Richard Walton touched so many, from students to advocates to the homeless to musicians to the oppressed. Richard was always there. Besides being so active in the community, he worked for 27 years as an adjunct professor at Rhode Island College.
A memorial and tribute for Richard is being held this Saturday at 3pm at the Roots Cultural Center, 276 Westminster Street Providence. You are invited to help us celebrate a life well lived. The mailing address for Amos House is P.O. Box 72873, Providence, RI 02907. They aceept on-line donation via credit card, including a space on the form for an “in memory of” designation. Read the first installment of this online memorial here.
Rhode Island College
Richard’s bereavement notice was sent out to the entire Rhode Island College community and the campus flag was flown at half staff. RIC President Nancy Carriuolo wrote:
Office of the President
I have very sad news to share. Richard Walton, beloved adjunct faculty member in the English Department and President of the Adjunct Faculty Union, passed away yesterday. Please follow the link for more specifics http://news.providencejournal.com/breaking-news/2012/12/rhode-island-fixture-richard-j-walton-dies-at-age-84ready.html.
I have asked that the college flag be flown at half- mast in his memory. Richard loved our college, the students and his colleagues. He will be missed greatly by our campus community as well as by many others in RI who benefitted from his knowledge, concern, and generosity.
As any more information becomes available, my office will forward it to you.
Richard often got letters from students. The ‘you changed my life’ kind. He thought it was typical. He was irreplaceable. He was never negative about any of the students. That was one of the things people picked up from him.
Sent: Monday, March 26, 2012 1:39:20 PM
To: Walton, Richard
Subject: Writing 100
It’s been quite some time but I took your Writing 100 class my very first semester of college back in 2007 and my experience with you and that class has stayed with me throughout my undergraduate career. It remains one of my fondest memories to date. I wrote a piece on women and society’s beauty ideal that brought you to tears during discussion one day. I’m emailing you today because I recently had an idea for a children’s book and I’m not quite sure what the first step would be in producing such a thing or where to start. I would love to meet for coffee one day and discuss these ideas with you! I truly value your opinion and any advice you could give me. I hope this finds you healthy and happy on such a beautiful spring day!
From: Richard J. Walton [richard@RichardJWalton.org]
Sent: Tuesday, March 27, 2012 4:36 PM
Subject: You’ve Made This Wintry Day Like Spring
What a nice surprise, … after nearly five years! I still remember the name but the face that goes with it is dancing just beyond my recall … but we can deal with that by having that coffee you suggest. I’m on campus only on Mondays and Wednesdays for classes at 2 o’clock and 4 so perhaps we could meet sometime before my 2 o’clock. I’ve been teaching a lot of years and a rare note like yours is so very welcome, especially as I near the end of my teaching years. Getting a book published is increasingly difficult and I’ve been away from publishing for a good many years.
Yet books are still being published and maybe our conversation would come up with something helpful so, yes, let’s have that coffee soon. The Café is quite a nice place.
On this day that feels more like January than late March, you can imagine, I hope, how nice it was to receive your note, to be remembered fondly after so many years, so many classes. I’m looking forward to our conversation. Suggest a couple of times and we’ll pick the best one. Again, thank you for that very nice note.
P.S. I still weep in class now and then. I am so lucky to have taught for so many years. Best job in the world
Maureen Reddy, Ph.D. Professor and Chair, Department of English, Rhode Island College
He was a wonderful colleague, adjuncting for 27 years. He taught Political Science and English… academic writing: Freshmen course. He gave students a place to write a lot with a lot of chances to revise. He got stellar evaluations from students who often went in kicking and screaming. All the “not me, I’m an Anthro.” majors. He converted them all. They didn’t want to take it but they loved it. He knew how to criticize without being hurtful. They slowly realized that it’s obvious that ‘he just wants us to be good writers’.
He was so sad about leaving RIC. He loved teaching. Last Spring, he told me ‘Ok, this is really it.’ We all threw a party but instead he got sick. He said, ‘No way could he be here in September but he would be there in the spring.’ But he can’t now.
Here’s an email he sent me. 5:55am ‘I walk up very concerned about one of my students. She wrote about suicide and I know they have vivid imaginations but I couldn’t ignore it. “I care about you” he wrote back. Who else is going to do this? 82 years old. Don’t worry about me. Perfect. Exactly the right balance, no insulting her. He was wonderful.
