Published On: May 10th, 2024

In 2023, Paul Parravano (right, pictured with Kenneth Reeves) received NAACP Cambridge’s Lifetime Achievement Award.

It’s a rare person who can capture hearts and minds across a city, but that was Paul Parravano.

Paul was a deeply beloved community leader, serving our city as a Cambridge Community Foundation Board member for a decade and an MIT government and community relations leader for 33 years. He passed away last December at age 71, survived by his wife Martha and daughters Emily and Ellie.

We remember Paul for his compassion, his wisdom, wit, and way with words, and his fierce commitment to our city.

He brought a dynamic knowledge of the community, organizations and businesses, and the city’s needs to the Foundation’s work. At board meetings, the room quieted when he spoke.

“He was unstoppable,” said Geeta Pradhan, CCF president. “Deeply engaged in all aspects of the city, Paul had a deep understanding and tremendous compassion for the community. There wasn’t a neighborhood organization that Paul didn’t know or contribute to in some way. He was often my barometer for testing ideas and decisions about our work in Cambridge.”

At the conclusion of his Board tenure, Paul co-founded CCF’s emeriti group to help keep past board members engaged in the Foundation’s mission and work.

“I was in awe of how extraordinarily articulate he was,” said Mary Power who worked together with Paul to build stronger connections with former board members. “He would get to the heart of the matter in the most beautiful way. He was hyper tuned-in to the world around him and his insights always added to the Foundation’s thinking and vision.”

Collaboration wasn’t just his job, he embodied it.

“Paul was wise and brought clarity and commitment to the best solution wherever collaboration was needed,” said Rick Harriman, former CCF board chair.

Rick pointed to Paul’s pivotal role in forming the Kendall Community Group. Paul convened three longstanding Port neighborhood nonprofits who served many of the same families – Community Art Center, Margaret Fuller Neighborhood House, and Tutoring Plus – and connected them directly with Kendall Square companies looking to give back locally.

“Paul understood that collaboration among nonprofits can lead to better outcomes for youth and families,” said Geeta. “He also created a pathway for Kendall Square companies to get engaged with and contribute to the Cambridge community.”

In addition, he was a strong advocate for community service within the MIT community.

“I feel strongly that it is critical to an MIT education that we set strong examples for our students, where we share resources and opportunities with others beyond our campus,” Paul said in a news article about the merger of the MIT Community Service Fund and Community Giving at MIT.

“He’s in the DNA of the city.”

Since moving to Cambridge to attend Harvard as an undergrad, the city was like home for more than 50 years.

“Paul had a great fealty to MIT, but was imbued with the love of Cambridge,” said Kenneth Reeves, former Cambridge mayor and president of Cambridge NAACP. “He knew that it was a complicated relationship, but he could walk the tightrope between the two and represent the best of both with honor and integrity. He held a very special place in the hearts of the citizens in Cambridge. I think he will forever be there. He’s in the DNA of the city now.”

Martha Parravano, Paul’s wife of 35 years, said Cambridge held a special meaning for him. Blind since the age of 3, Paul grew up relying on siblings or friends to get around his hometown of Ann Arbor, Michigan. When he arrived at Harvard as a freshman, he was taught to use a cane. Learning to walk through the streets of Cambridge is when he became truly independent.

“Paul had been navigating his way around Cambridge for 50 years – he knew the city inside out,” Martha said. “He loved Cambridge, and he was so happy to go to work each day, because he got to connect with people and because his work made the world a better place.”

His contagious kindness and positivity didn’t go unnoticed.

“’So, tell me about yourself’ was an invitation Paul would work into every conversation he had,” said Sarah Gallop, who served alongside Parravano as co-director at MIT for more than 25 years. “Perhaps he might discover a mutual love of soccer, a Michigan connection, a passion for Italian food, a similar taste in music, or simply a shared joy in being a parent. Paul was masterful in his desire and ability to make connections with people. It was his job to do so, after all. But he came at it naturally, with a deep authenticity.”

Paul served on various nonprofit boards as well as the City of Cambridge’s Community Benefits Advisory Council. For his work in supporting the Cambridge community, Paul received many awards in gratitude for his advocacy, including the Cambridge NAACP’s Lifetime Achievement Award last year and the Cambridge Community Center’s Reverend E.K. Nichols Founder’s Award. He advocated for the greater use of Braille in public spaces and ways to help make the world more accessible for people of all abilities throughout his life and was a longtime board member of National Braille Press.

In 2022, Paul was the inaugural recipient of the MIT Staff Award for Distinction in Service. At the award ceremony, Former MIT President L. Rafael Reif called Paul the “Mayor of MIT.”

Paul leaves an impressive legacy at MIT and all across Cambridge. Above all, as a trusted friend and beloved neighbor, he will be deeply missed.