Whitcomb: Beltway’s Young Nobility; Bring in Mr. Gilbert; Adding to the Floods; & Intense Newport

Sunday, September 23, 2018

 

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Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

“When we pause in the middle of a long walk home and

Suddenly feel something invisible and weightless

Touching our shoulders, sweeping down from the air:

It is the autumn wind pressing against our bodies;

It is the changing light of fall falling on us.’’

 

-- From “Fall,’’ by Edward Hirsch

 

Explosive Infrastructure

The recent explosions and fires north of Boston were reminders of how dangerous natural gas can be, especially if pipes carrying it are old and corroded and gas is being sent at excessive pressures, in this disaster. We can hope that as battery storage improves, electricity from non-volatile energy from regional solar, wind and other nonpolluting sources will replace fossil fuel (all of which comes from outside the region) for virtually  all residential and commercial uses, also making us less vulnerable to giant utilities for whom profit and stock price might trump public safety.

 

For now, we can only hope that the gas-line part of America’s crumbling infrastructure gets some fast upgrades.

 

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Nike Ban

Petty ‘Patriotism’

The 3-2 vote, apparently now to be redone, by the North Smithfield Town Council for a resolution asking town officials not to buy Nike products because former NFL player and now Nike promoter Colin Kaepernick “took a knee” (God, I hate that expression!)  during the playing of the National Anthem to protest police brutality against black people was wrong. Indeed, what Kaepernick did was an expression of patriotism in that he was defending the human rights enshrined in the Declaration of Independence and the Bill of Rights.

 

The council could have run into legal problems by seeming to violate the First Amendment.

 

And, no, the low-key Kaepernick was not showing what Town Council President John Beauregard alleged was his “disdain’’ for the police in general. As a black man, he was demonstrating solidarity with victims of racism, racism that has been expressed by a minority of, but more than a few, white police officers in some infamous cases.

 

He may have considerable support from the public: Reuters reports that Nike “has sold 61 percent more merchandise since the controversial ad campaign featuring former NFL player Colin Kaepernick appeared earlier this month, according to data on the company’s online sales from Thomson Reuters Proprietary Research.’’

 

“{False} patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.’’


-- Samuel Johnson

 

 

The council’s vote recalled the hot air from Trump, who has wrapped himself in the flag even as he has undermined American principles and whose rise to the presidency was assisted by his organization’s collaboration with a murderous dictatorship and adversary – Russia. What a fraud!

 

 

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WPRI debate

Some Moderate Ideas

 

WPRI gubernatorial debate organizers should let Moderate Party of Rhode Island candidate William Gilbert participate in the Sept. 27 debate with Gov. Gina Raimondo, the Democratic candidate, and Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, her Republican foe. Since its founding by the brilliant systems analyst Ken Block in 2009, the Moderate Party, the third-biggest party in the state, has presented thoughtful and specific proposals for improving state government, and has garnered much public support. And consider that its 2014 gubernatorial candidate, Robert Healy, won a hefty 22 percent of the vote.

 

Mr. Gilbert’s participation in the debate would tend to force Ms. Raimondo and Mr. Fung to be more specific about what they’d do in the next four years if they win, and less able to hide in generalities.

 

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Supreme Court nominee faces allegations of sexual assault

The Kavanaugh-Ford Case

I’m leery of guessing about what may or may not have happened between Republican operative and Appeals Court Judge and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh and Christine Blasey Ford, who says that Judge Kavanaugh sexually assaulted her when she was 15 and he was 17, back in the early ‘80s.  Teenagers tend to do crazy and/or irresponsible things, especially when they’re drunk, which they apparently often were in the preppy world inhabited by the future judge and his accuser. Most of us remember at least some cringe-worthy behavior in our youth.

 

In any event, Ms. Ford certainly deserves a thorough hearing but the ruthless national GOP wants to railroad Kavanaugh’s confirmation to indirectly help forestall the conviction of the mobster in the Oval Office in a Senate impeachment trial and to ensure that the interests of the Koch Brothers, et al., are protected.

