Karen A. Oakley, a Newport businesswoman, world traveler and dedicated volunteer, passed away unexpectedly but peacefully, surrounded by her family, at Rhode Island Hospital on Dec. 9, 2018.
She was an owner of Viking Tours of Newport, the sightseeing company her father founded in 1962. She was a teenager when she began working as a guide, boarding motor coaches from throughout the East Coast and offering historical and humorous tours of Newport. After completing college and gaining some business experience as a boutique owner in downtown Newport, she joined her parents and brother in the management of the family-operated enterprise.
Karen managed the company’s corporate sales division and oversaw the evolution of its motor coach and trolley business. In 2012, she and her family proudly celebrated the 50th anniversary of Viking Tours, which by then was operated by three generations of the Oakley family.
Her work in the Newport tourism industry sparked Karen’s desire to experience the world beyond Aquidneck Island. She spent her vacations walking along the Great Wall of China, admiring the pyramids in Egypt, photographing the wild animals she encountered on safari in Kenya and enjoying the antics of the penguins on Antarctica. She shared these adventures with her beloved mother and traveling companion, Annie Oakley.
Karen visited each of the world’s seven continents and most of the 50 U.S. states. But her favorite place on earth always was her hometown of Newport, where she savored sweeping views of the city’s waterfront, Fort Adams State Park, Narragansett Bay’s East Passage and the Pell Bridge from her home on Goat Island.
She was born in Newport Hospital on Sept. 1, 1951, the first child of Ann Marie (Egan) Oakley and George A. “Red” Oakley, who passed away in 2000. After graduating from the former Elmhurst Academy in Portsmouth in 1969, Karen attended Trinity College in Washington, D.C., where she earned a bachelor’s degree in 1973 in the newly established field of American Studies.
She returned to Newport and opened Pappagallo, a specialty shop featuring women’s shoes, clothing and accessories, in the Brick Market Place. After five years of outfitting locals and visitors with Bermuda bags and espadrilles, she was confident she had the business acumen to help move her family’s tour business into the 21st Century. She closed her boutique, joined Viking Tours’ management team and became involved in local civic, hospitality and preservation efforts.
Karen was the first female president of the Newport County Chamber of Commerce. She served on Newport Hospital’s Board of Governors, was a Bank Newport corporator and the former corporate secretary of Child & Family. She formerly was vice president of the Newport County Convention & Visitors Bureau, now known as Discover Newport.
She was a lifelong learner, a member of Salve Regina University’s Circle of Scholars, the Redwood Library, the Newport Museum of Irish History, the Preservation Society of Newport County and her book club. She loved literature, theater and music, and will be remembered as a generous and compassionate woman.
Karen leaves her mother, Ann Marie (Egan) Oakley of Newport; her brother, George A. Oakley Jr. and his wife, Laura (Swift) Oakley of Middletown; her nephews Bryan A. Oakley and his wife, Julie, of Westerly, and Matthew S. Oakley and his wife, Amy, of North Kingstown; three great-nephews, Aidan, Ryan and Erik Oakley; and two great-nieces, Haley and Keira Oakley.
Karen also will be remembered and celebrated by her colleagues at Viking Tours of Newport, her many friends and her large, extended family, including godmother Joan Smith, first cousin Ted Goddard, adopted aunt Mary Frances Callahan and dozens of Callahan, Smith and Oakley cousins.
Calling hours will be held Wednesday, Dec. 12, from 3-6 p.m. at the O’Neill-Hayes Funeral Home, 465 Spring St., Newport. A Mass of Christian burial will be celebrated Thursday, Dec. 13, at 9:30 a.m. at St. Joseph’s Church, Broadway and Mann Avenue. Burial will be private.
Memorial donations in Karen’s honor may be made to the Newport Fire Department Rescue Wagon Fund, 21 West Marlborough St., Newport, RI 02840; or to St. Joseph’s Church Soup Kitchen, 5 Mann Ave., Newport, RI 02840.