Whitcomb: Buying Up Bankrupt Colleges; Facebook vs. Reality; Fung in Fiscal Fantasy?

Monday, April 16, 2018

 

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Robert Whitcomb

“By the rude bridge that arched the flood,

Their flag to April’s breeze unfurled,
Here once the embattled farmers stood,
And fired the shot heard round the world.’’

From "Concord Hymn," by Ralph Waldo Emerson, about the Battle of Concord, on April 19, 1775, which, with the Battle of Lexington the same day, ignited the American Revolution.

That the University of Massachusetts at Amherst is taking over the campus of tiny and bankrupt Mount Ida College, in Newton, is a sign or the times. The fact is that there are too many small private colleges in a time of a smaller cohort of college-age kids and ever more intense competition for student money. It’s probably tougher in New England than in most of the country because the region has a famed collection of very distinguished and well-endowed private colleges (most famously four of the eight Ivy League institutions and MIT) and generally improving, and expanding, state university systems to lure customers.

 

So now the flagship of the UMass system will get a physical site in Greater Boston. In the deal, UMass Amherst will assume $55 million to $70 million in debt from Mount Ida and then use the campus, which has dorms, labs, library and sports fields, as a place  from which students can work on internships and engage in academic collaborations with  other Boston-area colleges as well as  with businesses. UMass Amherst also said that having the campus will boost fundraising by providing a site closer to rich alumni and others in the great wealth-creating machine centered in Boston, Cambridge and along Route 128. Understandably UMass Boston feels dissed.

 

Watch for more such takeovers of small colleges by larger ones. I’m glad they’ll still be used for education, though that might turn out to be mostly vocational.
 

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Facebook

Facebook will fight fiercely to avoid having to put out crystal-clear notices to all current and incoming Facebook users telling them how to opt out of sharing personal data with the monster company. It’s that data that have made CEO Mark Zuckerberg and others in the inner orbit of the social-media orbit rich, in an 18th Century phrase, “beyond all the dreams of avarice’’ while, with Google, it sucks away the advertising revenue that pays for rigorous journalism. And of course, while Facebook and other big social-media sites have made some recent adjustments, they remain a playground for  Russian government trolls and other bad actors.

 

There’s already lots of fake news on social media, of course, but that’s nothing compared with the fraudulent videos that virtual-reality technology will be enabling over the next few years. Common understanding of what constitutes reality will continue to erode, undermining interpersonal relations, democracy and business. A modicum of trust is needed for a healthy society. Until we achieve unforeseen breakthroughs in quick verification of words and images, and the public gets a lot savvier in identifying fraud, that trust will continue to unravel in the Internet Age.

 

Meanwhile, as William Falk, the editor-in-chief of The Week (which runs a very wide range of opinions) noted:

 

“Other {U.S.} presidents have criticized individual {media} companies and complained about press bias, but Trump’s blatant use of state power to {try to} punish specific TV networks, newspapers and private companies who don’t kowtow to his will has no precedent – except in autocracies like Russia, Turkey and Venezuela, where it is the first step in the erosion of freedom.”

 

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Special Prosecutor Robert Mueller

Also erosive of freedom is Trump’s continuing attacks on the American legal system, the latest his diatribe against the FBI raid on the office and home of Trump’s sleazy fixer lawyer, William Cohen. Our demagogue-in-chief tried to cast doubt on the legality of the raid, as he has tried to cast doubt on Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s entire investigation of the polluted swamp in which Trump and his entourage swim.

 

As part of this Trump continues to rage against Atty. Gen. Jeff Sessions for recusing himself from the investigation on the basis of the idea that the attorney general’s first and only obligation is to be a servant of the president and not of the law.

 

Trump has called the investigation of him and his lackeys a “witch hunt,’’ but his behavior proves that he has plenty to hide.

 

A curious element of Trump’s legal problems is that he may be brought down by people of great integrity who are, or were until the most corrupt president in American history (so far) arrived, rock-ribbed Republicans: Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, was named special counsel by Deputy Atty. Gen. Rod Rosenstein, following the firing by Trump of then FBI Director James Comey.  All three are or were Republicans. But all have shown themselves devoted to the rule of law and not to the president.

 

The raid on Cohen by the FBI (whose employees have long tended Republican) was undertaken by the public corruption unit of the U.S. attorney’s office in Manhattan under a search warrant that investigators in New York obtained following a referral by Mr. Mueller, who first consulted with Mr. Rosenstein.  The raids also had to be approved by a federal magistrate judge. They all saw probable cause for doing this.

