Tribute to Jim Gillen: Giant of Rhode Island’s Recovery Community

Thursday, July 23rd, 2015

GillenThe recovery community of Rhode Island has lost a giant, and Phoenix House has lost a great friend. Jim Gillen, Director of Recovery Services at the Providence Center, passed away on Saturday after a valiant battle with cancer. It is with both sadness and gratitude that we pay tribute to his life and legacy.

Jim played an invaluable role in bringing recovery services to Rhode Island. He spearheaded the effort to create three recovery centers, called Anchor Recovery Community Centers, to help people wherever they may be. One of those centers is located in the Adult Correctional Institute (ACI), which provides incarcerated women with treatment services while they’re in prison and recovery support when they are released. Jim was also instrumental in the passage of a number of laws over the years that aimed to help people struggling with addiction.

But what he was best known for was the way he served as an inspiration to the many people he helped find the road to recovery.

“Everyone who is in recovery from drug or alcohol addiction serves as an unofficial ambassador,” said Patrick McEneaney, President and Chief Executive Officer of Phoenix House New England, adding that Jim, who had been in recovery for more than 15 years, “was an ambassador with a capital ‘A.’” This was largely due to his unique ability to convey to people that recovery is not a destination, but rather something that they would live every day—and could live with joy. He conveyed this in the best possible way: through the power of his own example. The sheer magnetism of his personality and the happiness with which he lived his life served as living testament to the fact that life still goes on in a thousand ways, and people in recovery need not be limited by their diagnosis.

It was a privilege for us at Phoenix House to know Jim not only as a colleague, but also a friend. He always made sure to reach out to Phoenix House and our staff, and he looked for ways to partner with us for special events—and events were always special when Jim was involved, especially when his band, Recovery All-Stars, played, noted Sheila McDonald, Director of Communications and Development for Phoenix House New England. “Whether it was pouring rain and ten people showed up, or it was a sunny day and he was playing to an audience of hundreds,” she added, “Jim brought his A game and performed with the spirit and contagious friendliness for which he was known.”

Jim always put clients first, and if someone was in need of services and he thought Phoenix House could help, he was quick to let us know. He was generous with helping us when he could, too. “He did a lot for us,” said Fred Trapassi, Jr., Vice President of Rhode Island Programming. “Whether it was three in the afternoon or two in the morning, if there was something he could do, he would do it.” That’s because helping people find lasting recovery was not just a part of his job, Fred explained, “it was a part of him.”

We will miss him greatly.

We extend our deepest condolences to Jim’s family, to his friends at the Providence Center, and to the many people whose lives he touched. We hope that our continued efforts to help people realize the joys of a life in recovery are a source of comfort to them all, as Jim would have wanted.

From all of us at Phoenix House

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