(CNN) - Former Sen. Claiborne Pell, who was largely responsible for the Pell Grants for U.S. college students, died early Thursday morning at his home in Newport, Rhode Island, his family announced.
Pell, 90, "died peacefully in the presence of his wife Nuala and family members," the family statement said. He had suffered from Parkinson's disease for a number of years.
Born in New York City, Pell graduated from Princeton in 1940 and Columbia University in 1946, serving in the U.S. Coast Guard in between and later in the Coast Guard Reserve. Pell also worked for the State Department and as a foreign service officer from 1945 to 1952 in Czechoslovakia, Italy and Washington.
He was first elected to the Senate from Rhode Island in 1960, and served from January 3, 1961, to January 3, 1997, when he retired. He was the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee from 1987 to 1994, and was named U.S. delegate to the United Nations in 1997.
But Pell's great passion lay in education and the arts and humanities, believing that the country's people were its greatest asset. Largely through his efforts, Congress created the Pell Grants in 1973. He was the main sponsor of the bill creating the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities.