Robert F. Cole
Date of Passing:
Robert F. Cole, 83, passed away in the early morning of December 3, 2023. His wife Phyllis and daughters Sarah and Rachel accompanied his last days at Hope Health Hulitar Hospice Center in Providence.
Robert (Bob) was born in Spokane, Washington, on March 14, 1940, the son of Lillian Montgomery Holt and Robert Holt. Growing up across the western states, he later took the surname of his stepfather, Cole. Educated within the Catholic Passionist order, Bob studied for the priesthood, and even after finding a different direction in life held on to the faith and commitment to social service that he had learned there. He took graduate degrees from Harvard Divinity School, SUNY Albany, and Harvard Kennedy School before gaining a doctorate in Social Policy at the Heller School of Brandeis University.
Bob’s professional life has been in mental health administration: he moved from directing the Concord area for the state of Massachusetts and deinstitutionalizing a mental hospital within it, to implementing a program of the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation on behalf of youth agencies across the country, to taking part in residency training for the Psychiatry Department at the University of Connecticut Medical School. Even in retirement he has sought ways to improve public care for the mentally ill, regardless of financial need.
Meanwhile Bob has been a wonderfully loving father and shared his many avocations with family and friends. All his life he has been devoted to dogs, especially Irish setters; he has been a hiker and camper; later on he took up Scottish Country Dancing; he loved all kinds of music and was a gifted singer. Living in Rhode Island, he and Phyllis have found great pleasure in singing with the Chorus of East Providence.
In addition to Phyllis, Bob is survived by Sarah and her husband Tim Biggins of Brooklyn, New York, by Rachel and her husband Isuru Seneviratne of Jackson Heights, New York, and by grandchildren Greta and Teddy Biggins and Ruthie and Benja Seneviratne.
In addition to a private Mass of Christian Burial, a memorial service will be held on Saturday, February 24 (1:00) at Phyllis’s church, First Unitarian of Providence, which has also provided an important community for Bob. In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to Loaves and Fishes, 1520 Broad Street, Providence, RI 02905, a service organization providing food to those in need, with interdenominational sponsorship including both St. Luke’s Catholic Church of Barrington and First Unitarian of Providence. See https://lfri.org/donate-to-loaves-fishes-ri/ for details.