Bishop: Rhode Island Icons Passing

Thursday, September 28, 2017


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Marcy Bachini-Dunbar

The recent announcement that Benny's will close serves as a reminder of other icons who have passed in these weeks, two of whom will be eulogized this weekend. So it seems an appropriate demeanor to reflect on these losses for a moment without the political bit between our teeth, without a full-throated argument about what would make Rhode Island a good place to do business. We know by such great Rhode Islanders as we have just lost that this remains a fundamentally good place.

Marcy Bachini-Dunbar

Saturday the memory of Marcy Bachini-Dunbar will be observed at the Prudence [Island] Improvement Association Hall at 11 AM, although no observation is truly necessary to retain the spirt of Marcy that is written on the island as surely as Roger Williams wrote the name, Prudence. In so doing, Williams eclipsed the various Indian incantations compiled by John C. Huden in 1962: Chabatawece; also found as Chibaehuesa, Chibachuweset,  Chippacurset, etc. See Chappaquiddick -- said by Huden to mean “little-separated place”.

No truer words were ever spoken about the island that now bears Marcy’s imprimatur if not her name. And the little store at the Homestead Dock will always be Marcy’s even though it is now Lori’s, one of her daughters.  Few can have visited the removed domain of Prudence Island without having been affected by this real-life version of Pippi Longstocking -- matching the storybook hirsute style of two braids if, nonetheless, her color was island-sun bleached instead of red.

At one point, Marcy, who grew up on the island and attended its classic one-room school, was literally responsible for all the islands utilities, running the phone, water and electric, propane and gasoline services -- reportedly climbing phone poles only weeks before the birth of a child. Like her super strong longstockinged contemporary -- born in 1924, Marcy was a teenager when Astrid Lindgren was first spinning tails of red-haired teen Pippi to her daughter Karin – Marcy’s modest frame had the wiry strength to shuffle 170-pound propane tanks about as if they were made of Styrofoam. At least that was how it seemed to me as a youngster. In hindsight, she wasn’t superhuman, but probably worked smart and innately understood principles of leverage, cam and rotation.

A longtime collaborator, Nate Bacon, who used to be called out with his backhoe to fix ailing water lines with Marcy said, “there wasn’t anything she wouldn’t take on”. She certainly was a woman ahead of her time in embracing the trades. Her family background tended to gentry, Bacon recalls, but she chose a life of blue collar work.

In the 50s, he remembers, the island apart that had prospered with a mildly sophisticated culture enhanced by being an out of the way place that perhaps escaped the notice of revenue agents during prohibition, turned quiet, dull and dry.  With little prospect of growth in any field of endeavor on the island, its little wonder that Marcy choose them all. Besides her utility work, she was the postmistress, the lamplighter for its lighthouse while running the island’s only store. That would be the kind of a place where she jotted down what you took and you would pay her eventually. She mowed lawns and pitched in with a fervor when Bacon and his father worked to mold their holdings in the center of the island into a winery. She pruned, she picked, the woman was a one-man army.

The years passed and the ambit of her enterprise shrank a bit as various shoreside utility companies took over pole duties. The modestly burgeoning summer and year-round population gave more work in the store and the post office. And of course, she was still working on water connections into her 70s, although you would never have credited her with such age. She was a timeless element of the island for whose enduring vocational talents I had the greatest admiration. It seemed that was reciprocated when I spent the offseason of 1999 on the island jacking up my family’s home and splitting rock from beneath it to make way for the foundation it had never had.

Such work was made eminently more possible because, in the mid-80s, the unthinkable happened: Bruce Medley started a car ferry to the island.  Not only did that mean that excavators and concrete trucks could make their way to the island, but its traditions were turned topsy turvy. A place where you had never needed a license or registration to drive was suddenly connected to the mainland.

My experience in that winter of work suggests its still a bit like Dukes of Hazzard there, even if they do check registration and inspection. Sociality can consist of riding a new car, i.e. a car new to the island, on the road around the perimeter keeping a sharp eye for the ‘sheriff’ who would frown on such pub crawls. Marcy seemed aloof from these hijinks, but had a wink for those acting out as if it were the good ole days. She had the unique ability to stand at the crossroads between the new and the old on the island and reminded me in her demeanor of a latter-day Edmund Burke observing in her countenance as he did in letters: “In what we improve we shall never be wholly novel, and in what we retain we shall never be wholly obsolete”.

