News | Whitcomb: Sharing Pension Blame; ‘Ladies Lingerie’; Money for the Mob; In Defense of Buses

Sunday, May 13, 2018

Robert Whitcomb, columnist

“You fall out of your mother’s womb, you crawl across open country under fire, and drop into your grave.”

— Quentin Crisp

“News is what somebody somewhere wants to suppress; all the rest is advertising.’’

— The early 20th Century British newspaper publisher Lord Northcliffe
 

“{O}ne turns to the spring world again, knowing that it is not forever, and that all one can do is drink deeply and store it up, and use it, a memory at a time, against the press of other moments and other moods. If ever one moment could justify all of life, it would be such an evening in May.’’

— In the chapter “May Evening,’’ from in Praise of Seasons, by the late Alan H. Olmstead, a Connecticut editor and essayist.

I vote for May as the best month. It’s the freshest,  the most fragrant and the most, well, most luscious. It’s also the greenest, and I think that green is the most soothing color, though some neurologists insist that blue is.

If you’re a student, final exams and papers darken the month,  but for most of us, May is a joy. Early and mid-October may give it a run for its money in beauty, but October has the great drawback of our knowing that it’s followed by dark, chilly, windswept November.

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Vincent “Buddy” Cianci

In my last column, in a comment about the Providence Water Supply Board, I called the late Providence Mayor Vincent Cianci the prime culprit in the city’s ongoing underfunded-pension problem. Well, he signed off on the extreme giveaways, the worst part of which was huge cost-of-living payments,  and set the long-term pattern for underfunding the pensions.

However, I should have noted that the original sin in all this was committed by the Retirement Board,  which municipal unions controlled for years. The board showed little concern for the fiscal health of the city. Then there was a  1989 decision by then-Mayor Joseph Paolino to offer 5 percent compounded COLAs in a collective-bargaining agreement; city councilors unwilling to push back strongly to stop the raids on the city’s treasury,  and widespread disability-pension fraud.

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Some Rhode Island Democrats have proposed big tax increases to pay for expanded or new public programs. But the tiny state has no alternative but to make its taxes competitive with Massachusetts’s. Economic reality bites.

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I’m sympathetic to Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Netti Vogel for having imposed a ban on citizens, including journalists, from contacting jurors in the high-profile trial of  Jorge DePina, who was found guilty of second-degree murder in the death of his 10-year-old daughter. After all, who wants to be approached by strangers wanting to discuss such a ghastly story after you’ve done your painful civic duty in a case like this?

Facing a Providence Journal lawsuit alleging that her do-not-contact order violated the First Amendment, Judge Vogel lifted her ban.

While levels of sequestration are appropriate for jurors while they serve so that they can make as disinterested a decision as possible based on sworn testimony and other evidence, after a jury decides, the public has a right to ask about what went into its judgment. With trial after trial, such information over time can be used to improve our courts.

Of course, the jurors have every right to refuse to speak to the news media or anyone else. And we thank them for their service.

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Why would Newport’s Salve Regina University want to build two large dormitories to house hundreds of students? Well, one attraction would be that the university could try to rent them out to the public during the City by the Sea’s busy summer tourist season.

This might be particularly attractive during a time when, nationally, the number of customers applying to enter many such small private colleges has been declining, forcing some to close.

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The death, back on Feb. 3, of Paul Nicholson, 99, was a melancholic reminder of Providence’s glory days as a renowned industrial center.

Mr. Nicholson was the long-time CEO of the family enterprise,  the long-gone and Providence-based Nicholson File Co.,  which was the world’s largest maker of files and rasps, with a big manufacturing complex in Providence. He was on innumerable boards, business and charitable, and was known as a kindly and paternalistic executive in the days of noblesse oblige. Lost world indeed!

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President Donald Trump

Given how relentlessly Donald Trump has denounced the Iran nuclear deal (but has he to this day even read it?) to his base, it was unlikely that he would do anything else but dramatically take us out of it. Indeed, he has tried to destroy all the major initiatives of the Obama administration, while promising such exciting new things as a “great, beautiful wall’’ along the Mexican border. It’s all about his adoring base, the most flamboyant members of which you see at his frequent rallies. A narcissist/demagogue can never get enough cheering. (Trump very rarely ventures into large non-base settings.)

Yes, as with all such agreements, the Iran nuclear deal has flaws that need fixing. But most U.S. experts on Iran have thought it has been pretty effective. And our clear-eyed, not naïve, allies Britain, France and Germany have strongly supported it for substantially slowing Iran’s march to becoming a nuclear power. Now more confusion will reign in the Mideast, and with more confusion usually comes more danger.

We await the president’s Plan B.

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The Works Progress Administration and the Civilian Conservation Corps did some great public projects in the Depression – the former building roads, bridges, walls, public buildings and other  infrastructure (some of which is still with us), the latter reforesting wide areas, improving parks, addressing erosion on farms and building roads into remote areas. They were both job programs meant to address the immediate unemployment crisis but their work made lasting improvements.

Now, although the jobless rate is very low, some leading Democrats want to create a federal “jobs guarantee’’ to prevent mass unemployment in future recessions/depressions. The basic idea is to hire any American who wants a job and pay him/her $15 an hour and provide health insurance.

Civilian Conservation Corps

Of course, this would be hugely expensive, maybe over $500 billion a year, but backers say raising taxes on the rich, and savings in unemployment-benefit programs, Medicaid and other social services, would make it fiscally plausible. I doubt it:  The costs would probably quickly spiral out of control, and it would be an administrative nightmare.

Could the Feds really put all of the millions of people who would sign up into productive work?  Of course, they’d be some jobs requiring little skill, such as ditch digging, picking up litter, some kinds of exterior painting and planting trees, but WPA-type projects now require a lot of people trained in operating complex machinery and even computers. The private sector wants people with those skills and generally pays more than $15 an hour for them.

As the usually very interesting conservative writer Megan McArdle noted in The Washington Post, the massive program envisioned by some Democrats would involve a lot of “make-work.’’ Hit link here.

But we would benefit greatly from targeted federal jobs programs that put people to work rebuilding our crumbling infrastructure and in such sectors as public health and education.

Oh, by the way, whatever happened to the huge infrastructure program promised by Trump?

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Some Trumpists complain that it’s unfair for Special Counsel Robert Mueller to be mucking around so much in the president’s past and present business affairs when the main point of the investigation is supposed to be Russian collusion with the Trump campaign.

