The Gaspee Days Committee swore in its newest president on Sept. 12 as Ryan Giviens passed the torch to Gina Dooley during a ceremony at the Aspray Boathouse.
State Rep. Joseph McNamara (D-Dist. 19, Cranston, Warwick) – bearing an $8,000 legislative grant – and Warwick Mayor Joseph Solomon attended the event to provide remarks and issue citations to the newest executive board.
Before being sworn in, Dooley – who most recently served as the committee’s vice president – said she was both excited and nervous about the opportunity. She has only sat on the board since 2015 – in contrast to the decades of service other members have put forth – but she has a strong support system and Giviens kept her heavily involved during his terms as president so she would be prepared.
It’s quite the opportunity for Dooley, who has lived in the area since she was a child and has absorbed Gaspee history all her life.
“All you hear about is the Boston Tea Party, but we were a year and a half before that, thank you very much,” Dooley said. “It actually is very gratifying. In fact, I remember I was 7 when we moved to this area, and one of the reasons my parents bought the house where we bought it is because they were both history buffs and they were so excited this was living history.”
Dooley took over as second vice president after a resignation in 2015, following that up with two years as first vice president. She takes over for Giviens, who will settle into his role as past president and director.
Giviens – a member of the Gaspee Days board since turning 18 – said he “grew up on the committee.”
“Since I’ve been involved for so long, this whole organization is like a family to me, so most of them have known me since I was less than a foot tall, maybe 2 feet tall,” he said. “So I’ve had a lot of guidance, a lot of friendships and family-like relationships in the committee. Everything’s been positive.”
He said his terms as president have been a “great experience,” and he has reveled in sharing the story of the Gaspee Affair with those who are curious or seeking to learn more.
“Everything we do is really to commemorate that event, share Rhode Island’s history, bring the community together, and then also as a side note we kind of promote commerce in the area by bringing a lot of people over here to spend money,” he said.
Dooley is already breaking ground as the new leader. She said the committee is holding its first-ever fall event – the Gaspee Days Fall-Out – on Saturday, Oct. 12, from noon to 5 p.m. at Pawtuxet Park. Local bands, breweries and food trucks will pack the area as the committee looks to extend the Gaspee season beyond the summer.
“We don't know what to expect in terms of turnout, but we’re hoping for the best,” Dooley said. “Next summer, we’re going to try to do – I’m not positive about this – but we’re going to try to do a kayak regatta from the [Pawtuxet Athletic Club] down to Gaspee Point and back again, but that’s sort of tentative, in the works. I don’t want to bite off more than I can chew.”
The committee and attendees at last week’s ceremony held a moment of silence for community leader and friend Jerry Goldstein, who passed away in August at age 92.
McNamara presented his $8,000 grant to Dooley in the form of a check, noting that he likes to see the committee “start in the positive with a little money in the treasury.”
“This is without a doubt one of the state’s premier volunteer organizations that celebrates what should be known across the world as the first movement, the first shot fired, the first ship sunk, the first actual meaningful revolt in the United States, and the birth of our democracy,” McNamara said. “For that, let’s give everyone a hand.”
McNamara then launched into a brief yet passionate defense of the Gaspee Affair as the opening salvo of the American Revolution. He offered a tongue-in-cheek conspiracy for why the Gaspee Affair isn’t as prominently taught as, say, the Boston Tea Party.
“As I often say, it’s the truth, the only reason the Gaspee isn’t in every single history book in the United States is because they put a vandalism incident that took place 16 months afterward in Boston, those history books were published in Boston by Bostonians!” McNamara said. “The Gaspee belongs in the first chapter.”
Solomon led the swearing-in for the officers, who include president Gina Dooley, first vice president Steve Miller, second vice president Karen Kenney, recording secretary Tracey Miller, treasurer Pat Peshka, past president Ryan Giviens and directors Tina Bingham, Carol Deming, Donna Fieldman and Louise Pfanstiehl. Communications secretary Katie Perlini was unable to attend the ceremony.
Toward the conclusion of the ceremony, Dooley presented a plaque to her predecessor to thank him for his years of service. Dooley understands the full-time nature of the job, and she is ready to take on the workload with the 55th annual Gaspee Days Parade coming up next year.
“I think I have a lot to learn, but I have a good support to learn from,” Dooley said with a smile. “I’m excited about it. It should be fun.”