RWU Remembers President Anthony J. Santoro

Santoro, who died yesterday, was also the founding dean of RWU Law

Tony Santoro
By Public Affairs

BRISTOL, R.I. ­­– Anthony J. Santoro, sixth president of Roger Williams University and the founding dean of RWU Law, died yesterday after a short illness. He was 77.

In the early 1990s, Santoro joined Roger Williams to help establish a law school that “would enhance the legal culture of Rhode Island.” Santoro had already been instrumental in establishing two other law schools, and as dean of Widener University School of Law, he had engineered a major expansion from Delaware into Pennsylvania. A native of Melrose, Mass., a former resident of Fall River, and spouse of a native Rhode Islander, Santoro knew the lay of the land, bringing his expertise to bear on launching the state’s only law school.

When he was appointed in 1993 as the school’s first dean, he almost singlehandedly recruited the entire founding faculty. Just days before the law school’s official opening, he turned the deanship over to a new leader and went on to become the president of Roger Williams University.

During his seven years as president and chancellor of RWU, Santoro laid the foundation upon which today’s institution has been built. He created what is now the Feinstein School of Arts, Humanities, and Education, as well as the Mario J. Gabelli School of Business, named in honor of university trustee and the founder and chairman of Gabelli Asset Management Company. Santoro also re-established the university’s Providence campus, now University College at One Empire St., enabling robust growth of the undergraduate population and international students.

“Tony Santoro led Roger Williams during a pivotal time of growth, establishing the law school and expanding our mission to reaching and serving the community in Providence. His leadership strengthened the reputation of the university and built the groundwork for us to become the university the world needs now,” RWU President Ioannis Miaoulis said.

“Put simply, nobody has done more for RWU Law than Tony Santoro. Nobody. And look at where his law school is today,” RWU Law Dean Michael J. Yelnosky said. “Tony created this remarkable community. He had a vision, he had the talent, and he had the energy to make this happen.” 

Santoro earned his bachelor’s degree from Boston College and a J.D. and LL.M. in Taxation from Georgetown University School of Law. He began his career in legal education in 1970 at the Marshall-Wythe School of Law, College of William and Mary, served as professor of law at Western New England College School of Law, and assumed his first deanship at the University of Bridgeport School of Law (now Quinnipiac) in 1976. During his tenure as dean at Widener University School of Law from 1983 to 1992, he opened Widener’s Harrisburg campus.

Following his tenure as law dean and as university president, he returned to RWU Law as a member of the faculty, teaching until his retirement in 2018. During those 18 years, he was an engaged, beloved faculty member. Many of his students followed in his footsteps to earn LL.M. degrees in taxation, and a number of them funded the Professor Anthony J. Santoro Business Law Lecture in 2012, bringing renowned academics and practicing lawyers to engage with students interested in business law. In 2018, the law school dedicated in his name the same classroom in which he taught hundreds of students federal income tax and business organizations.

Santoro was also valued as a mentor and colleague by the members of the RWU Law faculty and staff, who nominated him for professor emeritus status, granted in 2017 by the law school board of directors and university board of trustees.

The law school granted Tony Santoro an honorary degree in 2016, for his “inspired and foundational contributions to the law school and to the cause of law and justice in the State of Rhode Island as a whole.”

Santoro is survived by his wife Pauline and his children, Lynne Sullivan and her husband, Greg, of Somerset; Anthony J. Santoro Jr. and his wife, Maura, of Bristol, R.I.; Lauren Gentile and her husband, Andrew, of Somerset; and Anne Erhard and her husband, Brian, of Canton; 10 grandchildren, Kathryn, Conor and Ian Sullivan; Sophia and Anna Santoro; Lily and Mia Gentile; and William, Teddy and Luke Erhard; a sister, Linda Reidy and her husband, Joseph, of Somerset; and several nieces and nephews.

RWU will lower its U.S. flag to half-staff in remembrance of Santoro through Monday, Sept. 16.