Governor lamented what he believed brought us to this darkest hour: “we’ve lost our moral compass;” “unfortunately, the Democrat Party [which controls the General Assembly & the Governorship in Rhode Island] has been taken over by the extreme left.” Nevertheless, he urged pro-life Rhode Islanders not to lose heart:
“Find people of like mind, and know that lawmakers change office sooner or later. Help new [pro-life] lawmakers get elected.”
Gov. Carcieri, thank you for all your efforts to protect life, defend the faith, & champion Christian values! And so, it gives us great pleasure to honor you with this year’s Defender of Life and Faith St. Thomas More Award! Congratulations!