Flags have been at half-mast at Casa Diablo all week as your superior correspondents mourn the passing of a great man. If you are a regular Cool, Cool World reader, you are probably familiar with some aspects of the life of Richard Walton. And if you are involved in social activism, the peace and justice movement, progressive politics, or Rhode Island's folk music community, you know Richard Walton well. He is, in a couple of words, totally irreplaceable.
Richard served in the US Navy, interrupting his studies at Brown University where he earned a bachelor's degree in 1951. Later, he received a master's degree at Columbia University's School of Journalism. He worked as a reporter for the Providence Journal, the New York World-Telegram, and the New York Sun.
Possessing a rich, sonorous voice, he also worked in radio, first as a DJ at WICE here in Vo Dilun and later at the Voice of America — in Washington, DC and in New York City, where he was VOA's principal United Nations correspondent. Richard wrote 12 books of history and political science. He taught at a number of colleges, most notably Rhode Island College, where he played a key role in unionizing the faculty and served as the first president of the faculty union.
In 1984, Richard ran for Vice President of the United States on the Citizens Party ticket and, in later years, was a key figure in the Green Party in Rhode Island. He was a political activist to the bone, speaking out against the plight of the homeless and the inequities in our economic and justice systems. For many years, in times of war, you could find Richard and a band of other peace activists outside the Federal Building at the end of Kennedy Plaza in downtown Providence, holding vigil.
He was a founder of the Providence Sister Cities Project that helped to rebuild the war-torn city of Niquinohomo in Nicaragua, erecting a health center and school there. P&J remember with great fondness the annual Sister Cities bowling tournaments in the 1980s held at the old Chip's underground bowling alley on North Main Street in Providence.
Richard also served as a board member for Amos House, the George Wiley Center, and the Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless. And he was a founder and first president of the Stone Soup Folk Arts Foundation. For many years, Richard emceed the concerts at the Stone Soup Coffeehouse, one of the great venues to hear authentic American folk music in Rhode Island.
For the past couple of decades, every year on Richard's birthday, there would be a large gathering of his many friends at his home in Pawtuxet Village, with people bringing food and checks to support Amos House and the Sister Cities Project.
When Phillipe and Jorge think about "the Rhode Island community," we think of Richard Walton, the finest exemplar of "community" we have ever known. Rest in peace, Richard. Your life and good works have enriched your state. You are forever a hero and inspiration.
OUT WITH THE OLD, IN WITH THE NEW?