Bradford Gorham, the quintessential Yankee Republican political figure, former Rhode Island House Minority Leader, Republican state chairman and candidate for lieutenant governor and attorney general, died early this morning at his home in Foster. He was 80.
Gorham had been suffering from prostate cancer, said his son and law partner, former state representative Nick Gorham.
A prominent lawyer, Gorham also raised Scotch Highland beef cattle on his farm in Foster, where he brought up five children with his late wife Diann. As Republican leader in the 1980s, Gorham led the loyal opposition to the majority Democrats during the time of Democratic speakers Matthew Smith and Joseph DeAngelis.
Gorham was known as a smart, articulate political leader. Perhaps his best moments came when he leaped to the floor to debate changes pushed by Democrats that loosened regulation of the state-chartered credit unions insured by the RISDIC, the insurer that collapsed and triggered the credit union collapse of 1991.
While the politicians who controlled Smith Hill at the time didn’t listen to Gorham, he was vindicated years later after the credit union mess plunged the state into a slump during a time of a New England-wide recession.
If he was a voice crying in the wilderness at the Statehouse, it was consistent with his education at Dartmouth College, where he matriculated after graduation from Hope High School. Gorham often spoke fondly of his years in Hanover, where he made many friends at what was then al all-male redoubt. One of his college friends was Gene Booth, who played varsity basketball for Doggie Julian’s teams and later became executive director of the Rhode Island Human Rights Commission.
After Dartmouth, Gorham graduated with honors from Harvard Law School.
``He was assertive and very partisan,’’ during his years in the House, recalled longtime Providence Journal political columnist M. Charles Bakst. ``But he was also very civil.’’
Bakst recalls visiting Gorham at his Foster farm shortly after he was named Republican state chairman in 2002. Gorman and his family lived in a house built in 1798 equipped with a wood stove. Bakst said a visit there was ``like walking into a different century.’’
Gorham would rise a dawn to feed his cattle, then run several miles before heading off to his law practice and the Statehouse.
Gorham’s son, Nick Gorham, followed his father into both the law and politics. Nick, a former state representative from Foster, and his siblings all worked on the farm. ``I was the only kid at Moses Brown who had to feed the pigs before school,’’ said Nick Gorham.
Gorham was raised on Providence’s East Side. He won a scholarship to Dartmouth after winning the Anthony Award for the best essay written by a Hope senior.
Then-U.S. Sen. Lincoln Chafee nominated Gorham to be U.S. Attorney for Rhode Island in 2002, but he withdrew shortly after the nomination when his wife was diagnosed with a serious form of cancer. ``She was fighting for her life and she lost a year later,’’ Nick Gorham said in an interview today.
Between college and law school, Gorman served as a platoon leader and company commander in the U.S. Marines and was discharged as a captain. He was admitted to practice law in 1964 and began his political career that year with election as a delegate to the state Constitutional Convention. He won election to the House in 1968 and ran for lieutenant governor in 1970 on a ticket headed by gubernatorial aspirant Herb DeSimone. Gorham lost to Democrat J. Joseph Garrahy, who would later win election to the governorship.
He ran for attorney general in 1990, losing to Democrat James O’Neil in a disastrous year for Rhode Island Republicans.
Gorham represented many municipalities – particularly in western Rhode Island – during his long legal career, including the Exeter-West Greenwich School District. He was town solicitor at various stages for the towns of Scituate, Exeter, New Shoreham, Smithfield and East Greenwich.
Known universally as `Brad,’ he possessed a sharp intellect and a remarkable memory. He could recite poetry and U.S. Supreme Court cases from memory and was known for retaining just about everything he read. He also had a sharp wit and and an ironic streak.
Gorham summered for many years in Quonochontaug, where he was active in the local Central Beach Fire District. He was known as the ``mayor of Quonnie’’ recalled U.S. District Judge Jack McConnell, a summer neighbor.
After the death of his first wife, Gorham married Christine Callahan, a former Republican state representative from Middletown. He leaves his second wife, five children and 13 grandchildren.
Gorham was a member of Moosup Valley Congregational Church. Services are scheduled for Friday at noon at the church, located at 81 Moosup Valley Road, in Foster. A reception to follow will be held at Foster Country Club. In lieu of flowers, donations in his memory may be made to the Pilgrim John Howland Society, 33 Sandwich Street, Plymouth, Mass. 02360. Burial is in Chester, Vermont in a cemetery plot next to his first wife, Diann. Chester was her hometown.
``I always considered myself very lucky to have grown up with a guy like that for a father,’’ said Nick Gorham.