 

 I say the “national GOP” to differentiate it from the many honorable, old-fashioned moderate conservatives at the local level. And my complaint about Trump’s unprincipled and staggeringly hypocritical and cowardly enablers in Congress is far more animated by how they tolerate Trump’s attacks on the rule of law,  our government institutions and democratic principles than on their shifting policy positions. A truly cynical crowd.

 

Who will help create a responsible new center-right party, which every democracy needs, to replace a national party now rife with greedy donors like the Koch Brothers, grifters, racists, “Evangelical’’ con men, and even a few traitors at the top. In a few states, old-fashioned, civic-minded Republicans still hold sway, but some of their brethren in Washington have become a threat to the Republic.

 

What most impressed me in reading about the Kavanaugh controversy was how it publicized the sense of privilege of the spoiled kids born on third base and insulated by their rich Beltway Bandit parents from the economic and social pressures that most Americans must deal with. They’ve been safely ensconced in a self-perpetuating upper class that uses widening income and political inequality to further armor their wealth and power.

 

As Judge Kavanaugh joked at a private function a couple of years ago, “What happens at Georgetown Prep (his elite private high school) stays at Georgetown Prep.’’ God will protect the Ruling Class? Certainly, a Justice Kavanaugh will do his best to do so. Note, by the way, that right-wing Supreme Court Justice Neal Gorsuch, whom the Republicans put on the high court last year, is also a Georgetown Prep graduate.

 

For a look at life in the world of beloved old Georgetown Prep, read the memoir by Kavanaugh’s classmate Mark Judge entitled Wasted: Tales of a Gen X Drunk. Ms. Ford, you may recall, says that Mr. Judge was in the room during the alleged aforementioned assault.

 

In any event, the affable, indeed charming Mr. Kavanaugh will be a faithful protector of socio-economic privilege, comforting the comfortable whenever possible.

 

 

Sending Water Into Rivers Faster

With more than 30 inches of rain in some places, the flooding in North Carolina would have been awful even if so much land hadn’t been paved over for parking lots in our car-dependent culture. But, as we have discovered in New England in big rainstorms, it certainly makes things worse as stormwater isn’t permitted to be absorbed into the soil but instead rushes off into streams, often carrying oil and other pollutants from impervious surfaces.

 

Catastrophic rain events seem to be increasing with global warming. Public- and private-sector planners need to make more of an effort to replace, wherever possible, asphalt and concrete parking surfaces with porous ones, such as paving stones set in sand.

 

Meanwhile, the Trump regime will make things worse as it takes steps to make it easier for developers to fill in more water-absorbing wetlands. (See comments on deregulation below.) And of course, it’s promoting a massive increase in the drilling and mining for fossil fuel, whose global-warming effects include more intense fresh and saltwater flooding.

 

Meanwhile, readers might want to hear this dramatic Rhode Island Public Radio piece about the 1938 hurricane that ravaged New England and on how vulnerable we still are around here. To hear it, please hit this link:

 

 

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Bacon is good

Bacon Is Good for You

“They’’ tell you that drinking alcohol, in moderation, is good for you. Then “they’’ tell you it isn’t. “They’’ tell you to take a baby aspirin once a day. Then, no. The scientific testing and conclusions and contradictions roll on, recalling the Woody Allen 1973 movie Sleeper, set 200 years in the future, in which an expert touts the health-giving attributes of deep-fried foods. Maybe the best you can do is to follow Oscar Wilde’s advice, “Moderation in all things, including moderation.’’ But then, he didn’t end up in a very happy place

 

Pulling Down Fences

The Trump administration has been hard at work trying to kill various regulations involving business and the environment. There’s no doubt that many regs need to be updated, or killed, from time to time and regulatory streamlining can be a very good thing.  “Sunset’’ statutes mandating the end of outdated and/or excess laws can work well.