Charlie Domino

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Charlie Domino

And speaking of hijinks with cars brings us to a second iconic Rhode Islander we have lost in as many weeks. Calling hours for Charles J. Kinnane aka Charlie Domino will be at the house of his wife Sharon’s mother in Pawtucket on Sunday from 2 to 4. The legendary young terrors who drove for Dominos Pizza in Providence back in the mid-70s have Charlie to thank for their lifelong unity. While their aggressive driving and friendships were chronicled 14 years out in the Providence Journal in 1990, who knew this gang would still be together, now save for Charlie, 41 years later.

For those of us who didn’t work at Dominos on Hope St., it was home away from home -- open late, and all our friends either worked or hung there. Previously unreported was when one of our more brash colleagues, after making the night deposit downtown, was racing folks back to the shop. Flying down South Maiin street and seeing that his adversaries had hit college hill before him, he kept going and banged a right into the bus tunnel despite protestations from a passenger that police frequented the parking lot at its Thayer St. outlet.  When, indeed, they flew from the tunnel and into the waiting arms of the law, a quickly concocted story embellishing the deposit with a chase from would be robbers kept a few parents from being dragged from bed that night to bail out their wayward, if at least working, young adult children.

But Charlie Domino was a different matter. He took working for Dominos seriously, ergo earning the moniker, not only for long service but for a certain fealty to the corporate model that you could make a career of pizza delivery. It was Charlie who coached other drivers to ‘beat feet and not your car’ as he gleened from company communication. The encouragement was not to rush with the car but at either end of the trip. The flush of such rushed delivery was a magnet for bigger tips. It worked said those he instructed.

While he wore the name Charlie Domino with the pride of someone who might have spent a lifetime in Pizzas, regaled customers with happy talk, took new workers under his wing and infected everyone in and around Dominos with his friendly ways, there was one thing to which Charlie was devoted by leaps and bounds above his allegiance to Dominos, Sharon Kenler who was to take the name Kinnane for better or worse.

Nothing could have been better until Sharon was stricken with paralyisis following a health crisis 20 something years ago. For some this might have seemed a test of devotion, but for Charlie it was barely a bump in the road, simply a time to double down. The three-decker was replaced with a single story ranch in Pawtucket. Friends helped build a ramp. A raffle was held to raise money for a van that would make Sharon mobile around town again.

In the midst of all this Charlie reintroduced us to Aztec Two-Step, longtime folk-rock troubadours. Known in their PBS special as no-hit wonders, they, nonetheless, had a toehold on the New England scene since they broke here in the early 70s that has never let go. And Charlie would pile Sharon into the van and off to Aztec Two-Step’s latest performance whenever they came near.

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Dominos changed hands and locations and Charlie moved on to other work, including driving auto parts for my friends at Action Reverse in Providence. But the happy exterior was plagued a bit with the burdens that such a complicated life and care regimen can exact. Eventually, he pulled back unable to do both. But he was always willing to pull out the guitar if I stopped by, willing to drop everything and entertain. Indeed as my mother suffered the ravages of cancer, Charlie brought his guitar to our farm and played tunes in the sun while we all picked apples and my mother sat on the hillside listening.

And Sharon was always game for a visitor, not allowing her challenges to indispose her to friends. I have never understood the strength they found to live every day as if life were a reward rather than such a profound challenge.

But Charlie’s real bump in the road proved to be a log in a path he liked to walk near their home, which is a few blocks behind McCoy stadium. He hurt his leg badly and it wouldn’t heal. This precipitated systemic difficulties and I was as often likely to find him bedridden when I would visit, and still they egged me on. My only regret is that I couldn’t have been of more help and comfort as his episodic medical crisis deepened over time. Now he has left those of us who knew him with an enduring friendly work ethic and a respect for family closing ranks such as I have never known.

Bennies will be missed, but Marcy and Charlie are Rhode Island icons who should be mourned. If you did not know them, certainly you know their types in other strong Rhode Islanders who have made this a better place despite its failings.

