PROVIDENCE -- Representative Paul Sherlock, a longtime advocate of the disabled who served a quarter-century in the General Assembly, died Saturday at Rhode Island hospital. He was 73.
No cause of death was given. Representative Sherlock was diagnosed with cancer three years ago. Doctors removed one of his lungs, but he returned and was named chairman of the finance committee.
The Democrat from Warwick was the state's first director of special education, serving from 1959 to 1966. He retired last year after a long career as special education professor at Rhode Island College.
At the legislature, Representative Sherlock was committed to the state's most vulnerable populations, including people with developmental disabilities, learning disorders, and mental illnesses. His drive became personal with the birth of his son, Timothy, who has Down syndrome.
"He was probably more responsible than anyone in the state for bringing special education from the dungeons of basement special-education rooms to the special education that we see today," said Representative Joseph McNamara, a Democrat from Warwick.
"Paul demanded that we put a real human face on where we put our dollars," House majority leader Gordon Fox said. "He taught me that where you place your priority in terms of the budget really affects people's lives."
Representative Sherlock led a three-year study on the effectiveness of special education in Rhode Island. He also was the architect of the state's current group-home structure for adults with disabilities. On other issues, he helped initiate a far-ranging study on casino gambling. Representative Sherlock grew up in Pawtucket, the youngest of nine children. He graduated from Providence College and earned a doctorate in education at Boston University in 1969. He fought in the Korean War.
When the Assembly downsized and redistricted last year, colleagues suggested he retire.
"He told me: `When your entire life has been devoted to public service, you just can't stop,' " McNamara said. "He didn't."
In addition to his son, Representative Sherlock leaves his wife, Ann; two daughters, Kathleen Sherlock MacLean of Foster and Mary E. of Providence; one other son, Martin D. of Foster; four sisters, Mary Frances Campbell of Pawtucket, Martina Higgins of Narragansett, Angela Brousseau of South Kingstown, and Helene Mainor of North Kingstown; three brothers, John F. Jr. of Pawtucket, Gerald of Smithfield; and Henry of Providence; and six grandchildren.
A Mass will be held tomorrow at 11 a.m. in St. William Church, according to the Providence Journal.
Burial will be in Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery in Exeter.