Jim Kittridge, Adjunct Faculty – RI College English Department
We started unionization in 2005 for the adjuncts as the only un-unionized group on campus. Richard’s greatest asset was his ability to communicate. He could talk with anybody. We was very valued because of that. When it came to it, there was no question he should be the 1st president. If anybody had the temperament, if anybody could talk to the adjuncts, it was Richard. He had a natural way with computers and inquiries and details all across the spectrum at RIC. He was part of the negotiating team that secured the 1st contract. 18 months of negotiations; very foundational proposals. He put a lot of effort into building those proposals. We were meeting 3-4 times a month, forging new ground. With his skills, he was uncanny in negotiating. He felt it was one of the best things he ever did. Genuine and meaningful. He felt it was a legacy that will be passed on.
Adjuncts are hired on a course basis, semester by semester, limited to 2 courses to avoid benefits. Higher Ed is using this job definition more and more. Just like business. In business, they’re “independent contractors”. PHD’s are a dime a dozen these days. We get 300-400 applicants for a position. We’ve had a steady erosion of state legislative support over 20 years. Back then, 70% of the positions were full-time, now it’s barely above 50%. He had a great sense for justice. He just realized that they deserved to be recognized. And the union won! We got official recognition in approximately 2007. He negotiated 17 months for that 3 year contract (2009). He was an avid reader and could talk about anything. He was self-deprecating, down to earth, very reasonable, very level. A hard core group of 7-8 people brought this about.
He was grounded in equality. He fundamentally saw that (the union) as fundamental. The second round happened while he was in chemo. He was fatigued and tired, but his mind was still there. There were private meetings: went right to the heart of the matters. How to rebut… strategies… that kind of thing. They went on for 8 months in 2012. He missed the last two or three but he was still demanding to know about what went on. He had to know right away. Each year was different but the solidarity was steady.
All of us are equally saddened, it was very quick. We were going to give him a gift as this was his last year as president. He loved the RI College chairs because they were so comfortable. The weekend before Christmas, Saturday, we decided to make a surprise for him. We went in first and talked. Then we went out to the car and brought him back a chair. He was so happy; he was tickled pink. A few days later he was gone. He looked so good, like he had another several years left.
C. Kelly Smith, Community Advocate, Pawsox fan and volunteer at Stone Soup
Richard was a sweet guy with a good heart and his spirit was always so giving. I knew him through Stone Soup. He was at all the anti-war protests. He was always there. And at McCoy. We saw each other there a lot.
At Stone Soup, he was the constant reminder of stacking all the chairs and cups in the kitchen. I had to take his place once, and I felt like “How could I take his place?” He would get up and just start going “sssshhhh” and everybody would laugh. I tried to get a ticket to a sold out event once and Richard found out and got a mystery ticket left at the door. He made it possible for me to go. I loved having chats with him about world politics. Later in his life he got to do some of the traveling that he always wanted to do.
Carol and Henry Shelton, long time community activists and advocates for the poor in Rhode Island
We’ll always remember Richard’s long term service, his steadfastness, his actions, and his creative ideas at the Board meetings for the George Wiley Center. You always knew you could count on Richard. We’ll never forget what Richard’s question would be all the time on the finances: ‘Are we above water?’ Or ‘Are we sinking?’ But then that’s always the question, isn’t it. It never goes away.
Richard represents the best of community activism and peacemaking. His consistency in supporting low income and peace issues, in various parts of the world, is something you can never forget. He was an example for all of us. We all adhere to the common principles of justice, we all do what we can but it is always nice to see that dogged principle from those that made commitments that lasted their lifetime. He had a nice balance between peace making and a love of music and good beer and good times. We’ll always remember the Rhubarb pies that we made from his garden. We always a made a big pie for his party but sometimes it would go so quick we would make a 2nd pie just for him. His garden was another of his passions. We just got rid of the Thai hot peppers within the last week or so. He was a nice combination of love of a good party and activism. Every year, a large bag of Rhubarb that would arrive on the front porch. Hillary Salk’s granddaughter, Bianca, took Richard’s writing course, and graduated from Emerson College. The recommendation that Richard wrote was absolutely splendid. It helped her get in. At RIC, we would always have a protest every week against the Iraq war. We did that for about a year. Richard was always there.
Jim Tull, Professor of Global Studies at Providence College and former Director of Amos House
His main contribution was to peace and justice work. I’ll never forget Richard’s style… he can get pretty sophisticated about foreign policy but he did not do that. He eschewed that side, his contribution was ‘This was wrong.’
Ironically, given his long career in journalism, he was not prone to getting very detailed about any particular issue. He presented himself, politically and morally, as a voice for peace and justice in the world. And he avoided conversations that distracted from that very fundamental imperative; that distracted from that moral conversation.
He did a panel once, with Mark Patinkin, on the 1st gulf war: He (Patinkin) couldn’t get Richard to say anything other than ‘War is only going to make everything worse. War has never served the function of making anything better.’ He would just not budge. Everybody else was talking about oil, the Kuwait invasion and the details of why we should go to war. ‘War is never going to be the answer.’ And I kind of wanted to shake him, because I knew he could argue. But he would not budge. Richard knew that no argument for War was going to make anybody’s life any better. Despite his expertise, he just said no.
