Cover photo for PAUL (PAOLO) PARRAVANO's Obituary


January 27, 1952 — December 9, 2023




Paul (Paolo) Parravano, beloved husband, father, uncle, cousin, friend, colleague, and university administrator at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, passed away at home in Arlington, Massachusetts, on December 9, 2023, surrounded by family. His death followed a courageous, year-long battle with pancreatic cancer.


Paul was the youngest child of Giuseppe and Ernesta (Paparozzi) Parravano. His father, a professor of chemical engineering, served on the faculty of the University of Michigan; his mother tirelessly volunteered for many charitable causes. Paul was born in Princeton, New Jersey, on January 27, 1952, three years after his family immigrated to the U.S. from Italy. At eighteen months old, he lost his sight to retinoblastoma, a childhood cancer of the retina. Despite this setback, he grew and flourished, supported by his family, who sought to include Paul in their activities in every way possible.  


Paul’s early education was in local schools in Ann Arbor, Michigan. His parents were greatly ahead of their time, insisting that Paul be given the opportunity to study in mainstream schools and instilling in him a lifelong spirit of determination and generosity that became his hallmarks. After graduating from Huron High School, where he was the school’s first student-body president, Paul went on to earn a bachelor’s degree in political science and government from Harvard University and a law degree from Northeastern University. 


Paul began his career as a consultant at Harold Russell Associates, a firm specializing in legal issues facing those with disabilities. In December 1990 Paul joined MIT as Assistant for Government and Community Relations, becoming Co-Director in 1997. He worked closely with public officials, advocacy groups, and nonprofit organizations at local, state, and national levels. On behalf of three MIT presidents, Paul established and participated in regular visits with government leaders in Washington D.C. to help advance the cause of science and research. He arranged countless campus visits for dignitaries, community leaders, and schoolchildren.


Internally, Paul supported campus-based voting and elections, served as secretary for MIT’s Community Service Fund, acted as an advocate and a research participant in the field of assistive technology, and was a longtime committee member (and chair) of the Institute’s annual MLK Jr. Celebration. In June 2022, Paul became the inaugural recipient of the MIT Staff Award for Distinction in Service. At the award ceremony, he was referred to as the “Mayor of MIT.” A colleague described him perfectly: “Paul is an important person who doesn't act like an important person. He makes everyone feel that they have an equal place at the table.” 


Paul left a lasting imprint on the Institute and the broader community. For three decades, he led with kindness and compassion, created meaningful relationships with everyone around him, and generously shared his wisdom and guidance.


Paul diligently sought to improve his life and the lives of others by helping make the world more accessible for those with disabilities. A longtime board member of National Braille Press, he advocated for the greater use of Braille in public spaces and on everything from restaurant menus to voting booths to utility bills. He became an expert at finding ways to modify and use newer technologies. His indomitable spirit, patience, and excellent sense of humor were always there to ease the way.


Paul never let physical barriers impede him. He learned to ride horseback as a youth and took part in equestrian events that included show jumping. In high school, he was an avid wrestler. As an adult, he reveled in following his daughters’ sports teams (including a memorable trip to San Marino for a tournament with his younger daughter’s soccer team) and cheered on Italy in the World Cup. In July 2017, on his tandem bicycle, he rode across Iowa as a participant in RAGBRAI. Paul spent many happy summer vacations with family and friends on Lake Michigan, one of his favorite places. He loved music, good food, good conversation, travel, conviviality, his family, and his many friends. He loved life, and he lived a life of consequence and meaning.


He is survived by his loving wife of thirty-five years, Martha (Vaughan); two adored daughters, Emily Lucia and Eleanora Grace; three brothers and their spouses: Nicola (Deborah), Carlo (Ellen), and Pietro (Joan). He is also survived by a large extended family of nieces, nephews, and cousins both in the U.S. and Italy, as well as his mother-in-law Barbara Vaughan and brothers-in-law Andrew and Roger Vaughan. 


Holding true to his commitment to supporting research and science, Paul specified that his remains be donated to medical research. A memorial gathering in Paul’s honor will be held in early spring 2024 at MIT, on a date to be determined. In lieu of flowers or other tributes, his family has requested donations to the Paul Parravano Memorial Fund at MIT. Checks should be made payable to MIT and mailed to: Massachusetts Institute of Technology, PO Box 412926, Boston MA 02241. Please indicate the gift is in memory of Paul Parravano for the Paul Parravano Memorial Fund. Credit card gifts may be made using the following link:

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