They miss the point. Trump’s many business links with Russia, most suspiciously the vast quantities of money that his sleazy empire has received from people there, suggest his extreme vulnerability to Russian pressure, including blackmail and having loans called. Trump has always been a crook, with Italian Mafia and other criminal connections.

Robert Mueller

Look for the phrase “money laundering’’ to pop up more and more as the Mueller investigation continues.  Among many signs of corruption: Big cash expenditures by the Trump Organization. Where did the cash come from? No wonder Trump has refused to release his tax returns. But Robert Mueller has access to at least some of them.

Trump has always presented himself as a brilliant dealmaker. It can be easy to present yourself as a deal “artist’’ and “genius’’ if you’re not hemmed in by basic ethics and morality. Read the observations of Tony Schwartz, who ghost wrote Trump’s book Art of the Deal after shadowing Trump for 18 months in the ’80s (and still feels very guilty about it) by hitting this link here:

The electoral college has installed a mobster in the Oval Office.

Meanwhile, we learn that a  shell company that Trump fixer/lawyer/assistant crook Michael Cohen used to pay money to  porn star Stormy Daniels to shut her up about a sexual encounter with Trump got big payments from a U.S. company linked to a Russian oligarch as well as  from several corporations, including AT&T, with current or expected business before the Trump administration.

Among the transactions was about $500,000 from Columbus Nova, a New York investment firm whose biggest client is a company controlled by Viktor Vekselberg, the oligarch; he’s close to dictator Vladimir Putin.

Other transactions described in the financial records include $4.4 million Mr. Cohen got from big companies with current or potential business before the Trump administration. Dubious but probably legal.

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No wonder so many Americans, Trumpists and otherwise, feel antipathy to higher education:

Consider the case of Ned LeBow, 76, a Dartmouth College emeritus professor of government. Riding in an elevator at a recent International Studies Association (ISA) meeting, he joked as the doors opened at a floor, “ladies lingerie”.  Those of a certain age will remember when big department stores had elevator operators with natty uniforms who would announce, in a dignified voice, the specialty of each floor – e.g., “sporting goods,’’ “housewares,’’ “men’s clothing’’ and, yes, “ladies lingerie.’’

This enraged fellow passenger Simona Sharoni, 56, a professor of  “women’s and gender studies’’ at Merrimack College. So she filed a complaint with the ISA, which demanded that Professor LeBow “unequivocally’’ apologize for his whimsical remark. To his credit, he has refused to do so or to enter the ISA’s Stalinist re-education camp. Is Sharoni so weak and so angry that she can’t take a mild joke?

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Guild-like protectionism has always been very powerful in American health care, which partly explains why our health costs are the world’s highest.  I was reminded of this in reading the May 7  Providence Journal op-ed column “Protectionism only hurts Rhode Island,’’ by Saya Nagori, M.D., an ophthalmologist and medical director of an online app called Simple Contacts. It’s a telehealth technology for glasses and contact-lens users.

She asserts in her obviously very economically self-interested piece, that “79 percent of the time that a contact-lens user visits an optometrist to renew a prescription, they are reissued the  exact same prescription….{But} mobile app platforms like Simple Contacts use technology to administer a basic vision test….{which} is recorded and reviewed by a Rhode Island  licensed ophthalmologist who can renew the patient’s existing contact-lens prescription’’ at far less cost that visiting an optometrist.

Of course, the Rhode Island Optometric Association sees this as a serious threat to members’ revenue stream and has filed legislation to ban use of this technology. It reminds me of the strenuous attempts by some physicians to keep CVS’s Minute Clinics out of Rhode Island (where CVS is based).  Minute Clinics are staffed by nurses, nurse practitioners and physician assistants rather than by considerably more expensive physicians.

But the protectionists will fail in the end. American health care is just too damn expensive and so more and more patients demand new options.

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Meanwhile, every night on TV network news you can see a force for high healthcare costs – relentless and glitzy advertising of expensive, in-patent drugs that may or may not be more effective than much cheaper generic ones. The ads are especially targeted at the aging demographic who watch those shows. Of course, the older you are, the more likely you are to need medicine.

Viewers see these ads and then troop to their physicians to ask for prescriptions for the latest wonder drugs, the cost of which leads to ever more expensive public and private insurance and higher out-of-pocket health-care costs.

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Buses aren’t sexy, but we need more and better buses and bus routes, especially in dense urban areas, using new technology. As Laura Bliss, the author of a piece in the very useful citylab.com writes:

“{T}oo many cities are ignoring what is arguably the cheapest and most flexible general-purpose option, which happens to be available already: the bus. Buses can carry large numbers of people in a compact amount of road space. They don’t require special rights-of-way (though that’s sometimes ideal). They can be deployed and rerouted as needed. Across modes, they’re the most affordable to cities in terms of capital costs, and often in terms of operations….

RIPTA

“It’s not hard to see how the trend of deprioritizing buses will harden in the age of on-demand door-to-door rides. The problem is, your streets can’t fit them. If you care about how well your city moves, how your local economy is faring, and how the planet’s future fares, then you care about your city bus. And you care about making the bus better.’’

“{W}e plan to look at what’s working on bus systems in the U.S., with the belief that there is no inherent reason that buses cannot be great. Which cities are winning the battles to prioritize road space? Where is the gold standard for frequent, fast, and reliable transit being set by buses?’’

“After all, it’s telling that, even while transit agencies are being told to be more like Uber and Lyft, Uber and Lyft are increasingly mimicking buses. Both companies now have ‘shuttle’ or ‘line’ services that operate along preset routes with preset stops during peak commuter hours, just like a bus. It’s existential to the future of these start-ups that they stop subsidizing high-end solo rides and instead cram in the maximum number of riders per vehicle—in order words, that they reproduce a bus. ‘’

I hope that Scott Avedisian, the outgoing Warwick mayor, who will soon become the CEO of the Rhode Island Public Transit Authority, reads Ms. Bliss’s article. See:

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As a citylab.com fan, I also can’t resist touting an article headlined “Blue Light Special: The Chicago-area High School in an Old Kmart’’. It tells the story of how a design firm turned an abandoned department store in Waukegan, Ill., into a spiffy, bright school.  There are many old and decayed school buildings in Rhode Island – indeed, Gov. Gina Raimondo has proposed a $1 billion plan to fix them over the next five years; best estimates suggest that $3 billion is needed.

But with so many large store buildings around here empty because of Amazon, etc., why not see if some could be converted into school buildings at a lower cost and with better design than we’d get by renovating existing school buildings. Consider that the average Rhode Island school is more than 50 years old! Most big-box stores, vacant and otherwise, are younger.

