PAWTUCKET — On a night that Joan Doyle described as “kind of surreal” and her husband called “heartwarming,” nearly 500 people turned out for a retirement gala to honor Pawtucket's longest serving mayor, James E. Doyle.
The Twin River Event Center was filled with a capacity crowd that included family, longtime friends, municipal employees past and present, and a host of political figures and municipal leaders from cities and towns beyond Pawtucket. With his brother-in-law, John Richer Jr., serving as master of ceremonies, Doyle, who has been mayor for the past 13 years and active in city politics for four decades, was warmly honored, lauded, toasted and roasted (the latter courtesy of the Horan brothers, attorneys Michael and Kevin).
Among the many who took to the podium to speak about Doyle and his political legacy were boyhood friend Edward Catone, who reflected on the memories of growing up in Pleasant View and hanging around Barry's Drug Store.
He recalled Doyle's first foray into city politics, back in 1970, when he ran for a City Council seat, and joked about how the Dunkin' Donuts on Broadway later became his “campaign headquarters.” “You are truly an icon,” he stated, growing emotional.
Antiques dealer and academic historian Richard Kazarian Jr., who also grew up in Pleasant View, penned a testimony to Doyle that was printed in the event's souvenir program. He read from a text that described Doyle as “a man born into politics” but also one who made sure that his “love of family always came first.”
Kazarian noted that when Doyle was elected mayor in 1997, the city of his youth had undergone radical changes. However, he said that through “listening” to a small band of visionary leaders, the arts movement was born that has led to the city's revitalization and promising future.
City Solicitor Margaret Lynch-Gadaleta, the daughter of the late former Mayor Dennis M. Lynch, noted that Doyle had the grace — some 35 years later — to hire the daughter of the candidate that he lost to when he first ran for mayor in 1973. “He provided me with the opportunity of a lifetime,” she stated.
Lynch-Gadaleta also said that while in City Hall, Doyle has always been an example for everyone from “those who push the broom to those who ran for City Council.”
Attorney and former School Committee member Jon Anderson, another longtime friend of Doyle, outlined some of the mayor's accomplishments and told him, “Mayor, you have left Pawtucket a far better place. You have put Pawtucket back on the map.”
Jim Langlois, president of the National Association of Letter Carriers and a longtime friend and campaign volunteer, said he wanted to present the mayor with a “number” as is done with retiring sports legends. Doyle's “number” turned out to be a framed version of the “70000” license plate that adorns his city vehicle.
Doyle, who sat with his wife of 46 years, Joan, and their children, daughters Cristen and Joanne and son, Jamie, a state senator, along with their respective spouses, said he was touched by both the outpouring of guests and their remarks. “Not only am I hearing about my political life, I'm hearing about things from when I was 10 and 14 years old,” he said.
Of his 40 years in city politics and long tenure as mayor, Doyle commented, “It all went by so fast.”
Limerock Fire Chief Frank Sylvester, who was among the committee, led by Edward Tetzner, that organized the privately-funded retirement party, said he watched as the guest list grew from an original estimate of about 300 to 400 and then to almost 500. He said he was among those who suggested the Twin River Event Center as the venue, in part because it could handle a crowd of that size, but also because the mayor “could smoke here. He enjoys his cigars,” he joked.
Armand Lamontagne, a renowned sculptor who also grew up in Pleasant View with the mayor, was one of several who commented that of the large number of attendees, the majority in the room were there because they were friends.
Harvey Goulet, who has served as the mayor's director of administration for the past seven years, agreed, saying as he surveyed the crowded function room, “His legacy is what this is all about—right here.”