NORTH KINGSTOWN, R.I. — With friends, family and scores of fellow journalists in attendance, mourners gathered at Christ the King Church on June 27 at the funeral for Jim Taricani, who died after a long illness on June 21, in his home in North Kingstown.
The crowd at the memorial service was a testament to the respect he garnered as an investigative journalist for WJAR, from his co-workers, competitors and others, said his eulogist.
“Everyone here knew him well, or at a minimum felt that way because so much of his life and work played out in front of our eyes on the evening news and elsewhere in the media,” U.S. District Judge William Smith, Taricani’s neighbor, said in his eulogy. “With Jim, one can simply roll the tape and watch Jim take you on a trip down a memory lane of organized crime, corruption, greed and more.”
The six months Taricani was sentenced to home confinement for refusing to give up a source proved just how committed he was to his journalistic integrity.
“Jim had no fear,” Rev. Jared Costanza said in his sermon. “He wasn’t afraid of the mob, he wasn’t afraid of the feds, he wasn’t afraid of judges or prisons. He wasn’t afraid of the sacrifices – he wasn’t even afraid of dying.”
A funeral is a somber event, but there are still little moments now and again when those present are given a little something to smile about.
“On the night that Jim made the decision to go home and have hospice care, we were talking it through in the hospital room,” Smith said. “Serious business. I asked Jim if there was anything else I should know, and he replied, ‘well there was this bank that I robbed...’, and then he grinned.”
Taricani’s news legacy will be carried on in Rhode Island not just through his family and former colleagues, but also through a First Amendment lecture series at the University of Rhode Island.
According to Taricani’s wife, Laurie White, New York Times columnist Nicholas Kristof had been contacted to be the inaugural lecturer and indicated that he would very much like to do it.
White will also continue Taricani’s work to get Congress to pass a federal shield law, which gives reporters protection against being forced to disclose confidential information or sources. Currently, shield laws are a state issue and not every state provides absolute privilege to journalists to keep their sources confidential. White said she wants to talk about the issue and shed light on the issue.
“That will be my mission going forward,” she said.
For those who only knew Taricani from watching him on WJAR up until his retirement in 2014, it’s easy to assume he’ll leave a legacy in the news industry both locally and nationally. Those that knew him as more than just the man who exposed corruption in the state will remember him for the aspects of his life that weren’t on the nightly news.
“I think in addition to his work as an investigative reporter, he has…he’s pretty much lived with heart disease virtually his entire adult life,” White said. She’s grateful to the EMT professionals from the North Kingstown fire and rescue who came to the house often and took great care of Taricani on his way to the hospital.
Taricani’s heart disease didn’t dissuade him from trying to live his life to the fullest, and he encouraged others not to let it hold them back either.
“He’s worked with patients, worked with people who are suffering,” White said. “And talked about how to live with heart disease, and hope and optimism. And giving people courage to face what’s in front of them. And hopefully to inspire others to live a healthy lifestyle and take care of their heart. And then later, after the heart transplant he became very active and encouraging people to be organ donors, so that was something that was very important to him.”
“A lot of times he would give hope and encouragement and boost the spirits of patients who were waiting for organs, or, also, give encouragement to patients who were confronting the difficult decision as to whether or not to…receive a transplant” she continued. “There’s a physician he was working with who he himself needed a heart transplant…and he talked with Jim and Jim visited with him at his house and talk with him many times to talk about the process of the waiting list and talk about what life was like after the transplant. [Jim] talked to him about the medications you have to take and basically saying, it’s a courageous thing to do, but it’s nothing to be afraid of at the end of the day.”
Smith said in his eulogy that he believed, and thought those present would agree, that Taricani would like to be a Rhode Island icon comparable to the Big Blue Bug.
“But it works,” he said. “Because, like the bug, Jim could be menacing, yet oddly comforting – and, like it, he was quintessentially Rhode Island.”