See here:

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The Travelers, by Chris Pavone, is an intense, first-class international spy (among other occupations) thriller with psychological acuity, brilliantly drawn characters, and sense of place (or, rather, of many places, exotic and otherwise). It’s also often very funny, usually in macabre ways. The protagonist is a travel writer.

If you like short stories, pick up a copy of the late Peter Taylor’s Complete Stories: 1960-1992. While Mr. Taylor, a native Tennessean, usually set his stories in the urban  Upper South, with middle or upper-class characters, he did what good fiction writers do: Show universal issues that arise from particular situations. it’s hard to see the universal if it’s not grounded in the emotional and physical details of the particular.

Mr. Taylor’s characters strive to find their roles in a rapidly changing society. Doesn’t everyone. 

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“Lilacs,

False blue,

White,

Purple,

Color of lilac,

Your great puffs of flowers

Are everywhere in this my New England.

Among your heart-shaped leaves

Orange orioles hop like music-box birds and sing

Their little weak soft songs;

In the crooks of your branches

The bright eyes of song sparrows sitting on spotted eggs

Peer restlessly through the light and shadow

Of all Springs.

Lilacs in dooryards

Holding quiet conversations with an early moon;

Lilacs watching a deserted house

Settling sideways into the grass of an old road;

Lilacs, wind-beaten, staggering under a lopsided shock of bloom

Above a cellar dug into a hill.

You are everywhere.

You were everywhere.

You tapped the window when the preacher preached his sermon,

And ran along the road beside the boy going to school.

You stood by the pasture-bars to give the cows good milking,

You persuaded the housewife that her dishpan was of silver.

And her husband an image of pure gold.

You flaunted the fragrance of your blossoms

Through the wide doors of Custom Houses—

You, and sandal-wood, and tea,

Charging the noses of quill-driving clerks

When a ship was in from China.

You called to them: ‘Goose-quill men, goose-quill men,

May is a month for flitting.’

Until they writhed on their high stools

And wrote poetry on their letter-sheets behind the propped-up ledgers.

Paradoxical New England clerks,

Writing inventories in ledgers, reading the ‘Song of Solomon’ at night,

So many verses before bed-time,

Because it was the Bible.

The dead fed you

Amid the slant stones of graveyards.

Pale ghosts who planted you

Came in the nighttime

And let their thin hair blow through your clustered stems.

You are of the green sea,

And of the stone hills which reach a long distance.

You are of elm-shaded streets with little shops where they sell kites and marbles,

You are of great parks where every one walks and nobody is at home.

You cover the blind sides of greenhouses

And lean over the top to say a hurry-word through the glass

To your friends, the grapes, inside.

Lilacs,

False blue,

White,

Purple,

Color of lilac,

You have forgotten your Eastern origin,

The veiled women with eyes like panthers,

The swollen, aggressive turbans of jeweled pashas.

Now you are a very decent flower,

A reticent flower,

A curiously clear-cut, candid flower,

Standing beside clean doorways,

Friendly to a house-cat and a pair of spectacles,

Making poetry out of a bit of moonlight

And a hundred or two sharp blossoms.

Maine knows you,

Has for years and years;

New Hampshire knows you,

And Massachusetts

And Vermont.

Cape Cod starts you along the beaches to Rhode Island;

Connecticut takes you from a river to the sea.

You are brighter than apples,

Sweeter than tulips,

You are the great flood of our souls

Bursting above the leaf-shapes of our hearts,

You are the smell of all Summers,

The love of wives and children,

The recollection of gardens of little children,

You are State Houses and Charters

And the familiar treading of the foot to and fro on a road it knows.

May is lilac here in New England,

May is a thrush singing “Sun up!” on a tip-top ash tree,

May is white clouds behind pine-trees

Puffed out and marching upon a blue sky.

May is a green as no other,

May is much sun through small leaves,

May is soft earth,

And apple-blossoms,

And windows open to a South Wind.

May is full light wind of lilac

From Canada to Narragansett Bay.

Lilacs,

False blue,

White,

Purple,

Color of lilac.

Heart-leaves of lilac all over New England,

Roots of lilac under all the soil of New England,

Lilac in me because I am New England,

Because my roots are in it,

Because my leaves are of it,

Because my flowers are for it,

Because it is my country

And I speak to it of itself

And sing of it with my own voice

Since certainly it is mine.’’

— “Lilacs,’’ by Amy Lowell


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#50

Richard Grosvenor 

Painter

Born in France, educated at Harvard, Grosvenor has been the head of the art department at St. George’s for decades. 

A brilliant water colorist, Grosvenor was selected by the White House Historical Society to paint a scene of the White House for their bi-centennial calendar for the year 2000. That same year, the Newport Art Museum honored Grosvenor with a 50-year retrospective of his artwork. Grosvenor was also commissioned by the Tall Ships Committee to create an oil painting commemorating the Tall Ships’ visit to Newport in 2000.

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#49

Vinnie Paz

Professional Boxer

Paz, formerly Pazienza, fought 60 professional bouts at the Lightweight, Light Middleweight and Super Middleweight weight classes. 

He won the IBF World Lightweight Championship. His overall record was 50 and 10, and he fought in one of the golden ages of boxing. He fought Roberto Duran, Roy Jones, Jr., and Joe Frazier, Jr.. 

Far from perfect, he has been arrested a number of times on a range of charges. His colorful life story is the subject of a feature movie, “Bleed for This,” developed by Executive Producer Martin Scorcese.

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#48

Howard Ben Tré

Sculptor

Ben Tré is a world leader in innovating cast glass as a sculptural medium, and his work has been exhibited at more than 100 museum and public collections worldwide — and his studio is located in Pawtucket, RI. 

His works have been at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston; the Philadelphia Museum of Art; the Albright-Knox Art Gallery, Buffalo, NY; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden; the Renwick Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution; the Los Angeles County Museum of Art; the Museum of Fine Art, Houston; the National Museum of Modern Art, Kyoto; and the Museum of Modern and Contemporary Art, Nice.

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#47

Bill Reynolds

Sportswriter

Reynolds’ books use sports as the framework, but are deeper examinations of poverty, race, and addiction.

His book “Fall River Dreams” defined him a leading American writer who uniquely captures the intersection of sports and culture. 

“Bill Reynolds is one of the best writers around, and this book is the Friday Night Lights of high school basketball,” said Dan Shaughnessy of the Boston Globe.

