PROVIDENCE — Former state Representative Raymond J. Sullivan Jr., a Democrat who helped lead the fight to legalize same-sex marriage in Rhode Island, died on Monday at age 44.
“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our son, Raymond Sullivan,” his family said in a statement. “Ray passed away on Monday, October 11, at his home in Providence. We respectfully request privacy at this difficult time.”
For the last eight years, Mr. Sullivan was a partner at the Checkmate Consulting Group, based in East Greenwich. He represented House District 29, which includes the towns of Coventry and West Greenwich, from 2005 to 2011. And he served as executive director of Marriage Equality Rhode Island from 2011 to 2013, when the state passed legislation legalizing same-sex marriage.
Mr. Sullivan also served as the state director of the Obama campaign in 2008. He was campaign manager for US Representative James R. Langevin in 2010, and he was director of legislative and government affairs for former Lieutenant Governor Charles J. Fogarty.
On Wednesday, Fogarty said Mr. Sullivan made a big difference in Rhode Island.
“Many Rhode Islanders might not have heard of Ray Sullivan, but whether it was marriage equality or other social justice issues he has been there, fighting for them as a state legislator, a staff person, a lobbyist – and just as an interested citizen, as a human being,” he said. “We need more Ray Sullivans.”
Fogarty remembered Mr. Sullivan as “a good friend, a great political strategist, someone who had this great sense of humor.”
“It’s just sad,” he said. “What a loss.”
Susan G. Pegden, the state’s law revision director, worked with Mr. Sullivan when she was communications director in Fogarty’s office.
“We all come up here to make a difference,” she said. “But Ray made one of the most enormous differences in this state. He fought for years, under very difficult circumstances, to pass the marriage equality act. He changed people’s lives.”
Pegden recalled watching “The West Wing” with Mr. Sullivan. “Ray, honestly, was one of the best people,” she said. “He was such a sweetheart. He was so close to our family. He was loved by so many people, and it’s a piece of your heart that goes when you hear something like this. It’s just heartbreaking.”
Brad Dufault, founder of the Checkmate Consulting Group, recalled that, years after the same-sex marriage bill had passed, he had lunch with Mr. Sullivan and a woman they didn’t know approached their table, telling Mr. Sullivan, “Sorry to interrupt, but I just want to say thank you for what you did for my wife and I.”
After she walked away, Mr. Sullivan looked at him and said, “That never gets old.”
“Ray had an unmatched sense of humor and never took himself too seriously, but he took the work he did very seriously because he understood its impact on real people,” Dufault said. “He genuinely and deeply cared about making people’s lives better – whether it was his work on marriage equality or his advocacy for working people across Rhode Island.”
He described Mr. Sullivan as “loyal, politically savvy, a brilliant strategist, and one of the funniest people you’ll ever meet.”
“In a fickle business, Ray was a foxhole guy – someone you always felt comfortable with in the trenches, even in the most uncertain situations,” Dufault said. “I learned a ton from Ray. He was one of a kind, and will be deeply missed by many many people.”
Devin Driscoll, who worked with Sullivan on the Obama campaign and the drive for marriage equality, recalled Sullivan as “big hearted and vivacious.”
“He loved people, fought passionately for the causes in which he believed – especially issues of equity and dignity for working people,” Driscoll said. “In his time as a member of the General Assembly, a political strategist and communicator, and a campaign leader, Ray made real, measurable change in the lives of his fellow Rhode Islanders. I will deeply miss his wit and his charm, his warmth and his wisdom.”
Langevin tweeted, “I was proud to call Ray Sullivan a friend. Having him on my team was a privilege, and he’ll always be part of our family. Ray’s kindness, integrity, and fearless advocacy for the LGBTQ community will be sorely missed.”
US Representative David N. Cicilline tweeted, “Ray Sullivan was such a great guy and a fighter for equality for as long as I can remember. His passing is a loss to all in the LGBTQ community and I will miss him.”
Governor Daniel J. McKee tweeted, “We are saddened by the passing of Ray Sullivan. Ray was a hard worker and a bold advocate for equality. He will be deeply missed. Our hearts go out to his family and loved ones.”
Providence Mayor Jorge O. Elorza tweeted, “I’m deeply saddened by the passing of former Rep. Ray Sullivan. His work as a rep., activist & campaign expert can’t be overstated. Most notably, he worked tirelessly & successfully to ensure justice for all Rhode Islanders on marriage equality in RI.”
US Senator Jack Reed tweeted, “Ray Sullivan died too young. But he lived a full life – a life filled with family, friends, & purpose – a life that uplifted & empowered countless others. We will sorely miss his kindness & passion. We can honor him by trying to help others the way Ray did his whole life.”
Mr. Sullivan studied history at Providence College. He was an avid hiker and biker, and a lifelong fan of the Boston Red Sox.
Funeral arrangements are pending. In the statement, the family did not specify the cause of death.