Ralph Moses Paiewonsky

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Ralph Moses Paiewonsky (November 9, 1907, Saint Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands – November 9, 1991, St. Thomas) was a businessman and politician who served as the ninth civilian governor of the United States Virgin Islands from 1961-1969.

Ralph Paiewonsky was the son of Jewish Lithuanian immigrants to the Virgin Islands. He graduated from New York University in 1930. His degree was in chemistry his father owned A.H. Riise & Co. Ltd. an apothecary, general store and a bay rum distillery in St. Thomas. After he returned to the Virgin Islands his father bought the government owned beverage rum distillery on St. Croix. Ralph Paiewonsky found out that the shortage of water limited expansion. He proceeded to develop yeast strains which could ferment a mixture of molasses and seawater. After expansion he sold the distillery and turned to converting the general store to a gift boutique. He managed various family businesses, and was a founder of the West Indies Bank and Trust Company in 1954. In 1961, he was appointed Governor by President John F. Kennedy.

Paiewonsky's administration established the Department of Housing and Community Renewal in 1962, and began a program of land acquisition and home construction. Approximately 8,000 new homes were built under this program during Paiewonsky's term. He also supported public education reforms and the establishment of the University of the Virgin Islands in 1962. Paiewonsky served as chairman of the university's board of directors until his death; the university's library on St. Thomas is named for Paiewonsky.

Paiewonsky was a delegate to Democratic National Conventions between 1940 and 1960, and served as National Democratic Committeeman from the Virgin Islands. He was awarded honorary degrees from Tufts University and Fairleigh Dickinson University in 1967. In 1991, he published an autobiography, "Memoirs of A Governor."


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Preceded by
John David Merwin
Governor of the U.S. Virgin Islands
1961–1969
Succeeded by
Cyril E. King