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TRENDER: RI Historian Laureate Patrick T. Conley

Tuesday, May 06, 2014


Who are the Rhode Islanders leading in arts, fashion, food, and style? They're Trenders, and GoLocalProv offers a glimpse of the people you most want to know on the scene. Today's Trender is Dr. Patrick T. Conley, the current Historian Laureate of Rhode Island.

Conley’s life has been full of endeavors and achievements which are extremely impressive and varied. He is a Providence College alum who, for 30 years, taught classes on American History, as well as on History and Constitutional Law at this Catholic institution of higher learning. Conley has also served as an educator of history and law at other local schools including Providence’s LaSalle Academy, Salve Regina University, and Roger Williams University School of Law, as an adjunct professor. He has filled a number of important roles at Roger Williams University over the years including Former Member of the Corporation, Former Member of the Law School Advisory Committee, and Member of the Board of Overseers, just to name a few.

This well-respected attorney is a member of both the Rhode Island Bar Association and the Federal Bar. Conley is a licensed Real Estate Broker and Realtor who is either the President or managing partner of an astounding amount of real estate holding companies. His decades of hard-work and devotion to the Rhode Island area, and specifically to the Providence community, has led to extensive expansion ranging from medical centers to apartment complexes to harbor-front development. This PC graduate was once listed as Providence’s largest private landowner, and he has owned more parcels of real estate than any individual in the city’s history.

On top of all this, Conley is also an acclaimed author and lecturer. He was the proprietor of P.T. Conley Books from 1963-1997. Since 2003, he has been a columnist for the Providence Journal’s editorial pages and he has published twenty-seven books. His publications and articles deal with a plethora of topics such as history, law, ethnic studies, religion, and political science, and the titles range from: Catholicism in Rhode Island: The Formative Era (1976) to The Rhode Island Constitution: A Reference Guide (2007).

He is a member and the current President of the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame and he was the founding chairman of the Rhode Island Senior Olympics. Conley is a former USATF Master’s All-American in the javelin event. This father of six and grandfather of seven resides in Bristol, Rhode Island with his wife Gail and their Maltese dog, Bridget. As an English major at Providence College with a great interest in the field of journalism and law myself, Dr. Conley’s life is something to be sought after.

Describe your experience as both a student and a teacher at Providence College. How did your formative years at the college influence your career path?

I enrolled at Providence College in late August 1955 without taking an entrance exam when I belatedly decided not to pursue a career in professional baseball. I was captain and left fielder on two Rhode Island sandlot baseball championship teams. My cherished mentor at PC was Father Cornelius P. Forster.

Tell us a little bit about your time spent as the Historian Laureate of Rhode Island. How have you tried to serve your community following the reception of this dignified title?

In 2013, my first full year as laureate, I made 42 uncompensated speaking appearances around the state promoting my 4 most recent books--all of which dealt with Rhode Island.

What role do you believe that history can play in the betterment of our society and of the modern world as a whole?

History can be a great teacher. It gives one perspective, wisdom, and a sense of place. It is the most intellectually enriching of all scholarly pursuits because it deals with every aspect of life and every branch of knowledge.

It has been said that not only are you an expert historian, but a walking piece of history due to your copious and diverse accomplishments. During your life of service to the expansion of Rhode Island and its capital city, what positive changes have you witnessed in the state, as well as in Providence? Have you been disappointed to watch any negative alterations occur in the area?

My greatest disappointment has been the scrapping of the South Providence harbor-front along Allens Avenue parallel to Route 1-95. My wife Gail and I lost $4.1 million in a futile attempt to transform it from industrial to mixed-use – hotels, restaurants, an aquarium, medical treatment facilities, a marina, a cruise ship terminal, etc. The defeat was especially bitter because it was the result of bribery and political corruption. When my ancestors came from Ireland in 1870 they settled along that waterfront, and I grew up in South Providence.

How do you balance your myriad roles as husband, father, grandfather, lawyer, real estate broker and realtor, writer, teacher, philanthropist, committee member, and Historian Laureate? Do you often feel as though there is not enough time in the day for you to get everything done?

I have never experienced a problem performing my various activities. I simply do them when the urge or the need arises. Gail and I were the principal donors in the creation of the Irish Famine Memorial on the river in Downtown Providence and we paid sculptor Joseph Avarista $120,000 for a statue of Governor Thomas Wilson Don which we donated to the state of Rhode Island. It replaced the Royal Charter at the entrance to the Senate when a Charter Room was created on the first floor of the State House. Gail and I believe as much in giving back for civic purposes as we do in merely making money. There are no pockets in a shroud.

Do you have any future plans for publication or real estate development?

I will continue to write to share my knowledge with others and to engage in real estate activity to recover the loss I experienced on the Allens Avenue harbor-front.