 

Prof. Robert Weisberg, co-director of the Stanford University Criminal Justice Center, explained to The Washington Post:

 

“There is a crime-fraud exception to attorney-client privilege. The affidavits that went into the {search} warrant application — and possibly direct conversations with the judge — would have had to give at least prima facie reason to believe that the communications, even where they were privileged, give some indication that Cohen was involved in committing or planning some kind of fraud.”

 

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In my last column, I wrote that Sinclair Broadcast Group, of course, had the right to run editorials on its TV stations, which include WJAR, in Providence. But I should have added that Sinclair, closely linked to Trump, shouldn’t be using anchor people and other news people to read its propaganda. They should use their editorialists or their station general managers to do the deed. Ordering their newspeople to do it severely undermines the stations’ journalistic credibility.

 

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Fane's Tower

The Fane Organization wants to put up a 46-story skyscraper in downtown Providence. Some folks are outraged at its height. Not me. I wouldn’t mind if it were 90 stories if it had a superb design. Wouldn’t it be fine if people a ways down on Narragansett Bay could look north and see a  gorgeous, glittering tower on  the horizon announcing that there’s a real city there!          

But unfortunately, based on what’s been shown so far, it’s likely that something banal, like a condo tower in Fort Lee, N.J., will go up.

 

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Speaker of the House Paul Ryan

Good riddance to pseudo-policy wonk; follower of the crank queen of selfishness, Ayn Rand; leading national-debt exploder (a team effort by both parties), and Trump enabler House Speaker Paul Ryan, one of the biggest phonies in the history of Congress. He says he won’t seek re-election and will return full time to his home in Wisconsin. But I wouldn’t be surprised if he stays in Washington with (after a year’s waiting period) a lobbyist’s gargantuan compensation or, perhaps more likely, is named to lucrative directorships by the corporate chief executives he has further enriched.  He’s been loyal to the Koch Brothers,  et al., and they’ll be loyal to him. After all, his one and only big legislative achievement has been helping to get the big tax-cut bill passed.

 

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GOP hopeful for Governor Allan Fung

Cranston Mayor Allan Fung, the likely Rhode Island Republican gubernatorial candidate, wants to cut the Rhode Island sales tax each year of his (first?) term  from the current (albeit rather narrowly applied) 7 percent until it reaches 5 percent – the lowest of any New England state except New Hampshire, which doesn’t have one. (Contrary to what most people think, by the way, some taxes in the Granite State are high.) Sounds nice, but what happens in the next recession, which might start next year, and state tax revenues slide?

 

More practical for the long term might be the mayor’s plan to introduce something called “the low fee guarantee,’’ which involves making occupational licensing, permitting and business incorporation fees the lowest in New England. This is worth a shot. It might attract some more start-up companies.

 

But how would the state make up the lost revenue? What other programs would Mr. Fung cut?

 

Also sounding like a good idea is:

 

"The Concierge Center is a one-stop location for startups and business owners, walking them through the process from business plan to ribbon cutting as quickly and as stress0- free as possible. A business owner will be working with the same economic development professional from start to finish - helping them cut through red tape and letting them know what they need to do right from the start, instead of running into time-consuming roadblocks because one department isn't talking to another.’’

 

Fine, but wouldn’t this require that the state hire more people to be “economic-development professionals’’. Where would the money to pay them come from, what with the aforementioned tax and fee cuts?
 

As usual, politicians, enabled by a public also living in fiscal fantasyland, push for more services and lower taxes.

 

In any event, Mr. Fung would also do well to continue and intensify Governor Raimondo’s efforts to reduce regulatory red tape, which in some sectors acts as a heavy drag on business creation and expansion.

 

Of course, taxes are only one factor in a state’s economic competitiveness and per-capita wealth. More important is an education system that churns out lots of competent and flexible workers, as well as a well-maintained physical infrastructure. Those are two big problems for Rhode Island. Inconveniently, these things require tax revenue, which fluctuates with the economy. In any event, taxes should be as fair and as clearly explained as possible, with the revenue from them efficiently and transparently spent. Citizens’ cynicism stays high when they don’t think they’re getting their money’s worth.

 

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Whether the new Amgen plant being planned for the pharmaceutical company’s West Greenwich campus turns out to be an economic bonanza for Rhode Island will depend to a great extent depend upon  how much new business locally based vendors get from Amgen and how much the company is able and willing to train local workers in this growing sector.

 

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Vermont parade

Vermont, which has long been a strong gun-rights state, has enacted, with the signing by Republican Gov. Phil Scott,  three new gun controls: raising the age for buying guns to 21 from 18; restricting the sale of high-capacity  magazines, and easing the way for police to take guns away from people who pose a threat. These are the toughest gun-control laws in the Green Mountain State’s history.

 

Vermont, as a mostly rural state with lots of hunters, has, as you’d expect, a very energetic gun culture. But the mass shootings, especially at schools, have changed a lot of minds.

 

We’ll see if other gun-heavy states follow suit.

 

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There’s a lot of abandoned infrastructure in New England. After all, we’re an old region. It’s always pleasant to see old structures reused in ingenious ways. Take the Bridge of Flowers, in Shelburne Falls, in western Massachusetts. This is a lovely arched concrete railroad span built in 1908 by the evocatively named Shelburne Falls & Colrain Street Railway Co.

 

The bridge was abandoned in 1927 because of the financial woes of the company and was quickly overgrown with weeds. But within a couple of years, local volunteers came up with the idea of carting soil onto the bridge and turning it into something that they named the Bridge of Flowers. It became a tourist attraction, with a great diversity of blooms through the growing season.

 

So important -- psychologically, sociologically and economically -- had the  Bridge of Flowers become that when in the early ‘80s, the bridge required major repairs, locals came up with more than half a million dollars to fix it. Volunteers continue to plant and care for the plants

 

Heartening reuse. You could say the same thing about bike paths on old railroad rights of way, although it would be better for the environment and economy if some of these old routes were instead passenger rail lines again. Even the famous East Bay Bike Path, in Rhode Island.

 

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In other bike news, Uber is buying Jump Bikes, an electric-bike company, for $100 million. The City of Providence has hired Jump Bikes to run a bike-share program. The company is now operating in Washington, D.C.

 

If this helps get more people out of their cars, hurray! Jump offers “dockless’’ bicycles, which you pick up wherever the last rider left them, using a mobile app to pay. Delightfully convenient! Uber’s relentless marketing might lead to a surge in bike-riding, albeit mostly of the electric variety.

 

Riders are supposed to leave these bikes either on sidewalks or attached to public bike racks but some officials in some places have complained that some slob riders leave the bikes in the middle of sidewalks or in out-of-the-way places. Tough to supervise these things.

 

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Wynn's project in MA is in flux

How appropriate for an industry so intrinsically  corrupt that it has drawn the likes of Donald Trump: the Wynn Boston Harbor casino complex in  Everett, Mass., casino complex is going up on land whose previous owners include, reports Bloomberg News, “two convicted felons, one with alleged mob ties.’’

To read the Bloomberg article, please hit this link:

 

 

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There was charming, if a bit melancholic, story in the April 8 New York Times about people selling houses that had been in their families for as long as a couple of hundred years. The article is a series of anecdotes reminding us that even the most close-knit families eventually disperse.

 

In the New England part of my family, we recently saw an example of this when some second cousins sold a rambling gray-shingled farmhouse near Woods Hole, on Cape Cod, that had been in the family at least since great-grandparents owned it, and maybe before. My cousins had lost interest in using and keeping up the place some years back and were happy to get the money from the sale.

 

They had spent a good part of their summers there as kids, near the harbor and a beautiful beach. But practicality trumped nostalgia. And as one of the cousins, a lawyer, observed:

 

“You never really own anything. You just of borrow it for a while.’’

 

To read The Times piece, please hit this link:

 

 

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RI State House on Smith Hill

Since there’s lots of litter in public places (Smith Hill in Providence, on which sits the glorious Rhode Island State House, is a depressing example), we’d do well to read The Cape Cod Times’s two-part series of editorials called “The Trashing of Cape Cod’’ about the costs of the trashing of our roadsides. Litter alongside roads is a big “go-away’’ sign to travelers, signaling a lack of local pride and weak local government.

To read the first part of the series, please hit this link:

 

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Some readers may have followed the saga of Kevin Williamson, the provocative National Review writer who had recently been hired away from that right-wing organ by the centrist or maybe slightly left-of-center Atlantic to widen the range of commentary there. But then the arrangement was swiftly ended because of a firestorm over the fact that Mr. Williamson has supported the death penalty, at least in some cases, for women who had abortions.  Mr. Williamson considers abortion murder and thus says women who have abortions should be hung.

 

Here’s what he said in a podcast in 2014:

 

“I think in some ways it’s  {abortion} worse than your typical murder. I mean, it’s absolutely premeditated. . . . It’s something that’s performed against the most vulnerable sort of people. And that’s the sort of thing we generally take into account in the sentencing of other murder cases. You know, murdering a four-year-old kid is not the same as killing a 21-year-old guy.”

“I’m absolutely willing to see abortion treated like a regular homicide under the criminal code.”  He favors hanging, by the way.

