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Whitcomb: Big Breakthrough in Fall River? Time for a WJAR Boycott? Hospital Closings and Epidemics

Monday, February 19, 2018


Robert Whitcomb, Columnist

“The boom, not the slump, is the time for austerity at the treasury.’’


--The late British economist John Maynard Keynes.



Sometimes what might turn out to be a big story is lurking nearby with little attention. Consider the tiny startup company in Fall River called Catalytic Innovations. There, scientist Stafford Sheehan and his team are developing a  reactor system that uses air, water and sunlight (which turns into electricity in the company’s solar panels) to transform atmospheric carbon dioxide into clean-burning ethanol. Carbon dioxide has been ominously increasing with our burning of coal, oil and natural gas. Catalytic Innovations’ work might profoundly strengthen efforts to combat global warming while providing an abundant source of clean energy.

Reuters has a short video on this exciting company.  (No, I do not own stock in it.) To see it, hit this link.





Rhode Island and many other states have more hospital beds than they need most of the time. So here and elsewhere, some hospitals are being closed or being turned into entirely outpatient operations. Consider the recent closing of the inpatient part of Memorial Hospital, in Pawtucket, with considerable local anger.


But what happens when a big epidemic, such as the current flu outbreak, or a sudden disaster, such as the Station nightclub fire, strikes?  That Rhode Island,  and the rest of New England, has an older demographic than most of America and thus a higher percentage of people who could get very sick, makes us particularly exposed.


Where do you put all these very sick and/or injured people in times of widespread medical emergencies? Instant hospitals under tents, such as on battlefields?


Suggestions appreciated.




Lack of affordable housing

More than half the population of Providence live in rental units. Many complain that rents are too high and that the properties where they live are not properly maintained. Drive around South Providence and some other poor neighborhoods and you’ll see the latter.


So Direct Action for Rights and Equality wants a new city ordinance to stop landlords from increasing rents more than once a year. It also wants the city to create a board to set rent-increase limits and mediate landlord-tenant disputes.


I’m sympathetic: Providence has a lot of poverty. However, rent control, while it might help tenants in the short term, would hurt them in the long run by encouraging many landlords to board up and sell their properties, and leave the city, or confine themselves to the high-end rental business in rich parts of Providence. Worsening the housing scarcity in low-income neighborhoods would obviously drive up rental costs there. At the least, lower rents would encourage even more physical neglect of existing housing.

An unpleasant reality of our market system.





Jeff Larder wrote a charming piece in the Jan. 19 Hartford Courant headlined “Why I Came Back to Connecticut.’’ It could apply to any place with problems, which means any place. Mr. Larder, who lives in Old Saybrook,  on Long Island Sound, had previously lived in Boston and Cape Cod. He moved back to the Nutmeg State in 2015.


There he has found plenty of things to complain about, including a “dysfunctional statehouse” (how many are highly functional?), “an exodus of jobs’’ and the “state full of suburbs flailing in a post-suburban world.’’  Further, the state’s “casinos are gross.’’ Yep, they are intrinsically gross.


Of course, some or even all of his complaints could be heard in many other states.


But economics isn’t everything. There are many reasons to live someplace.


He writes:

“....Connecticut more generally is at the happy middle of a diversity of experiences that comprise life at its best. In the span of a month, I had the best barbecue pork I've ever eaten in Hartford and the tastiest faux-chicken sandwich I've ever eaten at a vegetarian place in New Haven. Rolling farms, open space and hiking trails are minutes from downtown music venues and indie bookstores and record shops. The beaches aren't Malibu-caliber, obviously, but they're calm enough to teach your toddler to love the water….


“If Connecticut occasionally feels like an afterthought between two cities, remember that Manhattan is priced for wide-eyed optimists and pulseless corporate assassins, and the cranes in Boston seem hell-bent on building luxury apartments and the world's largest food court. Major metropolises are having trouble keeping around artists and creatives — the same people who make cities exciting places to live and can least afford the rent — and they've long been beyond the reach of middle-class families. Meanwhile, Connecticut's colleges, small and underutilized cities, and proximity to those same high-priced locales amount to an abundance of potential energy.’’


