So will the new laureate position tame him or slow him down? Conley shakes his head. He's not going to stop writing letters. He's not going to withdraw lawsuits like the one against the local scrapyard alleging their constant tamping and banging on the scrap heap, has caused structural damage to his building. "I'm me," he says. "I'm 74 years old. Am I going to change? No."

"I was New England Golden Gloves middleweight champion, too," he adds. "So I don't back away from a fight." Wearing loafers, grey slacks, a white Notre Dame golf shirt, and a gold Irish cross hanging around his neck, he looks fit and feisty.

His resume reads like a menu for a lifetime's feast of activity. In 1987, the Providence Business News listed him as the city's largest private landowner. He has been awarded a Rhode Island National Guard Medal for Excellence. But he has been divorced three times and declared personal bankruptcy twice, too.

Conley tells me about his acceptance speech at the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame in 1995: "I said that, 'When I got the letter, I had to look at it twice . . . I didn't know if said 'fame' or 'shame.' "

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