Now, I strongly support the right of women to have abortions in the very early stages of pregnancy and generally oppose the death penalty, with some exceptions, such as mass murderers, domestic and foreign. (Bashar Assad should be strung up.) I find it hard to see how a few cells soon after a conception comprise a human. But many millions of people sincerely believe that, on theological and other grounds.

Still, Kevin Williamson, however offensive, is being intellectually coherent. I would have kept him writing at The Atlantic.

 

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, who is married to businessman Lorne Adrain, lives in Providence and is a fixture in the Rhode Island community.
 

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#6

Bob Ballard

Oceanographer

Ballard found the Titanic.  And yes, he was a URI undergrad and now serves multiple leading roles at URI as a Professor of Oceanography; Director, Center for Ocean Exploration; and head of the Institute for Archaeological Oceanography.

Today, the Archeological Oceanography, which he started in 2003 is a unique institute “combines the disciplines of oceanography, ocean engineering, maritime history, anthropology and archeology into one academic program.” The institute involves a broad cross section of URI faculty and includes faculty from Harvard University, the University of Pennsylvania, Florida State University, MIT and Woods Hole.

He is the rockstar face of oceanography in the world.
 

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#5

Jonathan Nelson

Investor

Nelson is one of America’s leading investors. In an era of Wall Street mega firms, Rhode Islander Nelson has built in Downtown Providence a $40 billion private equity fund Providence Equity Group. 

Once the golden boys of private equity and lauded for putting together “the biggest deal in the world,” he and the firm have had a series of set backs.

The highest profile bump was the firm’s loss of nearly $800 million in the firm, Altegrity, that was contracted to review federal contractors like Edward Snowden.

As GoLocal previously reported, the domino effect of Snowden’s absconding with federal data bases exposed the deficiencies of Altegrity’s vetting process.

He has become more active as a philanthropist and is listed by Forbes richest in Rhode Island.
 

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#4

Dennis Littky

Educator

Littky is a rebel, a disruptor, an innovator, a trouble maker, and an educator.  They made a movie about him, Newsweek has featured his schools, President Obama talks about his schools and Bill and Melinda Gates gave him millions to grow, refine and scale is model of disruption.

In 2009, Littky defied all and created an alternative college and by 2015 the Rhode Island Council on Postsecondary Education approved College Unbound as a degree-granting postsecondary option in the state.

In Rhode Island, The Met School celebrated its 20th Anniversary this past week. Thousands of students who would not have finished high school have graduated and moved on to college, business and beyond.

There may be no more accomplished innovator than Littky.
 

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#3

Bill and David Belisle

Coaches

Bill and David Belisle may be the best high school and youth coaches in history. Going by the statistics, the record of twenty-six consecutive state hockey championship (1978 to 2003) and a total of 32 may be a record never to be matched. Bill Belisle (the father) has coached at Mount for 42 years and his son David has been his assistant for years.

The younger Belisle made national headlines with his post-game speech to the Little League team he was coaching was defeated in the Little League World Series.

Twice their players have been selected #1 in the NHL Draft, countless others played in the NHL, and dozens played college hockey. There are movies and books on the exploits of Mount Hockey under the Belisles. 

Photo courtesy of Dave Belisle

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#2

Nick Benson

Artist 

There are few people in the world that are recognized as the very best in their craft, but Nick Benson of the John Stevens Shop in Newport is globally recognized as the best stone cutter in the world. 

Founded in 1705, The John Stevens Shop specializes in the design and execution of one-of-a-kind inscriptions in stone — the MLK Memorial, FDR’s Four Freedoms Park, and the inscription for the John F. Kennedy Memorial in Arlington National Cemetery, to name a few. 

Benson won a Genius Fellowship from the MacArthur Foundation, and was recently featured on CBS news. The John Stevens Shop is one of America’s longest continuously running businesses.
 

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#1

Viola Davis

Actor

Davis is one of the most accomplished actors in the United States. She is the winner of two Tony awards, an Emmy and a SAG award as well as being nominated for an Oscar.  With regards to her Emmy, she became the first African-American to win the Award for Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Series in 2015. Amazingly, she did not earn her SAG card until she was 30 years old.

Davis self-describes that she grew up in abject poverty in Central Falls and worked her way to Rhode Island College and now beyond but has been a constant force in helping Central Falls to recover from its bankruptcy and rebuilding its spirit.

She is a leading fundraiser for a range of Rhode Island causes.  Davis is the embodiment of the Rhode Island spirit and a model of how to overcome the greatest challenges to reach greatness.
 

 
 

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