“Success is a Choice,” which he co-wrote with Rick Pitino, is a business “how to” book that was a New York Times best-seller.

Reynolds has written 11 books and is a sports reporter for the Providence Journal.

 

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#46

John McCauley (Deer Tick)

Singer-Songwriter

McCauley has been a leading voice in the alternative, indie rock sphere for more than a decade. His work is a mix of rock with folk, blues, and country influences.

Along with his band, McCauley won Rock Artist of the Year at the Boston Music Awards (beating out Aerosmith) in 2013. He is married to fellow musician Vanessa Carlton — Stevie Nicks officiated their wedding.

With Deer Tick he has produced five albums. 

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#45

Ira Magaziner

Business Consultant

He created one of the most innovative university curriculums in America while he was an undergraduate at Brown, and went on to a Rhodes Scholarship at Oxford.

Magaziner founded a leading business consulting firm – Telesis — and then sold it to Towers Perrin. He served as the policy point person in President Bill Clinton’s Health Reform initiative that was led by Hillary Clinton. The effort failed and Magaziner was sued and fined — it ultimately was overturned

Today, he serves as the vice chairman and chief executive officer of the Clinton Health Access Initiative (CHAI). His son Seth is RI’s General Treasurer.

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#44

Angus Davis

Entrepreneur

Few business innovators in America have had the success of native Rhode Islander Davis. 

He co-founded Tellme, raised raised more than $200M in capital, and helped to lead the company to more than $100 million in sales and 300 employees. Tellme was acquired by Microsoft for nearly $1 billion.

Now, he is trying to do it again with Upserve, formerly Swipely. The company is “the smart management assistant serving up clear guidance that makes your restaurant thrive” – a tech firm that creates an information infrastructure for restaurants. He has raised upwards of $50 million for Upserve. Davis is a leading American business thinker — all before the age of 40.

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#43

Terry “Mother” Moy

Navy SEAL

If the Navy SEALs are the best trained and most respected in the United State Armed Forces, Moy is the “Mother” of the SEALs.

The Newport native is the embodiment of military lore. He was a famous SEAL instructor and one of his most infamous trainees was Jesse “The Body” Venture – Seal, professional Wrestler and Governor of Minnesota. 

While most SEAL activity is undisclosed, his effort to recover Apollo 17 was globally broadcast.

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#42

Phil West

Government Reformer

Once dubbed the Godfather of Ethics Reform, West has been the driving force in reforming governmental ethics for three decades in Rhode Island. 

His successes include a then-record fine against Governor Ed DiPrete, Separation of Powers, downsizing and modernizing the legislature, and the requirement of electronic filing of bills and making hearings accessible to the public.

He was the head of Common Cause RI for eighteen years and retired in 2006, but still remains a guiding force in reform. Two years ago, the master lever was eliminated and this year major ethics reform is moving through the General Assembly — all under the watchful eye of West.

West has taken on the most powerful forces — sometimes alone — and made Rhode Island a better place as a result.

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#41

Richard Jenkins

Actor

Jenkins is the consummate American actor. His work ranges from everything from “The Witches of Eastwick” to “Hannah and Her Sisters” to HBO’s “Six Feet Under” to his award winning role in “Olive Kitteridge”

His formative acting years took place at Trinity Repertory Company (now Trinity Rep). Jenkins then returned later in his career to help save the financially struggling theater.

He has starred and appeared in more than 80 movies and television series or movies. In 2014, Jenkins and his wife Sharon received the Pell Award for Lifetime Achievement from Trinity Repertory Company in Providence.

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#40

Alan Hassenfeld

Business 

The former CEO and Chairman of Hasbro was a driving force in transforming the company from a toy manufacturer to an entertainment company.

Michael Jackson and slews of others came to Rhode Island to tour the company and negotiate licensing deals.

In the early 1990’s he became a force in initiating ethics reform in Rhode Island. More recently, he endowed the creation of the Hassenfeld Institute for Public Leadership at Bryant University.

The Rhode Island-based Hassenfeld Foundation gave out roughly $4.7 million in donations in the most recently reported year. 

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#39

M. Therese Antone, RSM, Ed.D

Educator

Sister Antone was born in Central Falls, and educated at Salve Regina University, Villanova University, Harvard University and MIT Sloan School of Management.

Correspondingly, she has taught almost every level of education, rising to President of Salve Regina. There, she transformed the school, and Salve Regina’s national rankings and student profile vastly improved under her leadership.

During her tenure, the University’s endowment grew from $1 million to more than $50 million and the University invested $76 million on renovations and expansions and has received numerous awards for restoring the historic mansions, cottages, and gatehouses on its campus. She transformed the University and correspondingly has won countless awards for her service.

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#38

Umberto Crenca

Artist and Entrepreneur

Artist, visionary and business leader, Crenca took a crazy idea of developing a sustainable art cluster in Downtown Providence and made it the most unimaginable success, and has become a national model. 

AS220 was founded in 1985 to “provide a local, unjuried, and uncensored home for the arts,” and has grown to own and operate multiple facilities, currently providing fifty eight artist live and/or work spaces, four exhibition spaces, a print shop, a media lab including a black and white darkroom, a fabrication lab, a stage, a recording studio, a black box theater, a dance studio, and a bar and restaurant.

In 2016, Crenca was awarded Honorary Degrees from two different Rhode Island Universities.

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#37

Flynn Brothers

U.S. Army

In the history of the modern U.S. Military, there are only a handful of brothers that served as Generals simultaneously — Charlie and Michael Flynn of Middletown were one such case.

Michael Flynn recently retired from service, and has been seen on “Morning Joe” on MSNBC — not surprising, given the latest news. 

On Tuesday, GoLocal cited a story in the The New York Post that Michael is on the short list of Vice Presidential candidates for Donald Trump The Post wrote:

“A surprise name on the list is retired Lt. Gen. Michael Flynn, a national security adviser to Trump who has emerged as one of the most buzzed-about veep contenders, sources familiar with the deliberations said.

Regardless of his national political future, these two brothers are two of America’s most accomplished military leaders in the past half century.

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#36

Louise Durfee

Environmentalist and Attorney

When one talks about trail blazers in Rhode Island, Louise Durfee’s image should be the first thing that comes to mind. She was the first female partner at a major Providence law firm at a time when most law firms did not employ women attorneys. She was one of a small group of Tiverton residents who joined together in the early 1970’s to oppose a proposal to build a major oil refinery. 

