Robert Whitcomb: New Main Streets; Lifespan’s Threat; & University Bloat

Sunday, April 16, 2017

Robert Whitcomb
Louis Hyman, an economic historian and the director of the Institute for Workplace Studies at  Cornell University’s School of Industrial and Labor Relations, has a useful piece in the April 9 New York Times headlined “The Myth of Main Street: Don’t Listen to President Trump. Going back to the good old days will cost us.’’ (The article is accompanied by charming (if, er, manipulated) pictures of the old mill town of Dover, N.H.).


Mr. Hyman’s basic argument is that it’s far too late to try to reconstitute the small, inefficient stores with high prices that used to characterize small-town retailing. Many of these establishments thrived back when there were “fair trade laws’’ {set by state legislators to keep a floor under the prices of goods} and  before the acceleration of globalization, when so many U.S. companies, including manufacturers, discovered foreign suppliers.


The Main Street-style stores also prospered before the invasion of huge U.S.  big-box chain stores with lower prices (in part because of cheap foreign suppliers) and a much wider variety of stuff for sale and usually built at the periphery of communities where there was lots of parking space. Now many of those chains are suffering as Amazon and other Internet operations steal a lot of their business.


Professor Hyman says that small towns have plenty to be hopeful about.


 “It’s true that the digital economy, centered in a few high-tech cities, has left Main Street America behind. But it does not need to be this way. Today, for the first time, thanks to the Internet, small-town America can pull back money from Wall Street (and big cities more generally). Through global freelancing platforms like Upwork, for example, rural and small-town Americans can find jobs anywhere in the world, using abilities and talents they already have. …Through an e-commerce website like Etsy, an Appalachian woodworker can create custom pieces and sell them anywhere in the world.

Main Street, East Greenwich
‘’Americans, regardless of education or geographical location, have marketable skills in the global economy: They speak English and understand the nuances of communicating with Americans — something that cannot be easily shipped overseas. The United States remains the largest consumer market in the world, and Americans can (and some already do) sell these services abroad.

Bottom of Form

 But, “…. Right now we are too fixated on ‘upskilling’ coal miners into data miners. We should instead be showing people how to get work via digital platforms with their existing skills.


‘’The reality of global economics means that Main Street is a place of nostalgia, but again, that has long been the case. What’s novel is that today, the underlying values of Main Street — living and working with autonomy in your own small community — can be attained, as long as you are willing to find that work online.’’


In New England, more than in most of the United States there are many attractive (even “quaint’’) and socially and environmentally stable towns and small cities.  Thus there are powerful social and aesthetic reasons to try to stay in them. The Internet offers many ways to make that economically plausible.


Meanwhile, spiffed up (faux?) versions of Main Street can be found in affluent parts of big and mid-size cities and in college towns. (A good example in Providence is Wayland Square, close to Brown University and high-end retirement communities.) There, the mostly well-heeled residents can afford the high prices of local, nonfranchised stores and restaurants. But the idea of restoring the 1920s idea of Main Street for everybody is delusional.


I remember the tail end of the model in the ‘50s, before the Interstate Highway System. The little town I lived had a cute downtown, with post office, grocery store with sawdust on the floor (before OSHA!), a clothing store  and liquor store (often the busiest place in town) but a remarkably narrow range of things to buy.


You’d very often run into people you knew in this village center, but that wasn’t always such a great thing. Most of these small towns were closer to Peyton Place than the precious small towns (e.g., Stockbridge, Mass.) evoked by Norman Rockwell, who had plenty of demons himself. But there were three old churches at our village center, and in the Eisenhower administration they were often filled, with ambiguous effects on local behavior.




Lifespan is making another run at taking over Care New England: If such a merger is approved, there would be at least two almost inevitable results.  CNE senior executives would get big golden parachutes and the post-merger Lifespan would use its near-monopoly pricing power to jack up prices, as has happened with other hospital-system mergers around America.



New York State, like Rhode Island and some other states,  has been getting into the “free’’ (or partly free) college tuition business. I wonder how effective such deals will be in educating, and retaining in-state,  future workers if K-12 isn’t adequate. I also wonder whether the idea, which seems associated with these “free college’’ plans, that everyone should become members of the “professional’’ class is as silly as it sounds. But that’s what politicians often seem to be implying when they back such programs.


Consider a recent Bryant University survey that shows that 60 percent of Rhode Island voters back “free’’ college tuition for two years at Rhode Island public colleges and more than half  support various schemes to phase out local car taxes. The end of the car tax could deprive the localities of so much revenue that they’ll demand more state financial aid, which then might require raising state income and/or sales taxes to address a state budget deficit.


