NEWPORT, R.I. (WPRI) — Longtime Newport Daily News columnist and reporter Jim Gillis passed away earlier this week. He was 64.
Gillis was a gifted storyteller known for his must-read weekly column “Spare Change,” which the paper said he continued to work on until the very end.
“He was able to weave his knowledge into these one-liners that you weren’t sure how to respond to,” Newport City Councilor and former Mayor Jeanne-Marie Napolitano said. “Everybody looked forward to reading his column Friday to see who was going to get zapped and who was going to get kudos.”
According to his family, Gillis died of complications from a recent kidney infection.
The award-winning journalist started at the newspaper in 1980 and covered education, crime, arts, and entertainment. According to the Newport Daily News, he retired as a full-time journalist in 2013, after finding out he needed a kidney transplant. He finally received one in 2020.
“Finding people off the beaten path [who] needed help or had stories to tell,” Gillis told 12 News back in 2019. “I liked telling stories and I liked getting to know people, and I was always curious about a lot of different things.”
Gillis, who was a symbol on Aquidneck Island, was inducted into the Rhode Island Journalism Hall of Fame in 2021.
“He stayed in touch with so many people,” former Newport Daily News reporter Janine Weisman said. “It was like before Facebook, there was Jim Gillis.”
Weisman said Gillis was committed to accuracy and was considered fair and direct.
“He did establish some of the different phrases that people use today like ‘Zooport’ which we didn’t like,” Napolitano said. “But that was Jim.”
“I don’t believe it’s possible I don’t get to hear him tell stories anymore,” Weisman added.
A celebration of Gillis’s life will be held on his beloved Aquidneck Island.