Sounds applicable to the cute little state to its east.

To read his essay, please hit this link:




Nellie Gorbea

Rhode Island Secretary of State Nellie Gorbea wants to let citizens vote during normal business hours for a 20-day period before primary and general elections, and on the weekend before each election.


The first part of the proposal is a bad idea.


For a long time, I’ve been worried about the rapidly increasing early voting in the weeks before an election. This means that more and more people are voting without the information that people who vote on Election Day have. A lot of stuff can come out in the last few weeks of a campaign!  


As much as possible,  voters should have the same information to use in deciding on which candidate and referendum item to support. Consider the last-minute news before the 2016 presidential election!


People stuck at home because of ill health and voters who must use absentee ballots because of, say, travel issues are special cases. But the vast majority of people can bestir themselves to a voting place and together engage in our precious democratic celebration, at a time when democracy is in retreat in much of the world.


But it seems that fewer and fewer Americans care.


Early voting taking place over weeks is also more vulnerable to fraud than voting all at once. Hello, Moscow!


But having elections on weekends is a splendid idea, and has long been the practice in many other democracies. (They mostly choose Sundays for the voting.) That way far fewer people can use the excuse of work obligations to escape voting, although many would come up with other excuses to avoid spending a few minutes to do their civic duty. Such as football on TV.Another, probably good idea from Ms. Gorbea is to move the date for primary elections to the third Tuesday in August from the second Tuesday in September.


Ms. Gorbea says correctly that the change would give the state more time to get general-election ballots ready to be mailed to overseas and military voters.


She also notes that the switch would end the need to shut schools that are used as voting places for primary elections; school vacation would still be underway. Obviously, they’d still be needed for the general election.


And the change would lengthen the time of the official general-election campaign, which might improve the quality of the debate.


Whether the earlier primary date would boost turnout is unknown.  For one thing, many people might be out-of-state on vacation. And, again, many Americans are lazy when it comes to participating in our democracy no matter how easy we try to make it.


When you don’t vote, you’re in effect voting.


“In reality, there is no such thing as not voting: you either vote by voting, or you vote by staying home and tacitly doubling the value of some diehard's vote.” 


-- David Foster Wallace





President Donald Trump

Even by Trump administration standards, the president’s “$1.5 trillion” infrastructure program is dubious.


The plan would have the Feds provide only $20 billion a year for 10 years, a tiny amount to address what is probably the Developed World’s worst public infrastructure. Trump would have the states and localities, and private investors who would want a big return, pony up most of the money. Here’s how it would work, as described by The New York Times:


“Under the new plan, a project is eligible to receive up to 20 percent of its cost in federal funding. That means if a city or state wants to take on, say, a $1 million project, it could potentially receive up to $200,000 in federal funding if it’s able to raise the other $800,000 on its own. But states and municipalities are already paying the bulk of infrastructure costs, and would have limited options if they wanted to increase that spending, especially if they are already strapped for cash or may have trouble raising new taxes. Many would hit spending limits before they could receive all of the available federal funds over the next 10 years.’’


All states except Vermont (which does it anyway) must by law balance their annual budgets and many now politically fear raising taxes even more than before because the GOP tax law has limited taxpayers’ ability to deduct local and state taxes on their federal tax returns.


Meanwhile, Trump’s fiscal 2019 budget proposal calls for cutting $240 billion (including $178 billion for transportation) in infrastructure spending.


There might be a glimmer of hope in Trump’s remark the other day that he’d back a 25-cent rise in the federal gasoline tax to help pay to fix some of our transportation mess; the tax was last raised in 1993. But the Koch Brothers, from whom many Republicans in Congress take their orders, are opposed. 


