The Go-to Guy


John J. Palumbo Jr. ’76 isn’t one to do things halfway. When he was asked to be honorary chair of the URI Alumni Association’s Big Chill Weekend last year, he declined. At the time he was in his seventh and final year as chairman of the board of trustees for the Rhode Island Zoological Society, the administrators of the gem we call Roger Williams Park Zoo.

He was also in the midst of what he calls the “long, arduous process” of buying Rhode Island Monthly, the magazine he has been publisher of since 1997. Life was more than busy, and Palumbo doesn’t believe in taking on any responsibility he can’t put his all into.

As Rhode Island Monthly’s new owner, he’s not exactly sitting around eating bon bons these days, but Palumbo is a man who believes strongly in community engagement. So when the URI Alumni Association came calling again, inviting John and his wife, Gail, to chair the 2010 Big Chill (slated for January 29–31), he was ready to sign on.

His title includes the word honorary, but Palumbo is very much a working chairman, using his standing as a prominent local grad to raise funds for the event, whose proceeds go to scholarships. “Now more than ever, this event is important,” he says. “If there was ever a time when scholarship money is needed, this is it.”

Palumbo has a well-deserved reputation for being the go-to guy when it’s time to get things done. As chairman of the zoological society, he helped Roger Williams Park Zoo devise its $35 million master plan and spearheaded a capital campaign that has thus far raised $25 million for the zoo. The Plains of Africa exhibit has already been revamped and upgraded, and new plans include a North American Trail and a Children’s Zoo and Wetlands Trail.

And in 2010, the new John J. Palumbo Veterinary Hospital will open on the zoo’s grounds. Palumbo confesses to being overwhelmed when he found out the new hospital would bear his name, “I just happened to be chairman when things needed to be done,” he says modestly.

Over the years, Palumbo has been active as a URI alumnus. “I’ve never been far from URI,” he says. “Anytime anyone calls from there, I’m more than willing to help.”

If his past accomplishments are any indication, the 2010 Big Chill Weekend should be a roaring success.

—Paula M. Bodah ’80