University community mourns loss of Nuala Pell

The Salve Regina community is mourning the loss of its longtime trustee, honorary degree recipient and friend, Nuala O’Donnell Pell, who died Sunday, April 13.

Through her lifetime of service, Mrs. Pell left a profound and lasting impact on the lives of so many millions of people in Rhode Island and beyond. Together with her late husband, Claiborne Pell, the longest serving U.S. senator in state history, the consistency and grace of their leadership continues to elevate the standard by which public service is measured.

“We are deeply saddened at the loss of our dear friend Nuala Pell, who served Salve Regina University faithfully for so many years as a trustee,” said President Jane Gerety, RSM. “She was a tireless advocate for our students, and through her support of the Pell Center, named for her late-husband Sen. Claiborne Pell, connected our students to the world.

“We had the opportunity to celebrate Nuala’s life last summer when we established a leadership program for our students in her name,” Gerety said. “Her humility at the thought of an event to honor her stood in sharp contrast to the outpouring of affection for Nuala from far and wide. We know we are not alone in mourning her passing today.”

See the video from the event.

The Nuala Pell Leadership Program in Public Service extends her efforts, exposing carefully selected undergraduate students to the fundamentals of leadership and giving them the opportunity to work on public issues around Rhode Island. Students are expected to give back as well – on campus, in the community and wherever life may take them.

A longtime supporter of Salve Regina and a member of its Board of Trustees, Mrs. Pell was instrumental in bringing His Holiness the Dalai Lama to Newport in 2005, where he met privately with his close friends – the Pells – and graciously offered a public lecture that was attended by 4,000 people on the University’s campus.

Throughout her life, Mrs. Pell was a passionate advocate for education, assuming an active interest in the development of the Pell Center for International Relations and Public Policy, which was established in 1996 to honor the legacy of her husband. She worked to integrate Pell Center programming with the University’s undergraduate curriculum in order to expand opportunities for undergraduate students across all disciplines.

“Mrs. Pell touched lives across Rhode Island with her humanity, her grace, and her spirit of service,” said Jim Ludes, Pell Center executive director. “The Pell Center is dedicated to carrying on the ideals by which she and her husband lived their lives. We are saddened today, but grateful for all she shared with us in her remarkable life.”

Born in New York City in 1924 to Charles Oliver and Josephine Hartford O’Donnell, she graduated from Brearley School in 1942 and was a student at Bennington College. From her 1944 marriage to Claiborne Pell, Mrs. Pell became a full working partner in a shared venture of public service that stretched more than half of a century.

An ardent supporter of women’s health care issues, the elderly, and the arts and humanities in America, Mrs. Pell was a trustee of the John A. Hartford Foundation, the Redwood Library in Newport, Roger Williams Hospital and Roger Williams Medical Center. She was also a member of the International Rescue Committee, was past president of the Democratic Congressional Wives Forum, and was a member of the Women’s National and Rhode Island Women’s Democratic Clubs.

Awarded an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Salve Regina in 2006, Mrs. Pell served as a trustee of the University of Rhode Island Foundation, a director of the Board of Samaritans in Providence and a trustee at Roger Williams College. In 1997, Vartan Gregorian awarded Mrs. Pell the highest honor a Brown University president may bestow – a President’s Medal – honoring her decades-long advocacy for education, scholarship, public service, the arts and philanthropy.

Her funeral will be held at 11 a.m. Monday, April 21 at Trinity Church in Newport, with a reception to follow in the Pell Center (Young Building).


  1. Edwin John Symonds says:

    A very sad day for the University and everyone everywhere, may she rest in peace.
    I am proud that my daughter Nicole, will be attending Salve this Fall with such an inspirational lady as Mrs. Pell to look up to and strive for her excellence in education.

    • M. Cooke says:

      I only wish my son who will be attending Salve Regina in the Fall had the opportunity to meet Mrs. Pell. I know because of her and her family my son and many other students will benefit from her contributions to the University . It is a sad day with the loss of such strong leader. Rest in Peace.

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