Ah, the joys of governing! Citizens always want more services and lower taxes.



There’s  a move underway to require licenses for pet groomers in Rhode Island.  That would be yet another addition to the swamp of unneeded regulations in which entrepreneurialism can drown. Individuals can cut their pets’ hair for free and without the state telling them how to do it.


If owners want to hire someone to do it for them, they can investigate the background of the groomers and/or watch them at work. Then they can exercise their own common sense (remember that?) in deciding whether to hire them. We have allowed far too much government micro-management of too many activities. We need fewer regulations and statutes and better enforcement of the remaining ones.



I predicted last year on my friend Bruce Newbury’s radio show on WADK that Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo’s popularity would rise with the sense that the state’s economy was improving.  Rhode Islanders, famous for their pessimism and suspiciousness, now generally believe that that the state is on the upswing. The jobless rate is now below the national average and a building boom is underway in Providence. Much of the improvement is cyclical and has little to do with who the governor is. But some of it is due to the sense that Ms. Raimondo generally knows what she is doing when it comes to pumping up business.


But we’re past the time in a national economic cycle when the economy usually starts heading into another recession. In the last half-century, Rhode Island has more often than not been among the first states to go into recession and among the last to leave. Have there been enough structural changes to make things different this time?


Given the small bench of Democratic governors and senators, the improving Ocean State economy may mean that Ms. Raimondo has a chance of going on the party’s presidential ticket in 2020 – assuming, of course,  that she can win re-election by a big margin next year.


What is President Trump’s Syria policy? Given his erratic and inexperienced administration, and near-constant contradictions, it’s impossible to know. It’s not even exactly clear why he ordered the missile attack on the Syrian air base (which I backed) from which dictator Bashar Assad’s air force flew off to murder some more civilians with poison gas, probably with the Kremlin’s assistance. 

The president seemed genuinely upset by the Assad-Putin alliance’s latest outrage. But the runway at the air field wasn’t bombed and so Assad’s pilots soon flew off again after the U.S. attack to  murder some more civilians, albeit not with poison gas that time. Why wasn’t the runway bombed?

So dishonest and sometimes crazy  have  been Mr. Trump and many of his associates about so many things that conspiracy theories are rife. One is that the attack and very recent tough talk about the Russians has been meant to divert the public attention from leading Trump administration figures’ close and corrupt ties with Vladimir Putin’s murderous kleptocracy.  But, again, who knows? Indeed different members of Mr. Trump’s foreign-policy team, including his family, seem to each have their own foreign policies. Chaos reigns.

But one thing is certain: Goldman Sachs will be involved in all major decisions.



Sean Spicer
Sean Spicer, the White House spokesman, is both poorly informed (like his boss) and not very smart, unlike his boss, who has a sort of feral street smarts. I think I understood what Mr. Spicer was trying to say the other day when he said that even Hitler didn’t use poison gas against civilians. Of course, Hitler murdered millions of people, many of them Germans, with poison gas in his extermination camps. Mr. Spicer was, I believe, trying to say that the German military didn’t use poison gas in direct military action, unlike in  World War I, when the Germans introduced this horrific weapon on the Western Front.


But having dug himself into a hole, Mr. Spicer kept digging as he tried to explain his way out of his public-relations mess. It’s just another sign that he probably won’t have his job for long, whatever his loyalty to Donald Trump.




The severe fiscal problems of the University of Massachusetts at Boston are pretty representative of those of much of higher education: Endless over-budget building as  college presidents seek to erect monuments to themselves; the hiring of ever more overpaid administrators with vague and trendy titles even as tuitions surge, and ever higher percentages of faculties are “adjuncts’’ who barely earn minimum wage. Meanwhile, too many schools strive to be complicated research universities instead of focusing on teaching because “research’’ sounds much more glamorous.


What UMass Boston (and the state) needs is  for it to be a first-class local “commuter’’ school focused on teaching, and to leave the research to UMass’s flagship institution – UMass at Amherst and the state’s famous private research universities. UMass Boston will never win an arms race with UMass Amherst, let alone Harvard and MIT.


An example of the vacuous jobs being created at UMass Boston: Tom Sannicandro, a former state legislator from Ashland, Mass., just got the job of  “director of the Institute for Community Inclusion’’ at  a $165,000-a-year  salary, along with juicy benefits.  Keith Motley, the now ousted chancellor (basically president but chancellor sounds more royal) whose oversize ambitions  and edifice complex at the institution helped put it into a deficit of tens of millions of dollars, will now go on sabbatical with a salary of $355,059.  His salary last year was $422,000.