The fight was so profound that it was featured in 1971 in Life Magazine and resulted in the founding of an organization that ultimately became Save the Bay. Again, Durfee the trail blazer.

In the 1980’s she helped to clean up the aftermath at Rhode Housing after widespread corruption was found. In 1991, Governor Bruce Sundlun named her Director of the Department of Environmental Management and just three years later, he fired her.

So she ran against him in the Democratic primary for Governor. 

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#35

Ron Machtley 

Politician and University President

Rhode Islanders were first introduced to Ron Machtley in 1988 when he traveled around Rhode Island with a pig named Lester “Less” Pork to point out the wasteful spending of then-Congressman Fred St. Germain.

Machtley upset the 28-year veteran and Chairman of the House Banking Committee to take the Congressional seat. In 1994, he was the odds-on-favorite to win the Governorship, but was upset in the GOP primary by Lincoln Almond, who went on to serve eight years as Governor.

After his defeat, he was the surprise choice to serve as President of then-Bryant College. At first appearances it was a strange choice, but Machtley could not have turned out to be a better selection.

Under his leadership, the college transformed to a University, with massive improvements in the University’s campus, an elevation to Division I Sports, and an overall improvement in Bryant’s academic position. 

When he assumed office Bryant had a $1.7 million operating deficit and a tiny endowment. Today, the University’s endowment is nearing $200 million. Over the past 20 years, Bryant has become one of the most improved higher education institutions in America.

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#34

U.S. Senator Jack Reed

Politician

If this list of greatest living Rhode Islanders had been developed twenty years ago, it might have been rich with elected officials – the likes of Senators Claiborne Pell and John Chafee, the retired John O. Pastore and Bruce Sundlun, but today there are few with the gravitas of achievement of those politicians. 

However, there is the now-senior Senator from Rhode Island, who has a national reputation as an expert on issues of national defense and is a constantly rumored to serve as the Secretary of Defense.

The former Army ranger worked his way up the political ladder as a State legislator and Congressman before winning the Senate seat of the retiring Pell.

In a time of great diverseness, he is a rare member that has conversations across the aisle.

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#33

Trudy Coxe

Environmentalist and Historic Preservationist

Coxe has now headed three of the most most important preservation organizations in New England. As the long-time Executive Director of Save the Bay in the 1980’s and 1990’s, she was a powerful force in driving the preservation of Rhode Island’s open space and improvements to Narragansett Bay.

Coxe lost a close race for Congress against Jack Reed, but was later appointed head of the largest Environmental Agency in New England when then-Governor Bill Weld named her head of the Massachusetts environmental agency – the Department of Environmental Protection.

After a multi-year stint in the Commonwealth, she came back to Rhode Island to lead and transform the Preservation Society of Newport.  In that role she has helped to recpaitalize and modernize the non-profit that stewards the mansions and other assets in Newport and across Aquidneck Island.

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#32

Ken Read

Sailor

No one on this list may be more accomplished in their individual field than Ken Read is to sailing. Twice the Rolex United States Yachtsman of the Year, three times leading America’s Cup yachts, and dominant in the Volvo Ocean Races for decades.

One could argue Read may be the most accomplished sailor in the world. He was a three-time college All-American at Boston University.

Today, he sails leading privately owned yachts and has been involved with the North Sail company. 

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#31

Michael Littman

Academic

There are few computer science professors that get tapped for their celebrity for a national television commercial (see below), but Brown University’s Littman is an academic rock star.  After ten years at Rutgers he left to join the faculty at Brown 

He leads an effort called Humanity-Centered Robotics Initiative (HCRI) in which Brown University aims to become a global leader in the field of creating robots that benefit, learn from, teach, support, and collaborate with people.

One of his recent journal articles he co-wrote was titled, “Learning behaviors via human-delivered discrete feedback: modeling implicit feedback strategies to speed up learning.”

His commercial was easier to understand — it has been viewed 550,000 times. 

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#30

Johanne Killeen 

Restaurateur

For decades the nicest restaurant in Providence might have been the old Rusty Scupper, but in the 1980’s, Johanne Killeen and George Germon not only transformed the restaurant scene in Providence, but also proved that small cities with brilliant chefs could compete.

Food & Wine honored Al Forno for launching ‘a new era of ambitious cooking in Providence [in 1980] with their thin-crusted grilled pizzas topped with superfresh ingredients.’ The editors singled out Al Forno’s Margarita Pizza (with house-made pomodoro, fresh herbs, two cheeses and extra virgin olive oil) as the signature item.

John Mariani, the food writer for Esquire put the new restaurant, Al Forno, on the national map by naming it the best new restaurant in America. Other food and travel magazines followed and the recognition transformed Providence, and as a result other mid-sized cities.

Al Forno put Providence on the food map and sparked many other creative and smart chefs. George Germon passed away in October of 2015. 

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#29

Terry Murray 

Business

It has been a number of years since Terry Murray ran one of the biggest banks in America. In 2004, Fleet Bank was acquired by Bank of America. Even today, Bank of America is headed up by a former Fleet executive — Brian Moynihan.

In the 1990’s, Fleet was a superstar financial service firm — it gobbled up bank after bank in the U.S. and in 1999 Murray and Fleet made the biggest buy – acquiring BankBoston. The new FleetBoston was a megabank. 

FleetBoston was the seventh-largest bank in the United States, as measured by assets (US$197 billion in 2003). It employed over 50,000, served more than 20 million customers globally, and revenues of $12 billion per year.

Murray grew Fleet from a small RI community bank to a global player.

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#28

Farrelly Brothers

Movie Producers

The Cumberland brothers – Peter and Bobby – are two of the most prolific comedic movie makers in Hollywood. They created a genre of politically incorrect, slapstick humor that has generated billions in box office sales.

Their movies include Kingpin, There’s Something About Mary and Dumb and Dumber —  to name a few of their 15 movies.

The Farrelly Brothers also co-wrote one of the all-time great Seinfeld episodes — titled “The Virgin.”

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#27

Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson

Judge

In 1965 Thompson came to Providence from South Carolina to attend Brown University and never went home. Today, she serves on the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals – one of the highest federal courts in America.

She was elevated to the seat previously held by Judge Bruce Selya.  Before serving on the court she served on the District and Superior Courts in the Rhode Island Courts.

Today, she serves on the Brown Corporation, the Board for College Unbound and Save the Bay.

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#26

Sid Abruzzi (Johnny Morocco)

Surfer/Skater

Abruzzi is known as the “godfather of the New England surf/skate mafia.”

