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Virginia Coates Chafee, widow of one former R.I. governor and mother of another, dies at 93

“She had an unaffected way and a warm human touch," the Chafee family recalls.

Virginia Coates Chafee and John H. Chafee on election night 1962 when he was elected governor of Rhode Island.
Virginia Coates Chafee and John H. Chafee on election night 1962 when he was elected governor of Rhode Island.Courtesy of the Chafee family (custom credit)

WARWICK, R.I. -- Virginia Coates Chafee, the widow of former US senator and Rhode Island governor John H. Chafee and the mother of Lincoln D. Chafee, also a former US senator and governor, died of natural causes at home in Warwick on Saturday, according to a statement from the Chafee family. She was 93.

“The companion and confidant of a politician on the national stage, though never a public person herself, she kept well-informed on the questions of the day, formed her own opinions, and expressed them well,” the family statement said. “She had an unaffected way and a warm human touch that endeared her to those of all ages and stations in life.”

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In a statement, US Senator Jack Reed recalled that "as first lady and the matriarch of the Chafee family, she was always kind and gracious, and she helped make Rhode Island a better place.”

US Senator Sheldon Whitehouse described Mrs. Chafee as “a wise confidant to her late husband, a devoted mother and grandmother, and an environmentalist well ahead of her time.”

Mrs. Chafee was born in Dublin, N.H., attended the Nightingale-Bamford School, in New York City, and graduated from Finch Junior College, in New York City. She married John Chafee in 1950.

John Chafee, a Republican, served as governor from 1963 to 1969, as secretary of the Navy from 1969 to 1972, and as a US senator from 1976 until he died in 1999.

Lincoln Chafee served as mayor of Warwick from 1993 to 1999, when he was appointed to his father’s seat in the Senate. He won a full term, serving in the Senate until 2007, and he was governor from 2011 until 2015. He is now running for president as a member of the Libertarian Party.

In addition to Lincoln, of Teton Village, Wyo., Mrs. Chafee leaves Zechariah, of Providence.; Quentin, of Saunderstown, R.I.; John, of Los Angeles; and Georgia Nassikas, of McLean, Va. Another daughter, Tribbie Chafee, died in 1968, at age 14, after being kicked in the head by a horse after performing in a horse show.

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Edward J. Quinlan, who served as press secretary for John Chafee when he was in the Senate, remembered Mrs. Chafee as a “very thoughtful, sweet, charming lady.”

“Given the schedule he maintained during his career in public life, she was in essence his first lady,” Quinlan said. “They were a great family. Proud of their children. He often talked about how she had a lot of responsibility raising a large family. She was a bulwark in raising that family.”

“She was always able to bring a smile to the senator’s face,'' said Michael Ryan, who served as state director for then-Senator John Chafee.

Ryan recalled that the Chafees owned property at Pojac Point in North Kingstown.

“On that property stood a most modest, rustic cabin,” he said. “They seemed so happy, so at peace at Pojac Point — away from the craziness of public life. That cabin gave them the calm and privacy that they must have sought from time to time.”

The Chafee family said the funeral will be private.



Edward Fitzpatrick can be reached at edward.fitzpatrick@globe.com