When that long vacation is over, Mr. Motley, a professional bureaucrat and former basketball coach, will return as a $240,000-a-year faculty member teaching…? Well, that hasn’t be disclosed.


What a scam.


The corruption that has produced obscene compensation for public company C-suites, regardless of how well they do their jobs, has long since infected public and private higher education, too.


It’s sounds very sci-fi, but excitement is slowly growing about Hyperloop transportation systems, in which magnetically levitated trains carry passengers and freight inside a low-pressure tube at the speed of sound. One of the companies pushing for them is Hyperloop One, which has identified 11 routes across America where Hyperloops might be built.


By far the shortest and therefore the cheapest such route being proposed is Providence-Somerset- (to serve the Fall River area) -Boston – a 64-mile route that could take less than 10 minutes to travel. That this route is in a densely populated area whose residents are used to mass transit makes it more attractive. (By the way, Holly McNamara, a  Somerset selectwoman, proposed the stop in that town.)


How much would it cost? No one really knows, but certainly several billion dollars.


Still, some engineers think that Hyperloops could be cheaper than regular high-speed rail to construct. The giant consultancy  KMPG did a study that concluded that the per-mile cost of building a Hyperloop could be more than 25 percent less expensive than building California’s planned high-speed rail to link Los Angeles and San Francisco.


Of course it all seems surreal now, but as former U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx said about the Hyperloop idea:


“The airplane was pie-in-the-sky, the car was pie-in-the-sky, virtually every mode of transportation we enjoy today was at one a point pie-in-the-sky idea. We have to accept that there’s a stretch here. But it’s a stretch that can yield pretty significant benefits. What surface transportation mode today can get 700 miles per hour? None. There’s a huge opportunity, we just have to be willing to do what it takes to get there.”


But, as he told Recode:  “The technology, the science behind it, is very sound, but it’s one of those examples of, the technology may be there before the government is. Will it happen some place? Absolutely, I’m sure it will. Not even sure it’s going to happen first in the U.S. to be honest, but I think there’ll be some proof points out there to show that Hyperloop is a real thing.”


Obviously, federal rail regulations would have to be dramatically changed to include 700-mph trains!




After four years of controversy, construction of the Welcome Center, in a lovely, cozy new garden setting, at The Breakers in Newport will start in a few weeks. It's a pity that the actions of a small number of people in America’s hyper-litigious society have  prevented for so long the building of such an attractive and low-key facility, with a restaurant and restrooms, instead of the current no food and port-a-potties under a tent to deal with 400,000 visitors  year!


“This is a major milestone toward the creation of the kind of world class hospitality that we feel a National Historic Landmark should provide for its visitors,” said Monty Burnham, chairman of the board of the Preservation Society of Newport County. “With this step we move toward offering our visitors the hospitality they deserve, and that they enjoy at museums and historic sites around the world.’’


Quite right. This is great news for Newport.




It doesn’t seem at all unfair to make in-state residency a requirement for firefighting and police jobs in Rhode Island. They should have a direct stake in the state where they’re charged with protecting the public and whose taxes pay their wages and benefits. But, reports GoLocalProv, state Rep. David Bennett, who has gotten more than $25,000 in donations from unions and labor political action committees since getting elected, is sponsoring irresponsible legislation to let out-of-state residents be eligible for such jobs. This bill needs to be killed now.




Seeing tree buds swell and drop their red scales on the sidewalks and the smell of moist warm earth are among the nicest things about this time of year.

  • #50

    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.

  • #49

    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.

  • #48

    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.

  • #47

    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.


  • #46

    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. 

  • #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.

  • #44

    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.

  • #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.

  • #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.

  • #41

    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.

  • #40

    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. 

  • #39

    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.

  • #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.

  • #37

    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.

  • #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. 

  • #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.

  • #34

    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.

  • #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.

  • #32

    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. 

  • #31

    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. 

  • #30

    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. 

  • #29

    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.

  • #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."

  • #27

    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.

  • #26

    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.  

  • #25

    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. 


  • #24

    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.

  • #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.

  • #22

    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.

  • #21

    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.

  • #20

    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. 

  • #19

    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.


  • #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.

  • #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.

    Presently, he is on sabbatical in Europe.

  • #16

    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.  

  • #15

    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.

  • #14

    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.

  • #13

    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.”

  • #12

    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.

  • #11

    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. 

  • #10

    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.


  • #9

    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. 

  • #8

    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. 

  • #7

    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.

  • #6

    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.

  • #5

    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.

  • #4

    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.

  • #3

    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

  • #2

    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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