“With a face that launched a thousand spliffs, ‘The Package’ has skated, surfed, and partied over the last 50 years with no end in sight. After reaching rockstar status with Big World in the mid ’80s, Sid’s infamous Water Bros. Surf shop brought vert skating to the beaches of Newport, RI,” wrote Jim Murphy in Juice Magazine.

Before ESPN’s X Games (Extreme Games) or the Gravity Games were envisioned, Abruzzi was an innovator helping to create a movement and industry that was primarily a West Coast phenomenon.  

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#25

Duke Robillard

Musician

The blues guitarist and Woonsocket native is well-known locally for co-founding Roomful of Blues, but his presence on the national stage, performing with The Fabulous Thunderbirds and recording with the likes of Bob Dylan and Tom Waits has helped make Robillard a bona fide star in American music. 

He is a two-time Grammy nominee, won the W.C. Handy Award in 2000 and 2001 for Best Blues Guitarist, and in 2007 received a Rhode Island Pell Award for Excellence in the Arts.   But don’t take our word for it — Tom Clarke with Elmore Magazine extolled Robillard’s virtues when he reviewed “The Acoustic Blues & Roots of Duke Robillard” in 2015.”

“A jazz man, a front porch pickin’ blues man and one-time guitarist for Dylan. A string band, jug band, ragtime, delta, Louisiana, Appalachian folk and Jimmie Rodgers-country aficionado. A backwards traveler, but forward thinker. A writer and singer with distinct style, and a studio owner and in-demand producer. Did I miss anything? Duke Robillard may wear a handsome, if nondescript, lid lounging on the cover of The Acoustic Blues,but he almost literally wears a hundred hats—all of them damn well. It’s hard to believe any one man can be as prolific as this Rhode Island Duke of the blues,” wrote Clarke. 

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#24

John Ghiorse

Meteorologist

Ghiorse may be Rhode Island’s most trusted and beloved television and digital news personality of all time. The Air Force Veteran and Harvard educated weatherman studied Meteorology at Penn State. He transformed weather reporting in Rhode Island and created his own branded measure — the Ghiorse Factor.

He first joined WJAR-10 in 1968, then moved to Channel 6 for nearly a decade and then back to WJAR. He retired from Channel 10 in 2009 and joined GoLocal and helped the digital media company launch its first site in 2010. He has delivered the daily Ghiorse Factor to GoLocal for the past five plus years. 

Ghiorse continues to be one of Southeastern New England’s most beloved news personalities.
 

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#23

Eugene Lee

Set Designer

If you have watched Saturday Night Live, the Tonight Show with Jimmy Fallon or many a production of A Christmas Carol at Trinity Rep, you have seen the work of Eugene Lee. He is one of America’s most creative and accomplished set designers.

The Providence resident has won three Tonys for Wicked, Sweeney Todd, and Candide. He has won multiple Drama Desk Awards for Outstanding Set Design and has won an Emmy for the design of the set for Saturday Night Live.

He is a member of the American Theater Hall of Fame.
 

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#22

Claire Andrade Watkins

Scholar

Rhode Island has always been one of the top destinations for Cape Verde emigres — and next month, Emerson College Professor and Brown University Fellow Andrade-Watkins, who grew up in Fox Point, will have a thirty year retrospective of her work at the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston. 

The subject? “Our Rhode: 30 Years of Cinema by and About Cape Verdian Rhode Islanders.”

Andrade-Watkins, a PhD, is Professor of Africana and Postcolonial Media Studies at Emerson, and is a Fellow at the Swearer Center for Public Service at Brown (as well as a visiting scholar). She is the Director of the Fox Point Cape Verdean Project, President, SPIA Media Productions, Inc., and a pioneer of global, intercultural media, marketing and distribution.  Her CV of work and accomplishments is 17 pages long. 

In 2006 Dr. Andrade-Watkins released “Some Kind of Funny Porto Rican?” A Cape Verdean American Story” (SKFPR), the “popular and critically acclaimed feature documentary about the Cape Verdean community in the Fox Point section of Providence, RI, and the first in a trilogy of documentaries about this unique and important community of the Africana Diaspora,” states her Emerson bio. 

She’s won numerous awards including the 2008 Community Service Award from Fox Point Boys & Girls Club Alumni Association.
 

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#21

Freidrich St. Florian

Architect

St. Florian is one of the most accomplished and varied architects in America. At one extreme he was the architect of the critically acclaimed World War II memorial in Washington, DC and on the other he designed the Providence Place Mall.

 
St.Florian has won numerous awards for his architectural achievements. He is a Fellow of the American Institute of Architects and a Fellow of the American Academy in Rome. His drawings are in the permanent collection of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Georges Pompidou Centre in Paris. In 2006 he was an awarded an honorary degree from Brown University.
 
 

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#20

Brad Read

Sailor/Educator 

Over the past few decades, Brad Read has built Sail Newport into a leading world class sailing education organization. Their programs vary from a partnership with the MET school  that introduces urban children to sailing to running world class sailing events. 

In 2015, Read was the driving force to bringing the Volvo Ocean Race to Rhode Island and then followed it up by leading the state’s effort to successfully bring the Volvo race back in 2017.

Read is a leading sailor, educator, facilitator, organizer and leader. His impact on Newport — and Rhode Island — has been remarkable. 
 

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#19

Gordon Wood

Historian

In a scene in the movie Good Will Hunting, Matt Damon humiliates a Harvard grad student by picking apart the student’s thesis regarding Wood’s “pre-revolutionary utopia.” (see scene below)

Matt Damon aside, Wood is one of America’s most accomplished scholars on the American Revolution — he won the 1993 Pulitzer Prize for History for his work The Radicalism of the American Revolution. In 2010 he was awarded the National Humanities Medal.

He is the Alva O. Way University Professor and Professor of History Emeritus at Brown University. His list of academic awards over the past 50 years is unmatched – he is the leading Revolutionary era historian.

 

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#18

Barrett Hazeltine

Business Mentor

For the past 60 years Hazeltine has been one of the most important educators at Brown University. While Brown does not have a traditional B-School like Penn’s Wharton, it does have one of the top American business mentors. According to many of the top business leaders in America, Hazeltine was a guiding influence on their careers.

A 2000 article in Brown Alumni Monthly unveiled in 2000 that 10% of the freshman class at Brown University took his “Engin. 9” class — short for Engineering 9.

Entrepreneurs as diverse as “Tom and Tom” (First and Scott, who met at Brown), Founders of Nantucket Nectars to John Koudounis, the CEO of Calamos Investment to Marques Coleman at Carlyle Group all identify Hazeltine as being a driving force in their business careers.
 

