The patriarch of the Contente family was determined to be the best he could be, despite a language barrier. The rest is history.
When thinking about all of the great contributors to the Bristol community over the years, the late Ilidio P. Contente certainly fell into that category.
Better known as “Leo” throughout his lifetime, Contente passed away on Thursday, Nov. 9, leaving behind the love of his life, Barbara (Barboza) Contente, and four wonderful sons (Leo, Paul, Alfred and Bristol Town Administrator Steven Contente), seven grandchildren, and one great-grandchild.
As the story goes, Contente came to this country with his mother from Faial, in the Azores, as a 10-year-old, and embarked on a career for the ages. Although learning the English language took a little time, Leo was steadfast in his early approach to education, and later graduated from Colt Memorial High School in 1959. He later received a bachelor’s degree from Providence College and his master’s degree from Rhode Island College.
He also found time to join the renowned Bristol Kingsmen Junior Drum & Bugle Corps, a pastime he liked to chat about on occasion.
A wide-eyed youngster during his high school and college days, Leo was destined for stardom in the field of education, first as a Math teacher, and eventually becoming the first Superintendent of Schools for the Bristol-Warren Regional School District.
Said Bristol Town Councilman and former Bristol Town Administrator Antonio Teixeira, “Leo came a long way from when he arrived in the United States…from the student in the back of the classroom, learning English, to math teacher, Department Head, Vice-Principal, to School Business Manager to Superintendent of the Bristol School Department. I admire him for his wisdom and achievements in overcoming his language barrier and succeeding. He was always very approachable and willing to work through the challenges. He left a good footprint and was a good role model.”
Retired Bristol School Superintendent Ennis Bisbano knew Leo about as well as anyone.
“I first met Leo Contente when the school committee elected me to be assistant superintendent of schools in 1974,” he recalled. “During my three years as assistant superintendent I got to know Leo quite well and realized the he had too much talent to be assistant principal of Bristol High School. I knew that I was to get him into central administration first chance that I got.”
He added, “Three years later, I found myself in the Superintendent’s seat with no Business Manager.” Eventually, Bisbano found a way to get Leo involved in the computerized management of the schools and involuntarily appointed him to the position of Business Manager.
“In addition to our relationship school-wide,” said Bisbano, “Leo and I became good friends outside of school, fishing on my boat as well as socializing with our wives.”
Aside from school administration, Leo earlier was a member of the R.I. National Guard, worked as director of the East Bay Collaborative, served as president of Linden Place, and worked in real estate. He was also a member of the Bristol Rotary Club, Don Luiz Filipe Society, the Santo Christo Club, the Bristol Elks, and Bristol Sports Club.
Leo Contente was a friend to many, this reporter included. I remember him vividly swelling with pride the night his son Steve was named Chief Marshal of the 2023 Bristol Fourth of July Celebration. He and his wife, Barbara, were ecstatic.
“This is such a great honor for our family,” he whispered in my ear that evening, his eyes welling up with tears. But the fact of the matter is, the patriarch of the Contente family is the one who set the tone many years earlier determined to be the best he could be despite a language barrier. The rest is history.