Related Slideshow: Biggest Circus Accidents in History

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7.  Roanoke Virginia Motorcycle Accident

In February of this year a motorcyclist was badly injured when he lost control of his bike and crashed into a wall at the Civic Center. He was hospitalized with serious injuries.  Julian Gomez was in critical condition.
The injured rider sparked concern others, according to Roanoke.com:
"Hello everybody, we need some help for a Colombian guy who was doing a motocross freestyle show in Roanoke and had an accident and is actually in coma. His family is here, but it doesn't have transportation. We would like to see if somebody has a cheap car that they can use to go to the hospital (they have us drive license) you can also help with money. If you can help, contact me here or at 5407984479."
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6. Mary the Elephant

In 1916, an elephant named Mary killed her handler Red Eldridge. It sparked a media firestorm and there are various accounts of what led to the attack—"from Eldridge prodding Mary with a stick and infuriating her, to speculation that she was simply bored."
Eldridge’s death was tragic and gruesome and the elephant Mary’s was equally gruesome. According to press reports,  a crowd of 2,500 people gathered and Mary was hung from the neck by an industrial crane. 
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5.  Flying Wallendas

The Flying Wallendas are the most storied tight-ropers in performance history. 
The old circus family that consisted of Karl, his wife Helen Kreis, his brother Herman, and numerous other family members.  Karl Wallenda pioneered an act called the Seven-Person Chair Pyramid, in which seven people balanced on tightropes (and a chair) thirty-two feet in the air without the use of safety nets.
The Wallendas were undoubtedly excellent acrobats and daredevils; but in 1962, their act went horribly wrong. The lead man faltered, and three people crashed to the ground. Karl Wallenda’s son-in-law, Richard Faughnan, and Wallenda’s nephew, Dieter Schepp, were both killed. Wallenda’s adopted son, Mario, was paralyzed from the waist down.
On March 22, 1978, during a promotional walk in San Juan, Puerto Rico, Karl Wallenda fell from the wire and died. It was between the towers of Condado Plaza Hotel, 10 stories high. He was 73. Nik Wallenda completed the walk on June 4, 2011, with his mother, Delilah.
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4. Dessi Espana

Another Ringling Brothers acrobat that suffered a serious accident and was killed. In 2004, Dessi Espana was a Bulgarian-American who came from a family of performers.  She had performed for years and even held a Guinness World Record. Unfortunately, a technical failure. Espana was performing an aerial act with chiffon scarves when a mechanism holding the cloth in place failed, and she fell thirty feet, head-first. Espana later died from her injuries.
According to a Feld Entertainment statement, Dessi Espana, 32, a star performer in the Hometown Edition of Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey®, was critically injured during a matinee performance on Saturday, May 22nd at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minnesota. She was immediately taken to Regions Hospital, where she was pronounced dead at approximately 10:20 p.m. She is survived by her husband, Ivan, and their two children, Zore and Sian.
“I've known Dessi from the day she was born. She was a beautiful and talented young woman, a performer in our shows for decades who was beloved by everyone in our circus family” said Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Producer Kenneth Feld. “We were all so thrilled when the entire Espana troupe joined the Hometown Edition. Having such a talented family of performers involved in such a unique production made each show that much more special. Dessi will be remembered forever for touching countless hearts and bringing immeasurable joy to millions of families worldwide. Our thoughts and prayers are with the extended Espana family during this painful time.”
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3. ‪Siegfried & Roy‬ Tiger Attack

On October 3, 2003, during a show at the Mirage, Roy Horn was bitten on the neck by a 7-year-old male white tiger named Mantecore Fishbacher Horn.
Crew members separated Horn from the tiger and rushed him to the only Level I trauma center in Nevada, University Medical Center. Horn was critically injured and sustained severe blood loss.
While being taken to the hospital, Horn said, "Mantecore is a great cat. Make sure no harm comes to Mantecore."
Source: Wikipedia
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2. The Cleveland Circus Fire

According to Listverse, "There were no human fatalities in the Cleveland Circus Fire of 1942 but the fire caused the deaths of over one hundred circus animals.
A fire of unknown origin started near the menagerie tent of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Circus. Spectators and circus workers easily escaped the flames, but the fire spread so quickly, it became impossible to save all of the animals.
Nine cages—filled with lions, tigers, and zebras—burst into flames. Some animals were able to escape the blaze, but twenty-six others were so badly burned they were put down by policemen with machine guns."
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1. Hartford Circus Fire

The Hartford Circus fire was a tragic event and arguably the most well-known on our list, due to the scale of the fire and the extensive loss of life.
On July 6, 1944, a small fire began in the southwest sidewall of the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey big top circus tent. Because the tent was water-proofed with paraffin wax and gasoline, the fire spread rapidly.
Understandably, the crowd of seven thousand spectators panicked and rushed towards the exits. But two of these exits were blocked by chutes used to bring in circus animals—and in the ensuing stampede, circus goers were trampled, crushed, and asphyxiated under the weight of fallen people. As the flames spread, other spectators simply burned to death, or else died as a result of smoke inhalation. In a panic, some people tried leaping from the bleachers to avoid the fire; but this attempt to escape actually killed more people than it saved.
In the end, an estimated 169 people died and more than seven hundred were injured.

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