Former State Sen. William Walaska of Warwick, a Democrat who represented Warwick for more than two decades in the chamber, died this morning after a protracted battle with cancer. He was 71.
Walaska, who ran an auto parts business, was a graduate of La Salle Academy and Providence College. He comfortably won reelection after reelection until 2016, when too sick to campaign vigorously, he lost the Democratic primary to Jeanine Calkin, who won the general election and is now in the Senate.
Towards the end of his life, Walaska underwent experimental treatments at Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston and was instrumental in pushing a law change last year to ensure that patients facing terminal illness can get treatment with off-label medications.
Despite his illness, Walaska still showed up at his favorite restaurants and watering holes, including Patrick’s Pub and the Capital Grille, both in Providence, to meet with his friends and talk politics.
“As a legislator for more than two decades, Bill advocated tirelessly for people in Warwick and throughout Rhode Island,” said Gov. Gina Raimondo in a statement. “We will always remember Bill’s decency and his love and commitment to serving our state and nation. Our thoughts and prayers are will Bill’s wife, Marsha, children Leslie, Ann Marie and William Jr., and all of Bill’s family and friends.’’
Senate President Dominick Ruggerio said in a statement that he was "deeply saddened’’ by Walaska’s death.
“His impact on public policy will benefit Rhode Islanders for many generations to come, particularly in the areas of environmental protection and, port development and improving our economy,” said the Senate president.
“All of us in the Senate will miss his warm smile, his sharp wit, and most of all, his friendship,’’ said Ruggerio.
Services have not been announced.