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R.I.P. Joe Caffey of Omni Development

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UPDATE: Funeral arrangements for Joe Caffey: Calling hours between 4 and 8 p.m. Sunday at Perry-McStay Funeral Home. Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m....

UPDATE: Funeral arrangements for Joe Caffey: Calling hours between 4 and 8 p.m. Sunday at Perry-McStay Funeral Home. Mass of Christian Burial at 11 a.m. at Holy Name Church in Providence.

Joseph A. ``Joe’’ Caffey, one of New England’s top minority housing advocates, and a longtime leader in Rhode Island’s African-American community, has died. He was 63.

Caffey was president of Providence-based Omni Development Corporation, which develops affordable housing, at the time of his death. He cared deeply about Providence and was active in many efforts to help those in need.

Caffey had suffered from kidney disease and underwent a kidney transplant, but his friends and allies said he was in good health recently. He was active until just days before he was found dead at his home yesterday.

``This is very sad. He was a strong advocate for affordable housing and someone who will be sorely missed,’’ said Lawrence Flynn, chairman of the Omni board of directors. He was active until his death; he attended an event for City Arts in Providence last Friday evening.

A witty and interesting raconteur, Caffey was remembered by his friends and co-workers as a hard-working housing advocate and colorful local character. ``He was a wonderful man and a character,’’ says Ray Rickman, a former Providence state representative who once worked for Omni. ``You were never bored in his presence.’’

Caffey was a Providence College graduate and lifelong Providence resident. At PC, he was once the roommate of the late basketball star Marvin Barnes. Caffey had many stories, some ribald, of his time with Barnes. A loyal alum, Caffey served as a member of the PC President's Council and was a member of the Alumni Board of Governors. He was also a member of the Brown University Civic Leadership Council.

Caffey was also a keen political observer who held senior planning positions with the city of Providence, the city of East Providence and the Rhode Island Plan. He was Omni president since 1991.

While he was a close observer and participant in political campaigns, he wasn’t always the best prognosticator. Yours truly recalls a conversation from 2007 over the odd drop at Nick-a-Nees, a Jewelry District tavern that Caffey occasionally frequented. I was fresh from a political reporting trip to New Hampshire and I mentioned to Caffey that a young Illinois Senator named Barack Obama had impressed longtime Granite State Democratic activists and veteran campaign reporters with his ability to draw large crowds and answer the endless questions required to make a splash in New Hampshire.

Caffey waved me off, saying, ``I’ve got more chance of dating Halle Berry than that young guy does of winning the Democratic presidential nomination. I'm with Hillary who is gonna win this thing.’’

Several months later, Caffey was in the same tavern. It was the evening of the Wisconsin primary. As the results rolled in, it was clear that Obama would score a solid victory over Hillary Clinton. Spotting Caffey, I asked how Halle was doing and wondered why he never brought  her to Nick-a-Nees.

``Is she too upscale for us here at Nick’s,’’ I asked. He laughed and laughed.

A dapper dresser, the nurses and staff at the transplant department at Rhode Island Hospital enjoyed having him as a patient. Whenever he had a checkup on his kidney, he would always show up with flowers and a wide smile for the largely female staff.

R.I.P. Joe Caffey of Omni Development
R.I.P. Joe Caffey of Omni Development