This obituary originally appeared on Memorial Funeral Home.
Paul L. Gaines Sr. passed away at his home in Newport, Rhode Island, on June 25, 2020, after a short illness. He was the husband of Jo Eva Johnson Gaines.
Paul L. Gaines was born in Newport, Rhode Island, on April 20, 1932, to the late Pauline (Jackson) Gaines and Albert P. Gaines. The youngest of six children, he attended the Newport public schools before earning a bachelor’s degree in education at Xavier University of Louisiana in 1955. From 1955 to 1957 he served in Europe with the Second Armored Division of the U.S. Army. After his honorable discharge, he served in the Army Reserves for four years before separation. In 1968 he earned a master’s degree in counseling at Bridgewater State College (now University) in Massachusetts.
Mr. Gaines taught social studies, health and physical education at Thompson Junior High School. At Rogers High School where he taught history, he was also the assistant and then the head basketball coach. After nine years of teaching in the Newport public schools, in 1968 he became assistant to the president for minority affairs and affirmative action at Bridgewater State College. He retired in 1996 after a 37-year career in education. Upon his retirement, the Afro-American Alumni Society established the Paul L. Gaines Scholarship to benefit deserving Rhode Island and Massachusetts minority students majoring in education or counseling at Bridgewater State College.
In 1968, the Newport City Council appointed Mr. Gaines to fill an unexpired term on the Newport School Committee. He was then elected to a full term. In 1977, Mr. Gaines became the first African American elected to the Newport City Council since the turn of the century. In September 1981, the councilmembers elected him chairman of the city council and mayor of Newport. He was the first African American mayor in New England. During his tenure, the designs and planning for the Newport Police Station and the Newport Tourism and Convention Center were finalized.
Mr. Gaines’ record of public service included election to the Rhode Island Constitutional Convention in 1985, a three-year term on the Advisory Council of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights; the Rhode Island Ethics Commission (charter member); and the Newport Canvassing Authority (chairman, 1997-2006). In addition, he sat on the Board of Trustees of St. Michael’s Country Day School, the Newport Historical Society, and the Newport Public Schools Equity in Education Committee. He also served as Chairman of the Board of Directors for the Newport County Community Mental Health Center; Newport Public Library Board of Trustees; President’s Advisory Board, U.S. Naval War College, Newport; Co-Chair Advisory Board CCRI-Newport Campus; Life Member, NAACP; Newport Sports Advisory Commission; Newport Hospitality Commission and Newport Hospital Corporation.
As chair of the Committee for the Renovation of Patriots’ Park in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, Mr. Gaines oversaw the construction of a monument for the First Rhode Island Regiment (“the Black Regiment”) that fought in the Revolutionary War. The monument was dedicated in 2006.
Mr. Gaines was inducted into the Newport Sports Hall of Fame in 2002. In 2005, Mr. Gaines delivered the keynote address at the 58th Annual Reading of the George Washington Letter to the Congregation of Touro Synagogue in Newport. In 2006 he received the Living the Dream Award of the Martin Luther King Jr. State Holiday Commission.
Mr. Gaines was predeceased by his five siblings: Albert Jr, William, Robert, Margaret and Estelle. He is survived by his wife and four children: Jena Gaines, Patricia Gaines (Michael Dean), Paulajo Gaines (Hon. William White Jr), and Paul Gaines Jr.; two grandsons, Zachary Gaines Mays and Nicolas Gaines Mays; and many nieces, nephews and cousins.
Funeral services will be private. A celebration of his life will be held in late summer.