Certainly, eliminating and/or weakening regulations can make life easier and more profitable for business. That’s in part because it makes it tougher for public and private actors to sue companies for their dubious actions.

 

But those business regulations were originally put there for good reason, especially to prevent fraud. When regulation gets weak, you’ll have more corruption and what Alan Greenspan called “irrational exuberance’’ that will blow up and do more damage to businesses than the regulations ever did.  Consider how Clinton-G.W. Bush era deregulation helped lead to the Panic of 2008 and the Great Recession.


As for the gutting of some environmental laws and rules, that can lead not only to long-term or even irreversible ecological damage and, particularly in cases of air and water pollution, human deaths. I like Robert Frost’s line:

 

“Don’t ever take a fence down until you know why it was put up.’’

 

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Anderson writes about Projo's demise

Leaving the Paper

My former Providence Journal colleague M.J. Andersen has an evocative and important piece, titled “Leaving the Paper,’’ in the newish Web site Politics/Letters (which wants to eventually be in print, too!) about newspapers as they shrink and disappear these days. She comes from an Upper Midwest newspaper family, about which she writes fondly but without blinkers. Among her remarks about The Journal:

 

“Perhaps the mission to which we had dutifully given lip service over the years — the mission of uncovering the truth — was no abstraction but a project as vital to democracy as our civics books had always insisted. …’’

“Now, thanks to an explosion in new media outlets, our patient if not always perfect cultivation of the facts was being uprooted by a cyclone of disordered information, rumor, and outright falsehoods. In the meantime, a peculiar quiet spread across the state {of Rhode Island}. Everywhere, we sensed, corners were being cut; deals were being struck, at public expense.’’

 

“In the course of 185 years, The Providence Journal had made itself into an institution as important to Rhode Island as paved roads, public schools and sanitation systems. …For all its faults, The Journal was and still is a communal space, permitting Rhode Islanders to know each other. And knowing is the basis of trust.’’

 

To read her article, please hit this link:

 

The United States of Obesity

If you want to know one reason that U.S.  per-capita health-care costs are so much higher than other nations’,  look no farther than the astonishing obesity of victims of Hurricane Florence as seen on TV – U.S. obesity is worst in the South -- or even of people waiting in the lobby of Rhode Island Hospital. It would be interesting to find out how much of this can be explained by gluttony (perhaps to relieve anxiety) and how much by a refusal to exercise. No wonder visiting foreigners are staggered by the spectacle of so many morbidly fat people in America.

 

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Gloria Vanderbilt

Newport’s Social Circus

I’ve been chatting with Newporters a bit more than usual lately. It’s an exciting and complicated, sometimes bizarre place, with great natural and manmade beauty. But the routes to get there are problematical. The Route 114 commercial strip in Middletown to the Newport city line is one of the ugliest I’ve seen – where were the town planners and zoners? -- and there often seems to be an accident or other problem on the Pell Bridge, a toll span. If only there was much more ferry service between Providence and Newport to reduce some of the congestion.

 

And society, especially “high society,’’ while often entertaining, can be quite vehement. Battles, such as the Preservation Society of Newport’s successful multi-year war to build a “welcome center,’’ with restaurant, on the grounds of The Breakers, the Vanderbilts’ former over-the-top mansion on Ochre Point Avenue, rather than across the street, which some powerful Newporters preferred, created an upscale civil war with neighbors; some of the protagonists still don’t speak to each other.

 

Some Newporters fear that the Preservation Society might try to put restaurants in some of its other properties, too, in effect turning into a restaurant chain, which would displease some neighbors (street-parking paranoia) as well as for-profit eateries in town that might be hard-pressed to compete with the powerful nonprofit.

 

Anyway, the city could use a Truman Capote, Edith Wharton, Gore Vidal or Tom Wolfe to do an updated zoological study of the Bellevue Drive/Ocean Drive swells, which include such nouveau riches as Larry Ellison, Jay Leno and Judge Judy as well as “old money,’’ some of which can be traced back to crooks in the 19th Century Gilded Age.

