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John Porter & Descendants


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Robert Barrows Lynch (1922-2003) RIHallofFame was the son of Raymond & Mildred Lynch of Cranston, RI

Article from Providence Journal, Jan. 2003
A R.I. preservationist hero


0n JAN. 10, The Journal published the obituary of Robert B. Lynch. The one-column notice was minuscule when compared with Bob Lynch's volunteer contributions to the preservation and promotion of Rhode Island's heritage over the last four decades. Unlike the poor rustic in Gray's "Elegy," Robert Lynch merits much more than "the passing tribute of a sigh."

I met Bob in 1966, when he and his lovely wife, Viola, led a community-wide effort in Cranston to save the Governor Sprague Mansion from demolition. By that time, they had already rescued the Joy Homestead, in western Cranston, and helped to convert it into the headquarters of the Cranston Historical Society.

The campaign to preserve the Sprague Mansion was successful. I became a charter member of the building's board of managers, and Bob Lynch, a prominent Cranston businessman, was the unanimous choice for president.

In 1974, as I became chairman of the Rhode Island Bicentennial Commission ("ri76"), Bob espoused another cause: the revival of the Pawtuxet Rangers, a unit founded in 1774. The Bicentennial Commission helped fund the reorganization of the Rangers as a Rhode Island militia unit. Bob Lynch became its colonel and displayed his gratitude to the commission by offering the services of the Rangers for dozens of Bicentennial events.

Bob Lynch became so involved that he earned a seat on the state commission and the chairmanship of the Parades, Festivals and Re-enactments Committee of ri76. In that position, he supervised a host of Bicentennial pageants, including the parade that attracted over 100,000 spectators to downtown Providence. At this procession, Col. Bob Lynch led his scarlet-coated Rangers along the line of march as he had done in countless celebrations around the state and region, especially the Gaspee Days Parade.

Whether marching in Providence, Warwick, Bristol, Newport, Glocester, Pawtucket or outside state, Colonel Lynch made a memorable impression. Tall, erect, handsome, dignified, this World War II Navy veteran of Iwo Jima and Okinawa became the poster boy of the Rhode Island militia. His no-nonsense demeanor at the head of his unit recalled the seriousness of purpose that had motivated America's militiamen when these historic commands were first mobilized.

When the Bicentennial was over, Bob served as a volunteer member of the Rhode Island Heritage Commission, eventually becoming its president. He held that position in 1986, during its observance of the 350th anniversary of the founding of Rhode Island.

In addition to his statewide activities, Bob was for over 40 years a member of the Cranston Historical Society, and for several years was its president. He was also a vice president of the Cranston Chamber of Commerce, an officer of the Providence Art Club, a member of the Preservation Society of Newport County and a member of the board of managers of the YMCA.

Bob's Cranston High School sweetheart and lifetime partner, Viola Bak Lynch, embarked with him on another historic-preservation project when they were both at retirement age by establishing the Nathaniel Porter Inn, in Warren. They meticulously restored a rundown 18th Century house and operated it as a quaint inn and restaurant, whose excellence was extolled by Yankee Magazine and several history publications.

Though in their 70s, Bob and Vi commuted daily from their home, on Comstock Parkway, in western Cranston, to run their Warren enterprise. Among the inn's many patrons were National Guard generals, militiamen and re-enactors who reveled in the programs that Bob and Vi devised for their entertainment and cultural enrichment.

Less than two years ago, Vi Lynch succumbed to cancer. Bob was devastated. I saw Bob at Vi's funeral and several times thereafter. He was still courtly and gracious, but the spark of life had left him.

My wife Gail and I last dined at the Nathaniel Porter in November. In somber tones, Bob told us that this last preservation project was under sales agreement. "Vi and I," he said, "are calling it a day."

In December, I dropped by the inn, where the new owner said, -Bob will be here tomorrow" to pick up some things. I never saw him again.

If I were asked to name the 10 Rhode Islanders who had made the greatest volunteer effort over the last half-century to promote our state's heritage, surely Bob Lynch would be among them. Sadly, his obituary was as obscure as the past he had worked so valiantly to revive for the benefit of his fellow Rhode Islanders.

Patrick T. Conley, of Bristol, is a historian and rea1-estate investor.

(Download Actual Article)

Article from Warwick Beacon, Tue, Jan 14 2003

Lynch, a leader for many causes, died at 80
Written by JOY FOX 

“He was a man of great principle.”

“He was full of the American spirit.”

“He was very fair.”

“My father truly touched hearts and souls.”