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#17

John Donoghue

Brain Scientist

Donoghue is one of the leading brain science researchers and entrepreneurs in the world. At Brown, he led the enhancement and growth of the Brain Science Center and his work to develop BrainGate, a mind-to-movement system developed in Donoghue’s lab.

Donoghue has published over 80 scientific articles in leading journals including Nature and Science. His work was featured on 60 Minutes and he has served on advisory panels for the National Institutes of Health, the National Science Foundation and NASA.

Presently, he is on sabbatical in Europe.
 

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#16

James Woods

Actor

The Warwick native is a two-time Academy award nominee and winner of a Golden Globe, and three time Emmy Award winner. His acting career ranges from The Onion Field to Casino and Nixon. 

More recently his voice work has been featured on The Simpsons, Family Guy, and Stuart Little 2.

Between TV, voiceover work and movies he has played roles in more than 100 productions.

Once dubbed as a genius by Business Insider for his attendance at MIT and his reported near perfect SAT score and IQ of 184.

Today he is a Republican activist and supported Ted Cruz for President.  

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#15

Arlene Violet

Politician

Violet was one of a group of pioneering women who changed the face of politics in Rhode Island.

Claudine Schneider had been elected to the U.S. House of Representatives in 1980 in the 2nd Congressional District.  Susan Farmer won the Secretary of State post two years later in 1982. Violet was the first female Attorney General in the United States when she was elected by Rhode Island voters in 1984. The new decade had ushered in a new era in Rhode Island politics. All three were Republicans.

It was her work and the work of other women that set the stage for Governor Gina Raimondo to be elected Rhode Island’s first woman Governor in 2014.

Violet was beat in her re-election bid in 1986, but her political presence continued in the state.

She was a talk radio host.

She penned two books, Convictions: My Journey from the Convent to the Courtroom and Me and the Mob, a book about the witness protection program. Violet was inducted into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1996.
 

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#14

Meredith Viera

Journalist/Entertainer

A native Rhode Islander, TV-journalist Vieira is one of the leading Portuguese Americans in the United States. She attended Lincoln School and Tufts before landing her first job in Worcester in radio and on television as a reporter at WJAR-TV in Providence.

Her hard news journalism bona fides were earned while working on the CBS news magazine West 57th, then as an investigative report for 60 Minutes.

Then in the late 1990s she shifted to more entertainment focused broadcast as a co-host to The View, hosting the game show “Who Wants To Be A Millionaire,” co-hosting the Today Show and Dateline NBC. She hosted her own show, The Meredith Viera Show for two years.

More recently she has been involved with a range of event and initiatives in Rhode Island including speaking at RIC regarding her heritage — all four of her grandparents were born in the Azores. Last year, URI’s Harrington School of Communication traveled down to Viera’s show at NBC Universal.
  
 

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#13

Leon Cooper

Physicist

Leon Cooper is Brown University and Rhode Island’s only Nobel Prize winner. 

Cooper won the Nobel Prize in 1972 for Physics (along with J. Bardeen and J.R. Schrieffer) for his studies on the theory of superconductivity. The winning work was completed while still in his 20s.

He has received seven honorary degrees from leading academic institutions from across the globe.

In the past few years, his work at Brown has focused on neural and cognitive sciences and has been “working towards an understanding of memory and other brain functions, and thus formulating a scientific model of how the human mind works.”
 

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#12

Ernie DiGregorio

Athlete

There are certain athletes who transcend the game and elevate it from sports to a higher level of entertainment.  Ernie D. was one of those rare athletes. He was am epic story, the 6 foot guard from North Providence who helped to take the beloved Providence College Friars to the final four. His skills and showmanship helped to transform the game from fundamentals to entertainment along with players like Connie Hawkins, Pistol Pete Maravich, Dr. J, and then Larry Bird, Magic Johnson and Michael Jordan. They all may have had better and longer careers, but none of them put on any better a show.

His NBA career was cut short due to injury but in his first year in the league he dazzled and won the NBA Rookie of the year. He was the third pick in the NBA draft.

For Rhode Islanders at the time his achievements were mythical. He teamed with fellow local boy Marvin Barnes and put little Providence College in the same sentence with powerhouse programs like UCLA.
 

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#11

Elizabeth Beisel

Athlete

Arguably the best swimmer to come out of Rhode Island, the Saunderstown native and North Kingstown high school grad first competed in the 2007 World Championships at the tender age of 14, placing 12th in the world in the 200 meter backstroke after advancing to the semi-finals. 

Beisel was the youngest member of the U.S. swim team at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, finishing just out of medal contention with a fourth place in the 400-meter individual medley and fifth in the 200 meter backstroke.  Four years later in London, Beisel made it to the Olympic podium with a silver in the 400 meter individual relay and a bronze in the 200 meter backstroke. 

The SEC Female Swimmer of the Year in 2012, Beisel won two individual national titles and was an eighteen-time All-American at the University of Florida, and a first-team Academic All-American.  According to her USA Swimming bio, the college communications major had dreams as a child of being an actress, but now has professional aspirations of being a news anchor.  As someone accustomed to being in the headlines, it’s not hard to imagine we’ll be seeing more from Beisel in the future. 
 

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#10

George Wein

Promoter

The Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals would not be among the top American music festivals were it not for Wein, who celebrated his 90th birthday last year. 

Trained as a jazz pianist, Wein might be Boston-born and educated, but it was the Newport Lorillards who invited Wein down in 1954 to the City by the Sea to establish the first outdoor jazz festival in the country.  Wein went on to form Festival Productions to promote large-scale jazz events, and has been well-lauded for his efforts — both nationally, and internationally.

In 1995, Wein received the Patron of the Arts Award from the Studio Museum of Harlem, and in 2004 given an Impact Award from the AARP. He was decorated with France’s Légion d’honneur and appointed a Commandeur de L’Ordre des Arts et Lettres (Commander of the Order of Arts and Literature) by the French government, and has been honored at the White House twice, by Jimmy Carter in 1978 and Bill Clinton in 1993. In 2005 he was named a “Jazz Master” by the National Endowment for the Arts. He has received honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music and Rhode Island College of Music.

GoLocal’s Ken Abrams sat down with Wein for a one-on-one last summer — read more here.