 

(The old response, attributed to various recipients of charitable donations over the years, about “tainted money’’ was that the only problem was that  ‘’taint enough of it’’.)
 

There’s something about the mix of deep history, commercial and recreational port, aesthetics, social drama and intrigue, a rich stew of ethnicities, Navy, ex-spies and other government types and location at the southern end of an island that keeps new people coming to rejuvenate the place.

 

 

Dr. Bronhard’s Irritating Investments

There have been numerous angry complaints for many months about property maintenance and other issues involving the property of Fall River-based real-estate mogul and chiropractor Walter Bronhard, who has been buying up many millions of dollars in property to rent out on Providence’s East Side, especially near Brown University.  What do city officials propose to do about him?

 

South Coast Out of Seclusion

Going by the Sotheby’s signs, it appears that New York money has discovered – big-time -- Little Compton, R.I., and Westport and South Dartmouth, Mass., with their beautiful countryside (including vineyards) on Buzzards Bay. Will they be Hamptonized, as has Block Island?

 

 

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One of RI's proposal to Amazon for HQ2

Give the Money to the Residents, not Amazon?

Lev Kushner, in the usually very interesting citylab.com, suggests that cities should stop chasing the likes of Amazon, which has been demanding huge incentives from cities in return for the increasingly arrogant Amazon moving its “Second Headquarters’’ there. Instead, he argues, cities should focus on spending economic-development money to attract the freelancers/small businesspeople who lack “fringe benefits‘’ and comprise a growing percentage of the workforce. Consider that about half of the people doing work for Google aren’t on salaries.

 

From the ranks of such people come creators of new businesses and inventions.

 

Employee loyalty continues to fall almost as fast as companies’ loyalty to their employees. City planners need to take this into account.

 

So, Kushner suggests, why not spend some of the vast sums offered to big companies in the form of tax breaks, etc., on, instead, subsidizing health care and child care and boosting unemployment insurance to make the cities better places to start and nurture businesses?

 

This, he argues, “mitigates the risk of becoming a one-company town that loses its {one big} company’’ in a time when corporations express less and less commitment to the communities they’re in.

 

“Why chase one company when you can make them all come to you by supplying cheaper {because the city, not companies, would pay for much of the benefits} subsidized talent? Sure, Amazon brings its elite {headquarters} workforce with it, but why pay the middleman?’’ Consider that about half of the people doing work for Google aren’t on salaries.

 

Worth considering. To read all of Kushner’s argument, which would discomfit many state and local economic-development officials, most of whom relentlessly seek to land a big corporate fish, please hit this link:
 

 

Teaching Lesson

Fifty years ago, in 1968, I spent the fall teaching public high school in North Andover, Mass.,  in a program called A Better Chance, in which poor kids, minority and white, from the South and elsewhere lived in a kind of group home, presided over by a teacher and spouse, in towns with good public and/or private schools. I learned a lot that fall, which I remember as notably windy and wet. One lesson was that a firm, er, loud, voice in a class with 30 kids can to some degree offset the vulnerability of someone, like me, of small stature teaching restless and sometimes rowdy teens many of whom were bigger than me.  And that you need eyes behind your head. Performance art.

 

Red-Brick Bonanza

It seems that pretty much all big new buildings in Providence -- no matter how high -- are being clad in red brick, giving the effect of walking amongst gigantic 1920’s era public school buildings.

 

 

New Bedford Confidential

Down at the Docks (Pantheon), by Rory Nugent, is an unvarnished look at, by turns,  gritty and beautiful New Bedford and particularly the hard and often disorderly lives of fishermen there. Drug smuggling and other crime, organized and otherwise, the history of the industry that made the city famous – whaling – the city’s resilient romantic aspects amidst its decay as its textile industry imploded – it’s all in the book.

