PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — Former state Rep. Ray Sullivan, a prominent figure in Rhode Island Democratic politics for two decades, has died. He was 44.

“We are deeply saddened to announce the passing of our son,” Sullivan’s family said in a statement. “Ray passed away on Monday, Oct. 11, at his home in Providence. We respectfully request privacy at this difficult time.”

The news came as a shock to many in Rhode Island political and media circles, where Sullivan was a familiar and gregarious presence at the State House and elsewhere.

“I first met Ray when he was working for Myrth York and I was working for Sheldon Whitehouse during the 2002 governor’s race,” recalled Bill Fischer, a fellow Democratic operative. “It’s not easy forming a friendship under those circumstances, but somehow it happened. He was someone you just wanted to be around.”

Sullivan represented his hometown of Coventry in the R.I. House of Representatives from 2005 to 2011. He also ran Barack Obama’s campaign in Rhode Island in 2008 and was a key leader of the effort to legalize same-sex marriage in 2013. In recent years, he was a frequent spokesperson for the United Nurses and Allied Professionals union, as well as a strategist for various campaigns.

“He was a respected adversary and a good friend – given that our clients often had opposing interests he knew how to be both,” Fischer said. “He understood campaign tactics and excelled at formulating strategic communication’s plans. His lasting legacy will be the passion he brought to the marriage equality campaigns and the equity he achieved for all Rhode Islanders.”

Devin Driscoll, a lawyer and fellow political operative, remembered Sullivan as “my first mentor in politics.” The two worked together on the Obama campaign as well as the same-sex marriage effort.

“Most of my happiest memories from that time in my life feature Ray,” Driscoll said. “He was big-hearted and vivacious. He loved people, fought passionately for the causes in which he believed — especially issues of equity and dignity for working people.”

“I will deeply miss his wit and his charm; his warmth and his wisdom,” Driscoll said.

State Rep. Brian Newberry, a North Smithfield Republican, wrote on Twitter: “Ray and I served together and while we differed on maybe 90% of the issues he was always a stand-up guy and a gentleman with never a cross-word. His passion for LBGT rights was heartfelt as well and he moved mountains politically in that regard.”

Sullivan attended Providence College, and was a devoted fan of the New England Revolution soccer team.

Funeral arrangements have not yet been finalized.

Below are some of the messages sent on Twitter in memory of Sullivan.

Ted Nesi ( is a Target 12 investigative reporter and 12 News politics/business editor. He co-hosts Newsmakers and writes Nesi’s Notes on Saturdays. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook

An earlier version of this story misstated Sullivan’s affiliation with Providence College.