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#9

Jeffrey Osborne

Musician

Grammy Award-winning Osborne, born and raised in Providence, came from musical lineage. His father, Clarence “Legs” Osborne was a trumpeter who played with the likes of Duke Ellington and Count Basie.  And the Osborne roots are firmly planted here — in 2012, the city named a portion of Olney Street “Jeffrey Osborne Way,” to honor him. 

Osborne’s biggest hits include “On the Wings of Love” and a duet with Dionne Warwick, “Love Power.” He wrote the lyrics for Whitney Houston’s “All at Once,”  appeared in the fundraising “We Are the World” video in 1985, and has sung the national anthem at multiple World Series and NBA finals games.

While Osborne is an international legend in his own right, his star status continues to grow and impact the community here through his charity work.  He’s done golf and softball classics, comedy nights, celebrity basketball games. And he brings in the big names, from Magic Johnson to Smokey Robinson to Kareem Abdul Jabbar — the list is extensive.  Osborne is the epitome of a “greatest Rhode Islander” — one who’s gone on to make the state proud, and keeps coming back to help use his celebrity to benefit the community. 
 

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#8

Tom Ryan

Pharmacist/Business

Ryan helped to build one of America’s Fortune 500 top 10 companies, as CVS is a leading retail and healthcare force in America. 

More recently, the URI pharmacy grad has been involved with two of the biggest initiatives in Rhode Island in the past few years.

He and his wife Anne donated $15 million to fund the George and Anne Ryan Center on Neuroscience at URI. The effort is one of the key elements in bringing together major educational and health organizations in a broad-based neuroscience initiative in Rhode Island.

Ryan’s neuroscience gift coupled with his fundraising leadership and donations to build the Ryan Center have made him the single biggest individual donor to URI. 
 

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#7

Ann Hood

Writer 

Born in West Warwick and a URI grad, Hood is a best-selling novelist and short story writer; and the author of fifteen books, with her latest, The Book That Matters the Most, due out this August.

Hood has won two Pushcart Prizes, two Best American Food Writing Awards, Best American Spiritual Writing and Travel Writing Awards, and a Boston Public Library Literary Light Award. Her essays and short stories have appeared in The Paris Review, Ploughshares, and Tin House. Hood is a regular contributor to The New York Times’ Op-Ed page, and is a faculty member in the MFA in Creative Writing program at The New School in New York City.  Hood’s “An Italian Wife” was recently featured as a play at the Contemporary Theater Company in South Kingstown. 

Of Hood’s The Knitting Circle, The Washington Post wrote, “A wondrously simple book about something complicated: the nearly unendurable process of enduring a great loss.”  Fellow best-selling writer Jodi Picoult even asked if anyone could top Hood. “Is there anyone who can write about the connections of ordinary people better than Ann Hood?” posed Picoult. 

While her reach is worldwide, Hood, who is married to businessman Lorne Adrain, lives in Providence and is a fixture in the Rhode Island community.
 

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#6

Bob Ballard

Oceanographer

Ballard found the Titanic.  And yes, he was a URI undergrad and now serves multiple leading roles at URI as a Professor of Oceanography; Director, Center for Ocean Exploration; and head of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography.

Today, the Archeological Oceanography, which he started in 2003 is a unique institute “combines the disciplines of oceanography, ocean engineering, maritime history, anthropology and archeology into one academic program.” The institute involves a broad cross section of URI faculty and includes faculty from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Florida State University, MIT and Woods Hole.

He is the rockstar face of oceanography in the world.
 

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#5

Jonathan Nelson

Investor

Nelson is one of America’s leading investors. In an era of Wall Street mega firms, Rhode Islander Nelson has built in Downtown Providence a $40 billion private equity fund  Providence Equity Group. 

Once the golden boys of private equity and lauded for putting together “the biggest deal in the world,” he and the firm have had a series of set backs.

The highest profile bump was the firm’s loss of nearly $800 million in the firm, Altegrity, that was contracted to review federal contractors like Edward Snowden.

As GoLocal previously reported, the domino effect of Snowden’s absconding with federal data bases exposed the deficiencies of Altegrity’s vetting process.

He has become more active as a philanthropist and is listed by Forbes richest in Rhode Island.
 

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#4

Dennis Littky

Educator

Littky is a rebel, a disruptor, an innovator, a trouble maker, and an educator.  They made a movie about him, Newsweek has featured his schools, President Obama talks about his schools and Bill and Melinda Gates gave him millions to grow, refine and scale is model of disruption.

In 2009, Littky defied all and created an alternative college and by 2015 the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education approved College Unbound as a degree-granting postsecondary option in the state.

In Rhode Island, The Met School celebrated its 20th Anniversary this past week. Thousands of students who would not have finished high school have graduated and moved on to college, business and beyond.

There may be no more accomplished innovator than Littky.
 

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#3

Bill and David Belisle

Coaches

Bill and David Belisle may be the best high school and youth coaches in history. Going by the statistics, the record of twenty-six consecutive state hockey championship (1978 to 2003) and a total of 32 may be a record never to be matched. Bill Belisle (the father) has coached at Mount for 42 years and his son David has been his assistant for years.

The younger Belisle made national headlines with his post game speech to the Little League team he was coaching was defeated in the Little League World Series.

Twice their players have been selected #1 in the NHL Draft, countless others played in the NHL, and dozens played college hockey. There are movies and books on the exploits of Mount Hockey under the Belisles. 

Photo courtesy of Dave Belisle

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#2

Nick Benson

Artist 

There are few people in the world that are recognized as the very best in their craft, but Nick Benson of the John Stevens Shop in Newport is globally recognized as the best stone cutter in the world. 

Founded in 1705, The John Stevens Shop specializes in the design and execution of one-of-a-kind inscriptions in stone — the MLK Memorial, FDR’s Four Freedoms Park, and the inscription for the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, to name a few. 

Benson won a Genius Fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, and was recently featured on CBS news. The John Stevens Shop is one of America’s longest continuously running businesses.
 

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#1

Viola Davis

Actor

Davis is one of the most accomplished actors in the United States. She is the winner of two Tony awards, an Emmy and a SAG award as well as being nominated for an Oscar.  With regards to her Emmy, she became the first African-American to win the Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015. Amazingly, she did not earn her SAG card until she was 30 years old.

Davis self-describes that she grew up in abject poverty in Central Falls and worked her way to Rhode Island College and now beyond but has been a constant force in helping Central Falls to recover from its bankruptcy and rebuilding its spirit.

She is a leading fundraiser for a range of Rhode Island causes.  Davis is the embodiment of the Rhode Island spirit and a model of how to overcome the greatest challenges to reach greatness.
 

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