Cover photo for James J Gillis's Obituary
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1958 James 2023

James J Gillis

June 13, 1958 — April 17, 2023

James J. 'Jim' Gillis, of Middletown, RI, died Monday, April 17, 2023, at Rhode Island Hospital. He was 64 years old.

Gillis was a longtime reporter and columnist for The Newport (RI) Daily News. Among his many awards and accolades was his induction into the Rhode Island Journalism Hall of Fame in 2021.

He was born June 13, 1958, in Providence, RI, and grew up in Pawtucket, RI. He was the son of the late James J. Gillis, Sr., and the late Barbara (McNall) Gillis, and is survived by his wife, Julie Bisbano, of Middletown; his sister, Cynthia Gillis, of Milford, CT; his uncle and godfather, Joseph Gillis, Sr., of Narragansett, RI; and numerous cousins, nieces, nephews, and friends.

Jim attended Tolman High School in Pawtucket, graduating in 1976. He then earned his Bachelor's degree in Journalism from the University of Rhode Island.

He began working at The Daily News in 1980 and retired from full-time reporting in 2013, though he continued writing his popular "Spare Change" column until his death. During his career, Jim wrote about and covered every facet of Newport and Aquidneck Island life -- from stories about the downtrodden and working class to those of senators and socialites, as well as the nuts and bolts of state and municipal government.

He also tirelessly and joyfully covered the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals each summer, as well as other arts & culture events, including the Newport Music Festival and the now-defunct Newport International Film Festival. There were interviews with celebrities as diverse as New Orleans musician Dr. John and Lee Majors -- the '70s TV icon "Six Million Dollar Man".

Jim's "Spare Change" column was a not-to-be-missed read every Friday. In it, he often skewered the privileged and powerful, espoused and championed those doing good in the community, and weighed in on local, state, and national issues.

His quick wit and perspective was enjoyed by so many, as evidenced by not only his column's popularity, but by his thousands of social media followers.

Jim's memory was a legendary sponge. He could easily recall and relay events in someone's life that even they didn't remember. It is because he truly listened to everyone he met or interviewed and made them feel heard. One friend quipped that "Gillis remembered every book I ever read, even if I didn't."

Another friend said that any meal with Jim was a marathon because of his gift for gab; "Our dinner conversations could have lasted seven courses."

In October of 2010, Jim married the love of his life, teacher Julie Bisbano. The two shared a love of "Jeopardy", reading -- and writing -- and long conversations while dining out.

In 2012, Jim learned he needed a kidney transplant and started dialysis. He persevered through nearly eight years of dialysis. In March of 2020, just as the Covid pandemic began, a donor kidney became available and Jim underwent transplant surgery.

He was a tireless advocate for organ transplants and a veritable therapist for those starting and undergoing dialysis.

There will be a celebration of Jim's life at a later date.
To order memorial trees or send flowers to the family in memory of James J Gillis, please visit our flower store.


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