John Kevin Gaffney

Gaffney—John Kevin Gaffney, 70, on April 12, 2020, at home in Providence, R.I. John was born on May 15, 1949, to John Gaffney and Doris Simsek Gaffney of Wayne, N.J., where John grew up with his younger brother, Richard. John graduated from St. Francis Xavier High School in Manhattan, New York City, in 1967. He earned a bachelor’s degree in political science at Fordham University in 1971. John’s first job as field representative for the Civil Rights Division of the New Jersey Department of Law and Public Safety began his lifelong commitment to the protection of basic human rights for all.

John relocated to Massachusetts in 1974 to serve as executive director of the Framingham Human Relations Commission (HRC). A year later, he moved to Providence, R.I., where he served for three years as director of the affirmative action and civil rights program at the Providence Human Relations Commission. John would serve the city of Providence as HRC commissioner many times; his last appointment would have expired on January 31, 2021.

The years between 1975 and 1980 were formative for John. He became involved with Providence Meeting, eventually becoming a member. He met Dale William “Bill” Brown, who would become his husband. In 1978, a car in which John was riding was struck by a drunk driver, and John became paraplegic. The resulting personal challenges helped shape John’s passionate advocacy for accessibility issues and disability rights.

From June 1979 to spring 1980, John served as executive director of the Rhode Island chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union. He left that position to focus on his physical recovery. As he worked to regain his health, John volunteered for the National Gay Task Force (later known as the National LGBTQ Task Force).

John was deeply engaged in supporting accessibility initiatives. He served in the Governor’s Office of Handicapped Affairs in Boston, worked as assistant to the manager of Massachusetts Bay Transit Authority, and became widely known as a consultant on paratransit issues after the passage of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990. He coauthored a 1991 report, published by the U.S. Department of Transportation, that ensured transit operators and planners across the United States heard from individuals with disabilities while designing, maintaining, and evaluating transit systems.

In April 1991, John moved to Florida to work for a firm that consulted on ADA compliance. During the next two decades, John influenced policies of the U.S. Department of Transportation as well as numerous state, municipal, and regional transit systems, along with those of universities and other institutions.

Following retirement, John and Bill moved back to Providence. After living together for 33 years, on June 14, 2013, they were married in a civil ceremony on the lawn of the Massachusetts State House. A Friend from Providence Meeting, Debbie Block, officiated. The following afternoon, John and Bill became the first same-sex couple to marry under the care of Providence Meeting. Throughout their many decades together, their mutual devotion and steadfast commitment to one another provided inspiration.

John urged Providence Meeting to give serious attention to compliance with ADA accessibility guidelines. In response to his requests for improved accessibility, significant modifications to the meetinghouse were made.

John’s life and work left an indelible impression not only on those who knew him, but also on the many people who benefited from his advocacy without knowing his name. John shaped his world for the better and challenged those around him to do likewise.

John was survived by his husband, Bill Brown, who died approximately six months following John’s death.

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