PETE FONTAINE (1946-2024) Ink in his veins, heart on his sleeve


Pete Fontaine died an hour after deadline last week.

Although he had submitted his final byline several weeks earlier, the Johnston Sun Rise’s faithful freelancer held on until the last pages of the paper were on the presses. The man had ink in his veins.

Pete could be a feisty, cantankerous pain in the butt. He was unapologetic and authoritative. His writing was packed with adjectives and superlatives. He owned his beat and defended territory with ferocity (though defining that beat would prove impossible).

And we loved him for it.

“Pete was a GREAT Journalist who always reported the truth and never embellished his stories,” former Johnston Mayor Joseph M. Polisena Sr. wrote after hearing of Pete’s death. “Pete loved working for the Johnston Sun Rise and loved the Town of Johnston. His dedication to Johnston was unmatched.”

Pete’s beat covered most of Polisena’s 16 years in office.

“He will be missed by all the citizens of Johnston,” Polisena declared. “It is truly a sad day for the Sun Rise and the Town of Johnston. May he rest in peace.”

The current Sun Rise editor often feared Pete’s feedback (and wrath) more than the mayor’s. When something pissed him off, he let you know it.

Anthony J. Ursillo, trustee of the Johnston Historical Society and owner of Shang Bailey’s Roadhouse, wrote to the Sun Rise last Tuesday, the day before we lost Pete. He noticed fewer Pete Fontaine bylines in recent editions.

He asked if Pete had retired.

Pete knew a lot of words. “Retirement” wasn’t one of them.

The next day, informed of Pete’s death, Ursillo wrote: “On behalf of the Johnston Historical Society (JHS) we wish to express our deepest sympathy to all who knew Pete. Over the many years, Pete has advanced the ‘goal’ of the JHS by writing numerous articles in reference to the importance of history and preservation, especially in the town of Johnston and beyond.”

Pete left lasting impressions on the town’s institutions. He offered fledgling community groups a voice.

“He was a unique and colorful character and his knowledge of writing a fascinating story was an asset to his accomplishments,” Ursillo wrote. “On a personal note, Pete was always just a phone call away. I will always be grateful to him for his numerous articles in reference to one of Johnson’s historical landmarks, Shang Bailey’s Roadhouse.”

Ursillo also lives in Shang Bailey’s Roadhouse.

“Pete put Shang Bailey’s on the ‘map’ of notoriety,” Ursillo remembered. “His articles gave us all a great ‘vision’ of the history surrounding this grand ole mansion. His legacy will always be known throughout Johnston and now Pete is part of history. God Bless and may he rest in peace.”

Pete slowed down a bit recently. He turned 77 last summer and it was a pain keeping fresh tennis balls on his walker. That made covering certain events trickier each week.

But Pete still covered what he could.

We posted news of Pete’s passing on our Johnston Sun Rise social media accounts.

Members of the town’s business community and those Pete met over the years replied with notes of sympathy and remembrances.

 “What a great guy,” wrote Raffi Derderian. “I always enjoyed his company when he covered events at our karate school.”

“Pete was absolutely amazing,” wrote Maria DaSilva Evangelista. “When I first opened my business 12 years ago he helped me so much with articles in the paper.”

“Pete made such an impact on our community and enjoyed highlighting local events and success stories,” wrote Gina Brown Schino. “He will be missed by all.”

“So sad,” wrote Tracy Lynn Ackert. “Such a sweet man.”

“He was a Johnston staple who always was at Winsor Hill for everything we had going on,” wrote Donna Villella Pingitore. “We will miss him.”

“He always wanted to put my kids in the paper,” wrote Bill Geribo. “Very nice guy.”

Angela Brasil: “Rest in peace Mr. Pete. It was a pleasure knowing you!”

Ed Duffy: “Pete was such a good soul.”

RI Self-Defense Center: “Pete was such a great guy and funny. Always covered local stories and took care of the local businesses and Johnston Little League. What a personality. He will be missed!”

“I have known Pete since he started covering the Town of Johnston,” recalled Richard DelFino Jr., past chairman of the Johnston Democratic Party, administrator of the Municipal Court, and now Executive Director of the Johnston Senior Center. “He was always looking for a human interest story that profiled the people of the Town of Johnston. Pete was a good man with a huge heart who will be missed by all of us who appreciated him and his craft.”

Briarcliffe RI: “So missed … you made everyone a local hero. Really it was you, the local hero.”

Stefany Reed and Akshay Talwar from Briarcliffe campus in Johnston, shared more in a separate post.

“With a larger-than-life personality, Pete knew everyone!” They wrote. “He never forgot anyone and was quite the local character.”

The hero thing was real. Pete’s stories were packed with heroes (but not one cape).

“He always believed in making any one person he wrote about a hometown hero,” Reed wrote. “If you wronged him, he made sure the world knew you were a schnook.”

Pete’s been on a lot of our minds lately. He had been in and out of the hospital, unable to communicate at times, and it was tough tracking him down the last few weeks of his life.

“Just this week Pete popped into my head and I made a mental note to give him a call and then saw this,” Reed said, referring to the Sun Rise post about Pete’s death. “Now I’m certain he popped into my head for a reason … You too are a hometown hero and it’s been a pleasure.”

Perhaps Arnie Vecchione summed it up best: “One in a million.”

We all probably took Pete a bit for granted. Such a cruel twist in life that we rarely fully appreciate people before they’re gone.

My last conversation with Pete was on deadline, two weeks prior. The call was too brief. He was in the hospital but told me not to tell anyone. That was very “Pete Fontaine.”

The man’s become an adjective. A newsroom legend.