Late Monday morning friends and family of Robert B. Lynch offered those words while gathered at the Central Congregational Church on the East Side of Providence. Lynch’s memorial service, complete with an honor guard from the Pawtuxet Rangers, was to, in the words of his eldest son Robert, “remember his life.”

Lynch, 80, was found dead in his Cranston home last Wednesday. He was the husband of the late Viola (Bak) Lynch. She died in March of 2001. The couple raised two sons, worked tirelessly on historic preservation projects and ran the Nathaniel Porter Inn in Warren. As a couple they were inducted into the Cranston Hall of Fame in 2001.

Col. K. Frederick Holst of the Pawtuxet Rangers met Lynch 26 years ago through the Rangers.

“He was the commanding officer and I was the recruit,” said Holst, while sitting in the church’s pews after the service. Lynch was one of the organizers of the Rangers and held the title of colonel, commanding from 1974 to 1998. Since 1998 he has served as colonel emeritus. The Rangers are one of the oldest existing chartered commands in the country.

“I never knew he majored in psychology,” said Holst of Warwick, referring to Lynch’s obituary.

Now that he looks back on his times with Lynch, Holst said that it made sense. Lynch had the ability to get into people’s minds, work with people, he says.

“He had comfortable relationships,” said Holst.

Lynch graduated from Brown University, Class of 1944.

Holst remembered his friend as a mentor, and as a person with a wealth of information.

“He was always willing and eager to share what he knew,” he said. “He always walked tall and straight.”

Lynch was impervious to weather. Making note of the red coat militia uniforms donned by the Rangers, Holst said unit members could be wilting in the heat or freezing but there was never a bead of sweat on Lynch.

Lynch’s military accolades went beyond the Rangers. He was a Navy veteran of World War II, serving on the Harry F. Bauer in the Pacific, and participated in the Battle of Iwo Jima. His unit received a presidential citation for shooting down 13 enemy planes during the Battle of Okinawa.

His son, Robert, spoke of his dad’s survival of 13 kamikaze attacks and a torpedo that failed to detonate all while on board his “tin can.”

“Bob never demanded, yet commanded respect,” said Holst.

Frank DelSanto, the president of the Cranston Historical Society attended the services with his wife Barbara and others from the society.

Most recently DelSanto worked with Lynch on the unveiling of a portrait of Viola at the Sprague Mansion on Cranston Street. Viola was affectionately known as the ‘lady who saved Sprague Mansion.” The building was slated for wrecking in the late 1960s, until her intervention.

The society commissioned Lynch to paint the portrait of his late wife. Officially completed in February 2002, Lynch chose April 10 as the day for the unveiling, as it would have been their 57th wedding anniversary. It is safe to assume Lynch never got over losing his beloved Viola; he always spoke of her with a smile and a tear in his eye.

“He contributed so much to the Cranston Historical Society,” said DelSanto. “He was the type of person who did so many things behind the scene. People don’t realize he was a prime mover and shaker in the community.”

DelSanto pointed to Lynch;s involvement with the Rangers as well as saving, along with Viola, the Joy Homestead and Sprague Mansion. Lynch was a 40 year member of the society, a past president and member of Sprague’s board of management.

He was vice president of the Cranston Chamber of Commerce, and served on the board of managers of the Cranston and Greater Providence YMCA.

He was a commissioner of the Rhode Island Bicentennial Commission, a commissioner of the Rhode Island Heritage Commission, and chairman of the Providence Art Club. He was a member of the Preservation Society of Newport and the Kentish Guard. He was a graduate of Cranston High School, Class of 1940.

“I am very happy our paths crossed during our lifetimes. He was first class,” said DelSanto with a wink and a thumb’s up.

Lynch was also an active member of the Cranston Historic District Commission, according to Lynn Furney of the Cranston planning department.

“He kept the commission on their toes and always played the devil’s advocate,” she said.

Most recently he tracked the Carpionato Property project at the former boys’ training school.

“He always looked at projects and wanted to know why,” she said. “He could see both sides, a preservationist and a businessman.”

Prior to restoring and managing the Nathaniel Porter Inn, in Warren, Lynch worked at Taco Heaters for 22 years, and had been vice president of marketing. He had also worked at Textron and Carol Cable. The inn was sold six weeks ago.

His son, Robert, at the service offered the family’s remembrance. He described his father as a Renaissance man. He chose to speak about the Chief’s soul. Chief was Lynch’s affectionate family name.

