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Robert Whitcomb: Yes, R.I. Progress; Conn. Cities Challenge; Train Stories

Sunday, July 16, 2017

 

Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

“Rest is not idleness, and to lie sometimes on the grass under trees on a summer's day, listening to the murmur of the water, or watching the clouds float across the sky, is by no means a waste of time.’’

-- John Lubbock (1834-1913), English politician, philanthropist and polymath

 

I’m skeptical about rankings, whether US News & World Report’s college appraisals or Money magazine’s “Best Places to Retire’’ or others of that ilk.  They all end up comparing apples with oranges in varying degrees.

 

So I don’t think that CNBC’s raising Rhode Island’s “Top States’’ economic ranking to 45 from 50 means that much. And there are many reasons to live or not live in a state besides the criteria used in such rankings.

 

Still, the ranking writers did mention some things about which Rhode Islanders should be pleased.  As Scott Cohn, the study’s lead analyst, wrote:

 

“Let's put this in perspective. Finishing in 45th place would be nothing to crow about were it not for the fact that this is Rhode Island's best finish since we began rating the states in 2007. Just one year ago the Ocean State finished dead last. The improvement is no accident. Every time we rank Rhode Island at or near the bottom, state officials take it to heart. ‘Take a fresh look at Rhode Island,’ Gov. Gina Raimondo urged us last year, pointing to a slate of reforms. Sure enough, Rhode Island's economy notched a solid improvement this year. Other things — like the nation's worst infrastructure — will take more time, but baby steps. Baby steps.”

 

Meanwhile, U.S. News ranks Rhode Island 18th in the nation for economic stability and potential. Not bad at all.

 

RI moved up 5 spots from 50 to 45 in the CNBC Top States for Business

Well, some of the steps that Ms. Raimondo have taken will take some time to work their way through the economy. Perhaps the most important is her “RhodeWorks’’ project to fix the Ocean State’s worst-in-the nation transportation infrastructure. As part of this, she was willing to take on the lobby for truckers, who do 80-90 percent of the damage to the state’s roads and bridges, and set up a tolling system for them. Also very important is the Raimondo administration’s at least partial success in trying to bring spiraling Medicaid costs under control.

 

It’s far  too early to judge the effectiveness of  the governor’s deal-making with big companies to get them to expand or move to the state. A big question: Will they keep their implied promises on job creation, and, for that matter, will they stay in the state? Most companies break their promises.

 

And will the governor, who gained national fame as public-pension reformer, have the courage to veto two horrendous special-interest bills just approved by the General Assembly – one to allow the indefinite extension of municipal labor contracts and the other to let public-safety employees retire with tax-free disability pensions based on developing the sort of common illnesses such as heart disease that anyone can get. Both these measures, pushed through a General Assembly rife with public-employee-union conflicts of interest, would blow big holes in many municipal budgets.

 

Having said that, even cynical Rhode Islanders (i.e., probably most Rhode Islanders) should applaud the progress made in the past few years.

 

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Most of us complain that summers go too fast in New England. A big reason is that we try to cram too many social, travel and other experiences into a fairly short season of warm weather and rigidly consider the season to come to a halt with Labor Day.

 

Instead of a time that’s supposed to be more relaxing than the rest of the year we’re going nonstop in a whirr. Perhaps if we (nonstudents and teachers) more seriously considered September a summer month (which most of it is, technically) and moved more summer stuff there, we’d feel less rushed.

 

 

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President Trump

It’ll be up to the lawyers, especially Special Counsel Robert Mueller, a Republican and former FBI director, to decide whether to take information about the Trump crowd’s plotting with their pals in the Kremlin to a grand jury and seek perjury, conspiracy and/or treason charges. The legal questions seem murky.

 

What is clear is how thick the Trump people are with the Russians. Trump’s lies about his and his family’s and retainers’ links to Vladimir Putin’s regime are layer by layer being revealed. Of course, President Trump has had ties with government officials and politically connected business people in that nation for two decades. Mr. Trump, a long-time crook himself, has always liked dealing with corrupt regimes – simpler to cut deals with them than with officials answerable to the public in democracies that mandate at least a modicum of transparency.

 

Donald Trump’s public remarks tend to recall the late writer Mary McCarthy’s line about Stalinist American playwright and memoirist Lillian Hellman: “I think every word she writes is false, including ‘and’ and ‘but.'”

 

What might be surprising in all this is how little the media note that these relationships involve collaboration with a deeply corrupt dictatorship that invades neighboring nations, murders political foes and is engaged in cyber war against the United States. After all, Donald Trump Jr., Jared Kushner and the other dubious characters who make up the president’s inner circle have not been collaborating with, say, French, British, Japanese, German representatives, people from nations that share Western values.

 

Mr. Trump, who obviously knew in advance all about Donald Trump Jr.’s now famous meeting at Trump Tower with a Kremlin-connected lawyer, is presiding over a group that thinks it’s fine to have close relations with an enemy of America.

