Advocate for the poor, Henry Shelton, dies at 86

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PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Henry Shelton, one of Rhode Island’s staunchest advocates for the poor, died Wednesday in his Cranston home.

Shelton, a former priest, founded the George Wiley Center in 1981.

According to The Providence Journal, Shelton had strokes in 2009 and 2010 and spent his final days under hospice care.

On its Facebook page, the George Wiley Center said, “The state of Rhode Island and the global community has lost a true hero of social and economic justice, Henry Shelton. Our thoughts are with Henry’s family, friends, and the thousands of people whose lives he touched and made better.”

Congressman Jim Langevin (D-RI) released the following statement in response to Shelton’s passing.

“Helping others was at the core of Henry Shelton’s life and work. In everything he did, he put the needs of those who were less fortunate in front of his own. He led by example, and did the hard-fought, grassroots work that goes into shaping public policy. His compassion and his tireless commitment to fighting poverty in Rhode Island and beyond made him an effective advocate and an inspiration to me and so many others. When Henry saw injustice, he set out to right the wrong, no matter how steep the challenge. I’m grateful to Henry Shelton for his lifetime of leadership, and my thoughts go out to his friends, family, and fellow advocates who fought alongside him.”

U.S. Senator Jack Reed:

“Henry Shelton really put the word active into activism. He was caring, courageous, and passionate about helping working families and those who were less fortunate. Henry inspired so many who will strive to continue his legacy, but today we pause to honor him and offer our condolences to his family and friends.”

Senate President M. Teresa Paiva Weed:

“I had the good fortune to work with Henry Shelton on many issues over the years. He worked with love and humility in a relentless quest to secure better services for low-income families. His tireless advocacy helped to call attention to the needs of the poor and bring about important policy change. He leaves a lasting legacy that includes the energy-assistance program that bears his name, the Henry Shelton Act. The Senate’s deepest condolences are with the family and friends of Henry Shelton.”

Attorney General Peter Kilmartin:

“Rhode Island has lost one of its greatest advocates for the poor and social justice. With the founding of the George Wiley Center, Henry Shelton set out to make an impact on his community by helping those in need. What he created was much more. He created a social movement and shaped important public policy in our state. Although Henry left the priesthood, he continued to walk in the path of God in how he treated others. No one who came to the Wiley Center for help was turned away. His door and heart were always open to anyone who needed help. He may have been soft spoken, but that is not to imply Henry was a quiet man. Far from it. When Henry and his team showed up at the State House, he meant business and would not take ‘no’ for an answer. There are few people who are as committed to seeing a cause through to the end as Henry was, and we are all better because of it. And while Henry is no longer physically with us, his legacy and spirit will live on through the tens of thousands of people he helped. I extend my heartfelt condolences to Henry’s family, friends and colleagues.”

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