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Brian Bishop is on the board of OSTPA and has spent 20 years of activism protecting property rights, fighting over regulation and perverse incentives in tax policy. 


Related Slideshow: Benny’s & Alexion Jobs Gone - Leaders Weigh In

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Lincoln Chafee

Former Rhode Island Governor and United States Senator

"I think these are two separate, unfortunate circumstances. Benny's is a victim of the present evolution of capitalism that favors the biggest chains which can provide lower prices. I hesitate to comment with any authority about the reasons for Alexion leaving Rhode Island.

But as a rule, companies don't like uncertainty and we face large deficits in our fiscal forecast as well as the fact that RhodeWorks is being put on a credit card - the hundreds of millions of dollars are being spent but the toll scheme of payment has yet to be implemented. And the trucking association has publicly promised a legal challenge."

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Patricia Morgan

House Minority Leader - Potential GOP Gubernatorial Candidate

"This is an issue of political will. Alexion could have chosen to consolidate to Rhode Island, but they went to Massachusetts instead.  The 1,000+ jobs being lost by Benny’s and Alexion, in addition to the 500 manufacturing jobs Rhode Island lost last quarter are indicative of a hostile business environment in our state.  We’ve known for decades that our economic foundation is weak and in need of repair.  

Unfortunately, our state leaders lack the political will to tackle the fundamental reform that will change our business climate for the better. Until we have leaders in Rhode Island who are willing to fight to make our state a place companies would rather be than anywhere else, we will continue to lose jobs."

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Giovanni Feroce

CEO, BENRUS - Former State Senator and Potential GOP Gubernatorial Candidate

"The hit is on two levels. Number one, there is the direct hit, loss of jobs being the paramount short term concern.  We need to be proactive in "landing" the talent that worked there quickly in new roles at new companies.

The second is the real hit, which in military terms we call the "second and third order effects." How does this impact the community as a whole?  We need to be vigilant in incorporating planning.  We don't have planning processes that I know of in economic solutions at the state and local levels. No one is feeding a "Master Plan." In the months to come, I will be very specific as to what that looks like.  The superiority in understanding and executing a plan and dealing with contingency planning will provide confidence to Rhode Islanders that leadership exists, but it requires a "coming together" as a whole to focus on what is best for Rhode Island and not what is best for an individual or one company or one political party.  We must adapt to the 21st-century business environment in a transformational and comprehensive way.  We can do it.

I have always believed that a proactive approach to asking RI businesses what they need and not a "luring" of individual companies that do not feed a master plan is the best short term approach.  At the end of the day, these "surprise" announcements mean there is a lack of communication.

[The job losses] are clearly indicative of Rhode Island's lack of a comprehensive approach to business sectors.  A few years ago I took a trip to see the third lock being built in Panama, next thing you know Savannah, GA built a whole infrastructure 20 miles inland out to the port to become the new leader in anticipating and receiving goods, therefore becoming a leader in an industry.  It is that kind of thinking we need here in Rhode Island." 

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Mike Stenhouse

CEO, Rhode Island Center for Freedom and Prosperity

"As our Center has warned for years, Rhode Island will continue to suffer hits like this, many of them smaller and un-publicized, until we make serious reforms that improve our state's dismal business climate. The corporate welfare strategy that taxes all of us, along with the anti-employer agenda of the progressive-left, are failing the businesses and people of Rhode Island. 

While it's unclear if it could have saved Benny's, major reductions to the sales tax remains the most impactful reform that we can undertake. It would make our state more competitive, while increasing our consumer base, and would also be a boon to retailers as a hedge against the growing Internet sales trend."

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Pat Ford

Chair, Rhode Island Libertarian Party

"[PawSox] Stadium, UHIP, parking meters, 38 Studios, and on and on. What do you get?  Poof.  1000 jobs disappear."

(Ford pictured right)

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RI Commerce Corporation

"We are disappointed by today's news regarding Alexion’s restructuring moves. Our number one priority is ensuring that every Rhode Islander currently employed at Alexion is able to transition to other work. The Department of Labor and Training will be working with Alexion officials on re-employment of their employees and the Commerce Corporation will be working with them on repurposing the facility."


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