 

Over the years, the Trump tribe has developed considerable familiarity with mobsters in some Trump casino and other projects. Perhaps that’s why they’re comfortable dealing with Putin’s kleptocratic Kremlin crew, who have many Mafia characteristics, including in how they deal with uncooperative people.

 

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My background is mostly New England/New York/Midwest Republican. America needs a thoughtful center-right party, and not the expanding special-interest swamp of the current GOP. (Yes, there are plenty of special interests in the Democratic Party, but none so self-enriching and lacking in principle  -- or politically successful! -- as the current Republican ones.)

 

I have been intrigued by the solidity of the support for Trump amongst the overwhelmingly white folks who are the core of his backers.  Incidentally, as it turns out, their income as a group is over, not under, the national median – contrary to the assumption during and after the election campaign.

 

They support him in the face of more than 40 years of his easily researchable frauds, lies, sexual depravity and other offenses that, presumably, most would find intolerable amongst their own family and friends.

 

Why? One reason is that for several decades we’ve been becoming a post-literate world. Many Trump backers get most of their “news and information’’ from cable TV – mostly from that organ of the plutocracy called Fox News, which naturally loves Trump, because the plutocracy is where his loyalties lie. And Trump, like any good demagogue, knows how to use TV – after all, he was a TV star himself. He realizes that presentation (“production values’’), not facts or truth, is all. And Trump, like any good demagogue, knows how to mine resentments, especially in a world where social and economic change are happening at a nerve-racking pace.

 

Finally, there’s the fact that it’s embarrassing to admit that you’ve been conned.

 

 

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President Trump, in a rousing July 6 speech in Poland, talked about what he sees as the grave threat to Western Civilization. He called on the West to defend “the great civilized ideas: individual liberty, representative government, and the rule of law under God” and criticized “the shyness of some of us in the West about standing for these ideals.”

 

I agree with the words, except maybe for his reference to God, which implies a religious state. Western Civilization has done more good for humanity than any other civilization. But the speech is best read if you don’t know who delivered it!

 

Russia's Putin

I chuckled at his praise of liberal democracy given his own behavior, which has included an affinity for dictators and his threats against such sometimes inconvenient aspects of Western Civ as freedom of the press and an independent judiciary. And it would have been nice if he’d mentioned three of the glories of   the West – skepticism, free inquiry and a respect for the facts.

 

He also underplayed the growing aggression of the world’s two most powerful dictatorships – Russia and China. – and he over-emphasized a challenge that we’ll always have with us but that can’t defeat us—Islamic terrorism. Trump focused on that rather diffuse threat because it’s much less scary than Russia and China.

 

He also placed too much emphasis on the glories of nationalism and not enough on the unifying qualities of the broader Western culture More than just being an American, I’m happy to be a citizen of the West, which people around the world by the many millions want to move to because of its values and, related to them, its wealth. Mr. Trump is a comically inappropriate ambassador of Western Civilization but I’m glad he said he approved of it and delivered his speech well. Good production values!

 

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The Trump administration wants to kill “Net Neutrality’’ which mandates that such Internet Service Providers as Comcast, Verizon and AT&T treat all online content, apps and services equally. This means that ISPs are barred from using their market dominance to block competing content providers or prevent access to other providers by intentionally speeding up or slowing the flow of content. Thus, the current rule keeps the Internet open to a wide range of content creators and transmitters.

 

If the Trumpsters, buoyed by ISP campaign contributions, succeed in killing Net Neutrality then free speech, including journalism, will take a big hit as the big ISPs manipulate the Web to maximize their profit.

 

As Reporters Without Borders declared accurately: “Lack of neutrality would mean restricted access to certain online content, additional charges to visit certain Web pages, censored text and video content, and arbitrarily slowed connections to certain platforms.’’  The public should make its views known on this issue before it’s too late.

 

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Financial failures

Derek Thompson, writing in The Atlantic’s online service, has some interesting takes on Connecticut’s current fiscal problems. The state government has a huge deficit,  some cities are effectively bankrupt, taxes are amongst the highest in the nation and some big companies have fled. And yet the state remains the richest on a per-capita basis in America, albeit largely because of New York City-connected rich folks living in Fairfield County. (Massachusetts is  the second-richest; New Jersey the third.)

 

He notes some remarkably little reported reasons for the state’s ills: One is that Connecticut, like America in general, has lost much of its high-valued manufacturing, a sector for which  Connecticut was once famed around the world.  (I lived near Waterbury for four years in the early and mid-‘60s, from when I well remember the busy factories up and down the colorfully polluted Naugatuck River.)

 

Very highly paid people in finance, many of  them commuting to Manhattan but many doing their thing in Stamford and Greenwich, have offset some of this loss. However, finance, which of course follows the ups and downs of Wall Street, is more cyclical than manufacturing. And the latter provided a wider range of well-paying jobs to many more people than does finance.