As for the private-sector role in the Trump program, The Times noted:


“In this new competition for federal funds, a plan to, say, build a better access road for a luxury development (of the Trump Organization, perhaps?) — a project with the potential to bring in more dollars from private investors — could have a strong chance of getting the green light. By comparison, a critical tunnel overhaul that has trouble getting new money might not be approved.


“Instead of the public sector deciding on public needs and public priorities, the projects that are most attractive to private investors are the ones that will go to the head of the line,” said Elliott Sclar,  a professor of urban planning at Columbia University.


To read The Times’s piece, please hit this link:


Still, there are areas where the private sector should step in more. I think, for example, that in some regions companies should be encouraged to build new rail passenger lines to supplement Amtrak and commuter rail lines.


Privatization of previously public transportation infrastructure, such as was done in Indiana, has had a very mixed record. Take a look:


Traditionally, the Feds have covered 80 percent of most public-infrastructure programs with an interstate component. But with the new tax law (mostly addressed to the desires of companies and the rich), and federal budget deficits thus swelling even faster before, the administration wants to unload the responsibility for addressing the infrastructure crisis onto others.


Too bad because if $1.5 trillion had been dedicated to public infrastructure instead of tax cuts, most everyone in the country would benefit with higher productivity, more and better jobs and a cleaner environment.


The president has quite rightly spoken to the need to streamline the regulatory process for approving public-infrastructure projects.  The Obama administration pushed for streamlining, but not nearly enough. The red tape and associated delays vastly increase the cost of projects and keep us sitting in traffic longer and longer, lowering national productivity.


Some bridge, highway and other projects take 10 years or more to get final approval. They should take no more than two years!  European nations manage to approve and complete major projects within two years while America seems paralyzed in trying to fix anything. That’s in part, of course, because we have an excessively litigious society. We must find ways to reduce the power of lawsuits, and the threat thereof, to stop needed public projects.


(I’m mostly writing about transportation projects here but our water systems and electric grid are also deteriorating rapidly.)


One way to speed up things is to consolidate the approval process into as a few agencies as possible and make the regulatory paperwork clear and terse, leaving implementers space to exercise common sense. Common Good (commongood.org), the legal- and regulatory-reform nonprofit and nonpartisan organization, has done very impressive research on all this, and come up with practical if ambitious recommendations on addressing the infrastructure crisis.




I’m leery of mandatory family-leave programs because they can make running a business, especially a small one, very difficult.  Staff scheduling is often a nightmare already. And the leave program could add a lot more to the national debt. The conservative writer Ramesh Ponnuru, a senior editor at the National Review, raised some other valid concerns in a recent piece in Bloomberg News:


“If the government makes companies eat the cost, it might also make them less willing to promote or hire women of child-bearing age. If the government instead makes taxpayers as a whole pay for leave, then it penalizes families that have chosen to have one parent stay out of the paid labor force to take care of children. This seems especially unfair since those families have lower average incomes than two-earner families.’’


But, he has found at least one new way to address the public-money part of the problem.


“A new proposal … would … let new parents finance time off from their jobs by slightly delaying the time at which they would collect Social Security benefits. Kristin Shapiro, a lawyer in Washington, explained the idea in a recent paper for the Independent Women’s Forum. She estimates that new parents could finance 12 weeks of leave in return for a six-week delay in taking Social Security checks.’’


I’m not sure how workable this idea would be – it might be an administrative disaster -- but something like it should be considered.


To read more, please hit this link:




I wonder how many students must be murdered on the same day by a gunman with a military-style rifle and vast quantities of ammunition in order to overcome the opposition of the NRA’s servants in Congress to even mild new controls on weaponry designed for mass killings. I’d guess maybe 100 might do it, even in a nation as increasingly barbaric and corrupt as the United States.


As usual in these shootings, the alleged perpetrator of this latest massacre (as of this writing) is an angry young white man who found it very easy to get whatever high-powered gun and piles of ammunition he wanted.


Researchers whose work recently appeared in the journal Health Affairs found that the United States is “the most dangerous of wealthy nations for a child to be born into.”