 

As Nugent notes, New Bedford is no longer exactly what Herman Melville, author of Moby Dick, called “the dearest place to live in, in all New England,’’ but it ain’t boring. Read the book and then go check out the Whaling Museum, the port and some great 19th Century mansions.

 

Abroad at Home

For information on the Providence Committee on Foreign Relations’ exciting fall lineup of dinner speakers, as well as membership information, please hit this link

 

Related Slideshow: The 50 Greatest Living Rhode Islanders

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#50

Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz

Nobel Prize Winner

In October 2016, Brown University Professor J. Michael Kosterlitz was awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics. He has been at Brown since 1982.

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences announced that it awarded the Nobel Prize in Physics 2016 to three U.S. scientists, including Kosterlitz ”for theoretical discoveries of topological phase transitions and topological phases of matter."

"They revealed the secrets of exotic matter," wrote the Academy in their October 4 release.  "This year’s Laureates opened the door on an unknown world where matter can assume strange states. They have used advanced mathematical methods to study unusual phases, or states, of matter, such as superconductors, superfluids or thin magnetic films. Thanks to their pioneering work, the hunt is now on for new and exotic phases of matter. Many people are hopeful of future applications in both materials science and electronics."

The Academy wrote:

The three Laureates’ use of topological concepts in physics was decisive for their discoveries. Topology is a branch of mathematics that describes properties that only change step-wise. Using topology as a tool, they were able to astound the experts. In the early 1970s, Michael Kosterlitz and David Thouless overturned the then current theory that superconductivity or suprafluidity could not occur in thin layers. They demonstrated that superconductivity could occur at low temperatures and also explained the mechanism, phase transition, that makes superconductivity disappear at higher temperatures.

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#49

Barnaby Evans

Artist

Barnaby Evans is the creator of WaterFire, cited as one of America’s most important pieces of public art. Friedrich St. Florian called WaterFire the “crown jewel of the Providence renaissance.”

He has won numerous regional, national and global awards for his creation of WaterFire. The art and event has helped to transform Providence.

As his bio states, he "is also known for his photography which is included in the permanent collections of the Victoria and Albert Museum, London; the Bibliotheque National, Paris; the Musee’ d’art et d’histoire, Fribourg, Switzerland; the Addison Gallery of American Art, Andover, Massachusetts; and the Museum of Art, Rhode Island School of Design among others."

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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 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

Carolyn Rafaelian

Businesswoman

In July, Forbes announced its “America's Richest Self-Made Women” list for 2018 and Rhode Island’s Carolyn Rafaelian came in at #21 on the list.

The list includes Oprah Winfrey at #6, Sheryl Sandberg of Facebook at #12, Sara Blakely of Spanx tied with Rafaelian at #21, and Kylie Jenner at #27.

“Despite this crazy state, it’s possible for a Rhode Island woman to reach this self-made list. For that I am proud,” said Rafaelian, Founder and CEO of Alex and Ani in an interview with GoLocal.

“I am thrilled with my new team in place and we will continue to attract all the right people and continue to streamline the business and its efficiency. After all, we are the jewelry capital of the world!” she said.

In June, Alex and Ani hit a milestone that few companies could ever dream of achieving — it has surpassed the donation of $50 million to more than 50 non-profit partners through its Charity by Design program.

The program was created in 2011 to “spread the Alex and Ani ideal of sharing positive energy worldwide, igniting passion for the wellbeing of our planet, our communities, and our individual paths. Since 2011, Alex and Ani has donated $52.6M to organizations large and small,” she said.

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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.

On October 2, 2018, he got another accolade that might just change the course of humanity -- "Brown scientist wins $1.5 million innovator award for new approach to decoding brain signals."

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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.  He has also been the center of controversy.

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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 defeated 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

Brown University's Leon Cooper held the distinction as Rhode Island’s only Nobel Prize winner -- until colleague J. Michael Kosterlitz earned the honor in 2016.

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 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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