Former Sen. Pell dies

The Rhode Island Democrat, best known for the college grant program that bears his name, was 90.

By Alex Koppelman

Published January 1, 2009 11:24PM (EST)

Former Rhode Island Sen. Claiborne Pell died Thursday. Pell, who retired in 1997 after more than 30 years in the Senate, was diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease in 1994. He was 90.

A liberal Democrat who chaired the Senate Foreign Relations Committee in the late 1980s and early 1990s, Pell was, among his other accomplishments, also the Senate's chief sponsor of the legislation that created the National Endowment for the Arts as well as the National Endowment for the Humanities. But he's best known for the college financial aid program that bears his name, the Pell Grants. The Associated Press notes in its obituary that the Senator always said the grants were his greatest achievement.

In a statement, Vice President-elect Joe Biden, who served with Pell, said, "Chairman Pell was a mentor to me and one of our nation's most important voices in foreign policy for over 30 years. He was a leader in the effort to reduce the size of the world's nuclear arsenal and to stop the spread of nuclear weapons. Few Senators have done more to expand opportunity in America. Because of Senator Pell and the Pell Grant, the doors of college have been opened to millions of Americans -- and will continue to be opened to millions more. That is a legacy that will live on for generations to come."

Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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