He talked about his dad’s guiding principles and how he connected with all people. Robert quoted Kipling to emphasize his father’s ability to relate with people, “… if you can walk with crowds and not lose your virtue or walk with Kings – but not lose the common touch…”

They were about making the world better. “My father would not want a tribute written about him,” said Robert. Instead he insists his father would want a story written about how to make the world a better place.

Two weeks ago Lynch was in California, celebrating Robert’s wedding. Robert said his father was healthy and talking about the future. One topic was the mission of the Robert and Viola Fund.

The purpose of the fund is still in development, says Robert. He envisions Cranston students researching historical figures and translating their positive traits into community service initiatives.

“All great people had guiding principles,” said Robert. “[Their guiding principles] are what is transmittable through the ages.”

Aside from Robert, of Naples, Fla., Lynch is survived by Robert’s wife, Sandra and Richard and Brenda Lynch of Cranston; two brothers, Raymond Lynch of Furlong, Pa., and Kenneth Lynch of Warwick. He was the brother of the late Kathleen Lynch O’Connor.

In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Robert and Viola Lynch Fund, c/o The Cranston Historical Society, 1351 Cranston St., Cranston, RI 02920

The purpose of the fund is still in development, says Robert. He envisions Cranston students researching historical figures and translating their positive traits into community service initiatives.

“All great people had guiding principles,” said Robert. “[Their guiding principles] are what is transmittable through the ages.”

Aside from Robert, of Naples, Fla., Lynch is survived by Robert’s wife, Sandra and Richard and Brenda Lynch of Cranston; two brothers, Raymond Lynch of Furlong, Pa., and Kenneth Lynch of Warwick. He was the brother of the late Kathleen Lynch O’Connor.

He talked about his parents as a team. “She was truly his counterbalance,” he said. “He was a visionary who had honor and integrity. She had great depth, warmth and charm. They synergized together.”

Viola Bak Lynch (1922-2001) was born in Warren and lived in Cranston. She was the daughter of Pelagia Stachowiak Bak and Stanley Bak.

Hall of Fame 3

Article from Providence Journal, March 23, 2001
The woman who saved Sprague Mansion

CRANSTON -- Viola Lynch was voted the prettiest girl in her class when she was in high school.

She married at age 21, raised a family of two boys and became a historic preservationist. About 10 years ago, at a time in life when most people are thinking of retirement, she and her husband, Robert, took over as innkeepers at the Nathaniel Porter Inn, in Warren.

The couple became well known as gracious hosts, and were appreciated for their entire family's work restoring the 18th-century building and revitalizing it as an inn by instituting such popular traditions as Christmastime Yule Log celebrations and Twelfth Night dinners.

And Viola Lynch's place in local history was secured about 35 years ago when she led the charge to spare the historic Sprague Mansion from being reduced to rubble to make room for a high-rise apartment building for the elderly.

Mrs. Lynch, who died last week at age 78, will forever be known in the city as the lady who saved the Sprague Mansion.
Hall of Fame small
It was a mission that took thousands of dollars and the dedication of many residents, but Viola Lynch was the spark that ignited the movement that resulted in the city's preserving the sprawling white Colonial-style mansion on Cranston Street that is now its most prominent historical property.

"A lot of people put in a lot of work," Robert Lynch said this week, recalling the preservation campaign. "But it was always Vi's project from the start -- she kept the pot boiling."

He said it started in 1966 when one of her many friends informed her that the city had received federal money for the high-rise apartments and was going to tear down the stately clapboard house that had been home to two Rhode Island governors.

Concerned that history was about to be destroyed and that her home city had no major tourist attractions, Mrs. Lynch put down a dainty foot and decided that the city's plans would simply have to be scrapped.

Robert Porter Lynch, one of her sons, likes to recall that his mother's intervention came just as Mayor James DiPrete Jr*. was in Washington firming up the federal money for the new apartment high-rise.

Informed by a staff member that a woman back home planned to fight the project, the mayor later recalled, he anticipated having to face off against a formidable advocate who would look like ax-swinging temperance leader Carrie Nation, Robert P. Lynch said.

He said that the mayor was therefore quite pleasantly surprised when his mother, a petite blonde with blue eyes and a penchant for wearing high heels, met him at City Hall.

"The mayor was enthralled," Robert P. Lynch said, adding that DiPrete had also met his match. "She always had a smile on her face, but she would never take 'no' for an answer."

Her husband said that the first step was to get a reprieve from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. Not surprisingly, he said, his wife did it with deceiving ease, calling up various people she knew.

After that, he said, committees were formed, city officials jumped on the bandwagon and there was an all-out fundraising effort to save the mansion.

