Claiborne Pell, U.S. Senator from Rhode Island from 1961 to 1997, was the sponsor of prominent laws that created federal grants for college students and special funding for the arts and humanities. He also backed massive public initiatives for poverty relief and for high-speed rail service in the Northeast, and was known for quirks that ranged from jogging in an old tweed jacket to mentioning UFOs and extra-sensory perception during Senate committee meetings. In 1980, Congress gave the name Pell Grants to the funding that his 1972 legislation had made possible for low- and moderate-income students. (They were originally called Basic Educational Opportunity Grants.) The National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities resulted from a 1965 act he sponsored. His father, Herbert Claiborne Pell, was a member of Congress from New York City; a great-great-granduncle, George M. Dallas, was U.S. Vice President under James K. Polk; and a grand-uncle, Duncan Pell, was lieutenant governor of Rhode Island in the 1860s.
He held a bachelor’s degree from Princeton University (1940) and a master’s from Columbia University (1946)… The Pell Bridge, connecting Jamestown and Newport, Rhode Island, is named for him… He and his wife, Nuala O’Donnell Pell, had four children, two of whom he outlived… In his last years of life he was unable to speak due to Parkinson’s Disease, with which he had been diagnosed in 1994.
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