Veteran Rhode Island political reporter Jim Baron was remembered this afternoon as a journalist of great integrity, ability, dedication and humor at a celebration of his life at the Bellows Funeral Chapel in Lincoln, R.I.
Baron, who died January 5 at age 57 after a protracted illness, was a reporter for the Pawtucket Times and Woonsocket Call whose career spanned more than three decades, most of it spent covering Rhode Island politics and the General Assembly.
More than 200 mourners jammed the service, where Baron was eulogized by Lt. Gov. Dan McKee, the former Cumberland mayor and neighbor of Baron and his widow Denise Perrault; Larry Berman, a former Woonsocket Call editor and the current spokesman for House Speaker Nick Mattiello, D-Cranston; and Russ Olivo, a Woonsocket Call reporter and longtime friend of Baron and his widow Denise, a Cumberland native and Brown University grad who is also a longtime Rhode Island journalist.
The remembrances of Baron by McKee, Berman and Olivio were heartfelt and left the throng alternately laughing and crestfallen. Baron was cited for his fairness and professionalism, as well as his raffish humor and lucid writing style. He was that rare journalist who stood out both for hard-news coverage and, especially later in his career, his opinion columns.
A burly man who was a fixture at the Statehouse media tables and in the basement press room, Baron had been covering local and state politics since the early 1980s, beginning as a reporter on Lincoln town politics. A Syracuse University journalism graduate, Baron was a fine reporter and writer who was respected by colleagues and those he covered. He was dedicated to his craft and was exceptionally hard-working, especially during legislative sessions and political campaigns.
Baron took his job, but never himself, seriously. While he toiled long hours for small newspapers with declining circulations, his influence among the Rhode Island political and journalistic communities was much greater than the readership or editorial clout of his employers.
Berman drew knowing laughter from the reporters and Statehouse aides when he acknowledged that Baron never fell for the spin that often spews from capitol pols. ``Baaaah,'' Baron would joke loudly from his press table perch during late night sessions near annual adjournment when lawmakers acted like sheep, voting yes on bills the House speaker wanted, regardless of whether they were read, or comprehended, by legislators.
A passel of Statehouse aides, lawmakers and political operatives attended the service. Among those were many of his Statehouse political reporter colleagues, including Ian Donnis, political reporter for R.I. Public Radio; Katherine Gregg, longtime Statehouse bureau chief for the Providence Journal; Joe Nadeau of the Call; Erika Niedowski of the Associated Press, now an aide to McKee,; veteran radio reporter Steve Klamkin; television reporter Sean Daly and yours truly, Scott MacKay, of RI Public Radio.
Also in attendance were Joy Fox, communications director for Gov. Gina Raimondo; Barbara Cottam, Citizens Bank vice-president and former press secretary to Gov. Bruce Sundlun; Faye Zuckerman, Gov. Lincoln Chafee’s press secretary; Greg Pare, spokesman for Senate President Teresa Paiva Weed, D-Newport; Pawtucket Administration Director Antonio Pires; Central Falls Mayor James Diossa; State Sen. Marc Cote, D-Woonsocket; editor David Pepin of the Times; H. Philip West, former executive director of Common Cause of R.I.; Frank McCabe, R.I. House clerk; Randy Syzba and Meredyth Whitty of the legislative press office; Statehouse aides Anastasia Custer and Sue Pegden; and ProJo news copy editors Peter Donahue and Bob McNamee.