Frank R. Knight,
83, a long-time figure in North Kingstown government and community activities, who in various capacities helped his town weather the economic consequences of the withdrawal of the U.S. Navy from Quonset and Davisville, died Thursday, July 14 at South County Hospital after a short illness.
He was the husband of Claire (Dumas) Knight for 25 years. Although he was not a native of North Kingstown, being born on Nov. 24, 1927 in New York City to George J. and Ellen J. Knight, he continuously championed the town where he lived for 59 years.
After attending elementary schools in Coventry, he joined the 12th Provisional Company of the Rhode Island Guard Reserve in 1943 where he was a private. He joined the U.S. Merchant Marines in 1945 and served until 1952. He attended the Maritime Service School and became a Marine Engineering Officer with a rating that allowed him to serve on vessels of any horsepower on any of the oceans. He was awarded the Atlantic War Zone and Victory Medals and a letter of commendation for service from President Harry S. Truman.
In 1952 he joined the Electric Boat Division of General Dynamics and served in the company's trial crew on the Nautilus, the first nuclear powered submarine, and also on the prototype for the Seawolf submarine. From 1954 to 1956, he was the leader of the atomic energy material analysis group project for United Aircraft's development of a nuclear powered aircraft prototype. In 1956 he rejoined Electric Boat for a 30-year career that included being supervisor of the Robinson Research Lab and member of the company's personnel department. In 1975 he moved to the Electric Boat operation at Quonset Point where he was administrator for workers compensation and government affairs.
In 1986 he became the first administrator of the state Employees' Workers Compensation Division until his retirement in 2003.
A long-time member of the North Kingstown Republican Town Committee, Mr. Knight was a very visible figure in local politics. In 1968 he won election to the North Kingstown Town Council. His six-years as a town councilman, the last four as president, covered a period of economic turmoil for the town as the result of the Navy's decision to vacate the base at Quonset Point and later the Port of Davisville. The withdrawal left the town with economic woes and affected many small businesses. He led the unsuccessful effort by the town to take possession of the redevelopment of Quonset/Davisville and long contended that the town could have effected redevelopment much more efficiently than the state did which took decades to accomplish.
While he was on the town council, he was one of several leaders in the town's Tricentennial celebration which involved a week-long series of special events, including a three-hour parade, knitting together the community of many villages. The celebration convinced him the town needed to do more to celebrate its past and he launched an effort to establish a historic trail in town. But with concerns in other directions, the idea never came to full fruition.
After his service as a town council member, he felt strongly that the best move for the town was to gear up the North Kingstown Chamber of Commerce and he became president in 1975 for a three-year term. During that time the chamber became an active participant in rebuilding and marketing the local economy, a role it still maintains.
Even in retirement, he stayed involved in local government and politics. In 1993, he became interim town manager for six and a half months while the town council researched candidates for the post.
He served as chairman of the local Republican Town Committee on two occasions. His successor after his last term as chairman was Municipal Court Judge Joseph B. White, a close friend. "Frank served as a mentor and trusted advisor for hundreds of candidates and elected officials," related White. "He brought a knowledge base that very few people possessed. He touched hundreds and hundreds of people."
White related that Mr. Knight had a habit of paying all his personal bills via hand delivery rather than by mail so he had the opportunity for face-to-face contact. "Frank knew the names of the branch bank teller, oil delivery driver, and the municipal tax collector. And, he never went empty handed, always bringing fruits and vegetables from his garden or box of his favorite chocolate treats."
Mr. Knight was an avid gardener as evidenced by his Hunts River Drive house, surrounded by roses, a neighborhood attraction. He and his wife also had a penchant for growing hot peppers which they could not eat but which they gave away to friends.
One of his proudest, non-political accomplishments was his unique backyard shed, "the cabin". Using only hand tools, he furnished the cabin with cabinets, a desk, bookshelves and a place for a radio which he used to listen to his favorite programs "Prairie Home Companion" and "The Rush Limbaugh Show." With a small cast-iron wood stove for the winter and an air conditioner in the summer, he enjoyed his little getaway spot. It was big enough for seating just one visitor, which was just fine with him. The shed was featured in a local magazine article.
Mr. Knight was also involved in several other activities. He was a trustee of South County Museum when it was in North Kingstown, an incorporator of South County Hospital, a member of the personnel board for the Trudeau Center, a president of the PTA at Davisville Elementary School, and a member of several state and public commissions related to RI Workers Compensation. He was a member of East Greenwich Firemen's Association and The Wickford Club serving on the Board of Directors.
Family came first with Frank, always. His love of the outdoors played a big role in everything he did, be it hiking with his wife on the trails in the Arcadia State Forest, taking family boat rides on Narragansett Bay on his Chris Craft CREW BL or camping in the back of the family station wagon at Beavertail till that fog horn drove him to move to Fort Getty for a peaceful night's sleep - Frank was happiest outside. He loved the salt water and made sure all his children knew how to swim and his love of the water was translated to even the youngest member of his ever growing family. Last summer Frank and Claire hosted a huge clambake for the family, where everyone gathered for fun and reminiscing. This past Father's Day four generations gathered at a local restaurant to celebrate the day. Frank was content as he looked over the crowd and his grandson Jim looked at him and said, "This is all because of you" - that made his day complete.
Besides his wife, he is survived by five daughters, Beth Bennett of Coventry, Cathy Machak of South Hadley, MA, Robin Knight of NASA Center, Maryland, Lisa Palmer of Hopkinton, Whitney Derby of West Greenwich and one son, Eric Knight of Hope Valley, six grandchildren and five great grandchildren.
The funeral service will be held Wednesday, July 20 at 11 a.m. at the First Baptist Church in Wickford, 34-44 Main St., Wickford. Burial with military honors will follow in Maple Root Cemetery, Coventry. Relatives and friends are invited to calling hours on Tuesday, July 19 from 4 to 8 p.m. at THE CRANSTON-MURPHY FUNERAL HOME of WICKFORD, 140 West Main Street, Wickford .
In lieu of flowers, gifts in his memory can be sent to the RI 4-H Club Foundation, PO Box 1925, Kingston, RI 02881.
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Cranston - Murphy Funeral Home of Wickford
140 West Main Street
North Kingstown, Rhode Island 02852