Published in The Providence Journal from Mar. 15 to May 3, 2020
RONEY, JOHN MARSHALL
1939 - 2020
John Marshall Roney
died peacefully on March 10, 2020, at the HopeHealth Hulitar
Hospice Center in Providence, RI.
John was born on September 21, 1939, in Washington. D.C., the son of a Justice
Department attorney, Joseph Roney, and his wife, Elizabeth Marshall Chamblin, a teacher.
Growing up in Washington with his younger sisters, Ellen and Joanne, he graduated from St.
John's Military Academy (1957) and attended Providence College. Upon graduation, he
was hired as a reporter for The Providence Journal, and then went on to attend The Catholic
University Law School. While in school, he worked as a policeman for the U.S. Capitol, and
met and married his first wife, Irene Howe of Bristol, RI. They had two children, Christopher
After receiving his degree, he joined the Library of Congress' American Law Division before
moving to D.C. Legal Services, which launched his lifelong advocacy for the vulnerable and
voiceless and his appreciation for the power of using the law for the betterment of people
and their communities.
John was recruited back to Providence in 1970 to join Rhode Island Legal Services (RILS)
where he was instrumental in many precedent-setting civil rights cases, including a class-
action police brutality case against the Providence police department, a case establishing
First Amendment rights for unemployed workers, and a case establishing prisoners' rights,
among many other ground-breaking decisions that improved the rights of the underserved. In
sum, he was a true leader in legal reform within the state.
After four years at RILS and a brief stint in commercial litigation, John opened his own civil
and criminal law practice on Wickenden Street in Providence with former RILS colleague,
Robert Mann. In the 1980s, Lynette Labinger joined the firm and John and Lynette
maintained their practice, Roney & Labinger, from 1983 to 2018, when John retired. Over
the course of his career in private practice, John continued to establish a sterling reputation
in leading numerous high-profile cases in Federal Court such as his defense of the First
Amendment rights of RISD students whose controversial art exhibit "Private Parts" had been
raided by Providence police and deemed "obscene." John was equally passionate and
dedicated in his efforts to help Fox Point families, small businesses, and independent
professionals with their legal needs.
In 1988, John married Barbara Kennedy Roney, and they split their time between a restored
1860s house in Providence and a home on the Sakonnet River in Tiverton, where they kept
perhaps his most-prized material possession, a 38' Alden Challenger sailboat, Daphne.
Marking a new chapter in his career, John was elected as a State Senator for the Second
District of Providence in 1994, serving as Vice-Chair of the Finance and Judiciary
Committees and sponsoring numerous significant pieces of legislation, including a critical
bill to protect gay rights and a revision of the Uniform Commercial Code. John stepped
down as a Senator after eight years, but his service and dedication to the legislature
continued for many years in his capacity as the Senate Parliamentarian, dispensing
invaluable counsel on procedural issues and other matters, always with an admirable sense
of fairness and often a good dose of humor.
He was elected President of the Rhode Island Bar Association in 2003 and was honored
with the Community Service Award in 1995 and the Public Service Programs Certificate of
Appreciation in 2009 for his tireless work on behalf of local charitable and civic
organizations such as Family Service of Rhode Island, Sophia Academy, and Leadership
John was fiercely loyal to numerous long-time friends with whom he shared countless Red
Sox games, sails, and feasts at some of his favorite dining establishments such as
Olneyville New York System for hot wieners and Stanley's Famous Hamburgers. He loved
sailing and the outdoors, and was happiest on Mt. Hope Bay with friends and family, taking a
nightly swim, or fishing and crabbing with his eight adoring grandchildren: Abigail, Ethan,
Havana, Cairo, Dublin, Greta, Sylvie, and Harrison, each of whom cherished a unique and
playful relationship with him.
In addition to his grandchildren and his wife of 32 years, John is survived by his children,
Christopher Roney (Lisa), Carley Roney (David), and Kristina Hanson Lowell (Greg); his
sisters Ellen Roney Hughes and Joanne Roney Hepworth (Bill); and his beloved Corgi,
~ A life lived well with dignity, grace, enthusiasm, and humor ~
In lieu of flowers, friends wishing to show support are welcome to make a donation to Rhode
Island Legal Services (RILS.org) or HopeHealth Hulitar Hospice Center (HopeHealthco.org).
A celebration of John's life will be held at the Providence Art Club on May 9th at 3:00.