See here




So it surprised many that ousted  Trump’s staff secretary, Rob Porter, handsome, rich, smart, very well connected and with nice suits, might be an abuser of two ex-wives.  (One of his ex-wives has had a protective order to try to shield herself from him.)


Why did this man have an interim security clearance that gave him access to top-secret material, despite the danger of, among other things, blackmail? I guess because he fulfilled the image and career-credentials qualifications. You can get away with a lot if you have the right look and an elite CV.


Indeed, Porter was by all accounts a very able Trump aide – perhaps the best in the White House. His exit may lead to more chaos there.




WJAR's news director's required to donate to Sinclair's PAC

The TV station chain Sinclair Broadcast Group, which has polluted its stations with political propaganda, a few weeks ago gave each of its employees a highly publicized $1,000 bonus and thanked Trump for signing the tax law, which mostly benefits companies (which doesn’t bother me in itself) and rich folks. Now the company is pressuring its employees (including its journalists) to donate to the Sinclair Political Action Group, which supports Trump and other Republican politicians.

It used to be that news-media employees were discouraged from giving to politicians lest they appear to be overly biased. But in the much more corrupt political world following the Citizens United case, of 2010, such scruples are disappearing fast.  It would be nice if viewers of, and advertisers on, Providence’s WJAR (Channel 10) boycotted the station, which used to be well-respected and still has some good people, though it’s hard to understand how any self-respecting journalist would want to work there.




As for bonuses, a Reuters/Ipsos poll says that as of the middle of January, only 2 percent of working adults had gotten a bonus or a raise from the tax law’s cut in the top corporate tax to 21 percent from 35 percent (which many companies didn’t pay because lobbyists got them big loopholes). Most of the corporate windfall will go into stock buybacks, dividend increases and even more gargantuan pay for senior execs.

I suspect that very well-publicized  (suck up to the president!) bonuses and not pay increases will be the main way that corporate managements reward lower-level employees.

Why get stuck with new long-term costs?

Good if temporary PR for the GOP. It may well make them winners this November but probably not in November 2020, by which time recession and inflation will have taken their toll on the wishful thinking even of the most fanatical fans of our Maximum Leader.




It’s past time that Bryant University and other U.S. institutions kick the Confucius Institutes off their campuses. These are spy and propaganda agencies of China’s Communist dictatorship, and U.S. intelligence officials increasingly worry about them. FBI Director Christopher Wray raised his concerns the other day.

The institute's spy on everything around them. Chinese students at American colleges that host these entities are very aware that they’re part of Beiing’s increasingly Orwellian surveillance system aimed at quashing dissent. To read more, please hit this link:



The Rhode Island State House is gorgeous all lit up in red and green honoring Black History Month. A nice distraction from the boring bleakness of February.


Related Slideshow: The 50 Greatest Living Rhode Islanders

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Richard Grosvenor 


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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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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Howard Ben Tré


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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Bill Reynolds


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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John McCauley (Deer Tick)


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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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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Angus Davis


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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Terry "Mother" Moy


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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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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Richard Jenkins


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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Alan Hassenfeld


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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M. Therese Antone, RSM, Ed.D


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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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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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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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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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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U.S. Senator Jack Reed


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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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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Ken Read


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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Michael Littman


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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Johanne Killeen 


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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Terry Murray 


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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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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Ojetta Rogeriee Thompson


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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Sid Abruzzi (Johnny Morocco)


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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Duke Robillard


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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John Ghiorse


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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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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Claire Andrade Watkins


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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Freidrich St. Florian


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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Brad Read


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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Gordon Wood


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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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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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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James Woods


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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Arlene Violet


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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Meredith Viera


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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Leon Cooper


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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Ernie DiGregorio


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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Elizabeth Beisel


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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George Wein


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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Jeffrey Osborne


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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Tom Ryan


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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Ann Hood


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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Bob Ballard


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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Jonathan Nelson


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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Dennis Littky


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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Bill and David Belisle


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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Nick Benson


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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Viola Davis


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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