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Frank DiPaolo; R.I. political fixture, mentor to Patrick Kennedy

Patrick Kennedy was elected to Congress with the help of Frank DiPaolo, right, and went on to serve until 2011.

Victoria Arocho/Associated Press/file 2004

Patrick Kennedy was elected to Congress with the help of Frank DiPaolo, right, and went on to serve until 2011.

PROVIDENCE — Frank DiPaolo, a political mentor to former US Representative Patrick Kennedy who was involved in Rhode Island politics for nearly 85 years, has died at the age of 106.

Kennedy said Mr. DiPaolo died Thursday in hospice care.

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Mr. DiPaolo got his first taste of politics during Al Smith’s 1928 Democratic run for president and made campaign appearances last fall for US Representative David Cicilline. In between he helped shepherd a young Kennedy into office and served as a doorkeeper for the House of Representatives for more than 30 years before retiring in 2010.

In an interview Friday, Kennedy, the son of the late Massachusetts Senator Edward M. Kennedy, remembered being a student at Providence College and meeting Mr. DiPaolo at the Castle Spa, the restaurant he owned in Providence’s Mount Hope neighborhood.

‘‘I was this skinny kid, refugee from Massachusetts, trying to find how I was going to live up to this family name, these oversized expectations that I had placed upon myself. . . . I was extremely awkward and introverted, and just looking for guidance,’’ Kennedy said. ‘‘I, like everyone else that walked through the door of the Castle Spa, was invited into Frank’s life.”

Before long, Kennedy was not only eating at the Castle Spa, he was eating at Mr. DiPaolo’s home with his wife.

When Kennedy decided to make his first run for political office, running for the General Assembly in 1988 as a college student, Mr. DiPaolo was his ace in the hole. He walked the district and knocked on every door with Mr. DiPaolo by his side and named Mr. DiPaolo his campaign treasurer because, under Rhode Island law, the campaign treasurer’s name had to be printed on all campaign literature.

‘The biggest knock on me was that I was a carpetbagger. The reason I attribute my political victory to Frank and always have, he inoculated me to that. If Frank DiPaolo supported Patrick Kennedy, than no one could make that charge.’

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‘‘The biggest knock on me was that I was a carpetbagger,’’ he said. ‘‘The reason I attribute my political victory to Frank and always have, he inoculated me to that. If Frank DiPaolo supported Patrick Kennedy, than no one could make that charge.’’

Kennedy was elected to Congress in 1994 with Mr. DiPaolo’s help and went on to serve until 2011.

Kennedy said Mr. DiPaolo knew everyone in the Mount Hope neighborhood because he had lived ‘‘four or five lives’’ before Kennedy even got to know him, a claim that seems hard to refute.

Mr. DiPaolo’s first campaign was New York Democratic Governor Al Smith’s presidential run. He was Smith’s driver when he visited Rhode Island, Kennedy said. In Mr. DiPaolo’s decades at the House, he was the only person given the honorary title of speaker emeritus. In 2012, he campaigned in support of Cicilline at senior housing complexes around the First Congressional District, addressing the residents as ‘‘young people.’’

Besides being a restaurateur, honorary speaker, and political operative, Mr. DiPaolo worked as an assistant to a doctor in the 1930s through 1950s, a time when doctors still made house calls. He held the ether cone over patients’ faces to anaesthetize them, Kennedy said.

He also drove flower cars for local funeral homes and was an avid bicyclist who rode 15 miles a day for exercise in his 20s, Kennedy said.

Mr. DiPaolo was also a gardener, growing impatiens and tomatoes, which he gave away to family and friends.

‘‘The most remarkable thing about him was that he lived every one of those days and minutes of those 106 years to the fullest,’’ Kennedy said. ‘‘He loved me, and not only gave me my political foundation but showed me how to live a good life if I ever got around to doing it.’’

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