 

Another important change that Mr. Thompson cited is that the big cities close to Connecticut --- especially New York and Boston – have become much safer and more attractive. Rich people and Millennials have been moving back into them, having grown bored with suburbs, even those as attractively sylvan as some on Connecticut’s strip of the Long Island Sound shoreline.

 

Conservatives who seem obsessed with high taxes above all else should note that some of the big companies pulling their headquarters from Connecticut are not exactly moving to low-tax venues. Consider that Aetna is leaving Hartford for Manhattan and General Electric has left Fairfield for Boston. They want the dynamism of those cities and are happy to pay for it.

 

The Nutmeg State has poor, high-crime and often badly run cities. If the state is to improve its long-term prospects, I and Mr. Thompson would agree, it needs to fix its cities. Hartford, which used to be a vibrant and mostly middle-class city before bad municipal government, ill-considered  “urban renewal’’ and other factors drove it into the ditch, is expected to go into official bankruptcy soon. That should let it start cleaning up its act and make it a place that people, especially young adults who might otherwise go to New York, would want to live and work in. That could help turn around the whole state. After all, Hartford is the state capital.

 

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I’ve long been fond of New London, with its dramatic setting where the Thames River meets Long Island Sound, with its ferry service to Orient Point and Block Island, the submarine base across the river in Groton, the Coast Guard Academy, Connecticut College and other institutions. The city still has some glorious old – but badly maintained -- downtown buildings constructed in its ocean-shipping days, which included the whaling boom. But there’s not been the sort of architectural preservation that has saved much of downtown New Bedford, with a somewhat similar history as New London’s, from the wrecking ball.

 

To help protect and repair its gorgeous old downtown buildings, New London, as David Collins, of the local paper, The Day, has suggested, needs a downtown historic district as rigorous as New Bedford’s. It would then benefit more strongly from tourism and other synergies associated with its role as a ferry port through which many thousands of travelers, tourists and students go every year.

 

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The proximity of lots of techies and major universities can trump taxes and weather. Thus Amazon is hiring 900 more people and plans to open up a facility in Boston’s Fort Point neighborhood.

 

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Amtrak's new proposed route

Amtrak and commuter rail travelers face a summer of hell in and around New York’s Penn station as long overdue repairs are made to rail infrastructure there. There will be many delays. New Englanders traveling to New York might want to consider taking Metro North trains from Connecticut. Those terminate at Grand Central Station, not Penn Station. Hopefully within a decade the hellhole that is Penn Station will be replaced with something more gloriously fitting for the nation’s busiest train station.

 

In other train news, I was sorry to hear that plans for a new high-speed Amtrak route through southwestern Rhode Island and southeastern Connecticut have been held up or perhaps killed by local NIMBYs who assert  that the proposed route would have some bad local environmental effects.  In fact, the environmental effects would be minor. And by thwarting building along the most commonsensical route in the area, the foes would hurt the environment by ensuring that the train trip between Boston, New York and points south wouldn’t be as fast and competitive with driving as it should be.

 

This  would keep more cars on the roads, causing more pollution and perhaps necessitating more and/or wider roads. Highways, of course, are much wider than rail lines. This is yet another example of why America is the toughest place in the Developed World to build and repair infrastructure.

 

Still, there’s happy rail news. Amtrak’s Downeaster, which connects Boston and southern Maine, terminating in Brunswick, reported its second-highest number of passengers – 511,422, in fiscal 2017, which ended June 30. That’s up 9 percent from a year earlier and close to the record of 518,572 set in fiscal 2014.

 

People grow to love their trains – if they’re given the opportunity. Patricia Quinn, who runs the Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority, was quite right to crow: “These results are pretty impressive. Achieving near-record ridership in a year of low fuel prices and construction-related service interruption indicates that the Downeaster has come of age in solidifying a durable and loyal customer base.’’

 

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Novelist Bernhard Schlink, a German lawyer and former judge, writes crisp, psychologically acute novels. I just read his The Woman on the Stairs (Pantheon Books), set in Germany and Australia. It involves a beautiful woman, a famous male painter who used her as a model, a rich businessman and a male lawyer, all of whom are brought together by a painting that remains an obsession over decades, as does the woman for the men as they age, even when she becomes old and sick.

 

At the heart of this addictive novel is the struggle to reconcile past and present selves, something that most of us go through. The plot sometimes stretches credulity but the insights are piercing.

 

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In last year's campaign, Donald Trump made much of the wonderfulness of coal-mining and of his solidarity with coal miners and  workers in some other old industries. But this quote from a 1990 Time magazine interview with him suggests what he really thinks of these people. And he’s right: These people should do something else, which might include leaving Appalachia. We all have to accept permanent changes in the economy.

“The coal miner gets black-lung disease, his son gets it, then his son. If I had been the son of a coal miner, I would have left the damn mines. But most people don’t have the imagination — or whatever — to leave their mine. They don’t have 'it.'''

 

Related Slideshow: The 50 Greatest Living Rhode Islanders

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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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