Michael S. Van Leesten

July 29, 1939 ~ August 23, 2019 (age 80)


Michael S. Van Leesten, 80, of Providence, RI passed away on August 23, 2019 in his home.

Michael was born on July 29, 1939 in Providence, RI.  He was the son of Hendrik J. M. Van Leesten and Kathrine Alberta Smith.

He graduated in 1957 from Hope High School where he played varsity basketball. From 1957 until 1961, he served as a communications specialist in France for the United States Air Force. In 1965, he graduated from Rhode Island College where he starred on the varsity basketball team.

He served as the Executive Director of Opportunities Industrialization Center (OIC) of Rhode Island, which he helped found, for more than 15 years until 1985. In addition to his work as a consultant for his eponymous firm Van Leesten Associates, he served as the Director of Planning and Development for the City of Providence for two years. He then served as the Director of Public Affairs under the direction of Kenneth Reels, to the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe from 1994 until 2006. From 2006 until his passing, he resumed his role as the Executive Director of OIC.

Over the past 50 years, he was a board member of numerous organizations including the Board of Regents, Peerless Precision, and Fleet Bank. He was awarded honorary doctorate degrees from Roger Williams College, Rhode Island College, and the University of Rhode Island.

A known activist in the civil rights movement, Michael returned to RI to be a strong local leader and an advocate for housing and educational opportunities. He was and will continue to be a beloved and admired member of his community. His energy and smile will be missed dearly by his family and all who knew him.

Michael is preceded in death by his brother Karriem Muhammad (ne Hendrik Van Leesten Jr.) and both his parents.

Michael is survived by his former spouses Natalie E. Brown, Andrea G. Van Leesten, and Paula M. Van Leesten; his children Jill, Michael J., Ayyub Y. B., and Andrew H. Van Leesten and his wife Veronica Fana, Jordan M. Van Leesten, and Alexis T. Brown; his beloved grandchildren Aliza K., Aaron., Az-Zubair A. A., and Huria T. Van Leesten; and his siblings Rashad Munir, David Van Leesten, Lisa Van Leesten and Dorothy " Dee Dee" Van Leesten.

In Lieu of flowers, please donate to OIC of Rhode Island, 461 Pine Street, Providence, RI 02907 (

To send flowers to Michael's family, please visit our floral section.


Celebration of Life
August 29, 2019

6:00 PM
First Unitarian Church
1 Benevolent Street
Providence, RI 02906

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