Everybody had a job to do, Lynch said, and Viola's was to do what she did best: be the spokeswoman.

"She had the presence, she had the charm," Lynch said. "It was her face that the public saw."

The campaign to save the Sprague Mansion eventually became so big that it encompassed most of the city, Lynch said. There were billboards. There were church-sponsored fundraising suppers. There were children throughout the city towing little red wagons as they collected and sold old newspapers so that they, too, could make donations.

Students at the Lynches' alma mater, Cranston High School -- later Cranston High School East -- used the image of popular cartoon hero Batman in a fundraising drive. At one point, Lynch said, they draped a huge banner across the school which, in comic book parlance, questioned, "Can Batman Save the Sprague?"

In the end the mansion was saved, purchased by the Cranston Historical Society for about $125,000, Robert Lynch said.

He noted that his wife did not miss a beat, and immediately set about the task of finding ways to furnish the home's 28 rooms with historic pieces.

Although Viola Lynch has been publicly lauded for her work as a preservationist, history was not always her passion.

Raised in the Auburn section of Cranston, Viola Bak fell in love with history when she fell in love with Robert Lynch, a former classmate from Cranston High School.

Robert, a history buff since childhood, said that he and Viola were pals in high school but didn't start dating until he was a student at Brown University. He said he saw her one day at Bonnet Shores Beach and told himself at that moment, "I'm going to marry that girl."

They married in April 1944. Shortly afterward, Robert Lynch was sent off to war with the Navy.

His ship stopped once in Hawaii, he said, and he sent grass skirts and colorful tops home to Viola with the request that she wear them and send him photographs. Family pictures show the smiling young wife obligingly posing in the native costumes, complete with flower leis, and not seeming to mind that in one photo she is barefoot in the snow.

An independent thinker with the warmth and charm to turn strangers into friends, Viola Lynch was still very much a traditional wife who supported her husband's endeavors, said Robert Lynch, a retired manufacturing consultant. Knowing of his love for history, she willingly agreed in 1947 to move to what was then the wilds of Western Cranston when he found an old farmhouse that dated back to the early 1700s.

The couple lovingly restored the Comstock Parkway home, known variously as the John Burton house and Chestnut Hill farm. They raised their two sons there, holding huge Thanksgiving dinners before a roaring fire in the old keeping room. All around the property, Viola and her mother-in-law planted flower gardens that bloomed amid lilac and mountain laurel bushes.

Robert P. Lynch, who eulogized his mother last week, said that her love of life and her kind spirit infused their everyday lives. He remembered her gardens, her friendships and her tolerance for the seemingly never-ending parade of pets and "critters" (including a turtle and a skunk) that he and his brother, Richard Allen Lynch, always seemed to be bringing into the house.

An old schoolhouse slate-board hung in their kitchen, he said, and on it his mother had written the creed: "To a Friend's House the Way is Never Long."

Before the funeral service ended, the Lynch family handed out a list of "guiding principles" that Viola lived by. The list includes phrases that summarize Viola's beliefs on everything from friendship and graciousness to compassion and commitment to the community.

"She was elegant and she was gracious," Robert Lynch said one day this week, remembering his wife while a cold rain slanted past their home's small-paned windows. Seated in a wide wingback chair, he pointed to his newest prized possessions -- framed collages that his two sons put together to showcase photos of Viola over the years.

"She had all the attributes of a lady that used to be cherished and should still be cherished," he said. Reaching for a stack of sympathy cards, Robert Lynch said that friends often use the same words in describing her. "People say that she was classy and charming," he said. "People loved Vi."

"She was wonderfully imaginative," he said. "And she had the ability to latch onto an idea and then get other people energized."

Both father and son said that Viola Lynch's desire to preserve historical sites in Rhode Island did not reflect an affection for stuffy museums where artifacts are cordoned off with velvet ropes. She wanted the past to be part of the present, and she wanted to see buildings such as the Sprague Mansion used as much as possible.

"She didn't want to see the Sprague Mansion chained off," son Robert P. Lynch said. "She wanted it to bring tourists to the city and she wanted people to have parties and weddings there.

"She wanted to bring the beauty of the past into the present."

THE GRASS is starting to show around the Lynches' home as the snow shrinks back into the shadow of old stone walls. Petunias, daisies, daffodils, geraniums and marigolds are stirring beneath the earth and it won't be long before the lilacs are in bloom beneath pink and white dogwood trees.

At the Sprague Mansion, June brides are booking weddings.

Viola Lynch would be happy.
(Download actual article)

* Note: I believe this was actually Mayor James Taft (RPL)

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