His style was as a creature of habit. He didn’t just go occasionally, he would go every week. Eleven years in front of the federal building, protesting the war in Central America. He locked in habits. Aristotle defined virtue as a habit. He only stopped doing something if hell freezes over. He makes commitments and then he habituates that commitment. I’ve never met anybody in my entire life that approached peace and justice that way. Every Friday, we would retire to the Custom House after the vigil. He was always open to a good beer or two.
Most people who are 83 years old just want to sit home. We used to go to McCoy stadium and we would pick up people along the way. They didn’t even know we were coming. We would just grab them. That was Richard.
Phil Edmonds, Irish musician and community advocate
Along with some people like Catherine Rhodes, Jim Tull, and myself, we would try to get a little sleep inside refrigerator boxes on the cold steps of the Federal Building near Kennedy Plaza. One memorable night, I remember this sight of Richard wrapped in a sleeping bag, pacing the sidewalk all night during the freezing, sleepless, ‘Sleep Out to End Homelessness’ that took place many years ago on the Martin Luther King Holiday in January. I’ll never forget that one.
Another vision is of him being escorted by the police out of Rep. Ron Machtley’s Pawtucket office for a sit-in, protesting the Congressman’s support of the U.S. War in El Salvador in the late 80s.
Richard also loved to volunteer at Amos House’s Men’s Residence, especially on Christmas Eve so he could pass out gifts on Christmas Day to the men who were homeless. He volunteered at Amos House for decades. He loved that.
Those are the ways I will always remember Richard.
Richard’s Birthday parties, Annual Events that were not to be Missed
His parties were where you experienced the true scope of his influence. Hundreds of people from all walks of life would come to his house in Warwick, overlooking Pawtuxet Cove, bringing food, instruments and checkbooks for Amos House.
This is the original invite that has been passed along over the years:
Hi, As many of you know, a long time ago when Richard Walton was about to turn 60, a bunch of his Stone Soup friends [Jann Campbell, Joyce Katzberg, Jane Murphy, Steve Snyder, Bill Harley, Debbie Block and others] decided that this milestone should be celebrated with a party. Sounded like a good idea to Richard but since he didn’t want any gifts, he decided to make it a benefit for Amos House [where he has now been a volunteer for decades] and the Providence-Niquinohomo Sister City Project [he's been there numerous times]. The party was such a success, not only as a party right there on the shores of Pawtuxet Cove but it raised a couple of thousand dollars. So when the next year rolled around Richard decided to repeat the party, calling it his 60th Birthday Party, Part II. It too raised a fair amount of money so he decided to make it an annual event, in five-year increments of Part I, Part II, etc. And over the years we’ve raised about $75,000, not so bad for friends making donations at a party. Last year’s was 80th Birthday Party, Part IV and as spring approached his year, people began asking about Part V … but Richard felt himself running out of steam. He was in a dilemma: he didn’t want to just abandon what has become something of a tradition but he didn’t have the energy to pull together another 200-person party. What to do? Then Bill Harley had a good idea: maybe it could be held at Len Cabral’s fine arts center/club, the Roots Café, in the space formerly occupied by the Black Rep Theatre, 276 Westminster St.. Len thought it was a good idea so that’s what’s going to happen: Sunday afternoon [2 to 6], May 27. It’ll be much like the parties at the Walton Compound: people will make donations to one or both charities, they’ll bring delicious pot luck dishes [drinks will be available at Roots] and it will be another wonderful afternoon and Amos House and the Sister City Project will again benefit. So this is a long-winded invitation and since the 80th Birthday Party, Part V is a week earlier than usual and at a different place, we’re hoping you’ll spread the word as far and as wide as possible. And I hope to see you there. Richard. P.S. Will this be my Last Hurrah? At my age, who can say. Check with us a year from now.”
His last invite to his last party is a treasure I’ll always preserve.
Hi, Steve: I’m so damn disorganized. I’ve probably already asked you this but I wanted to make sure. You have such a wide circle of friends and I hope you are spreading the word about my 80th Birthday Party, Part V on Sunday afternoon, May 27 at Roots. I just ran out of steam and didn’t have the energy to pull together another big party here … but Bill Harley and Len Cabral had the terrific idea of holding it at Roots, a damn good place. This may well be my Last Hurrah but I didn’t want what had become a tradition to end with no notice. I hope it’s a success. More details follow (as written by my anonymous helper)…
and I certainly expect to see you there. Thanks for your help. Richard.
You are invited to help us remember and celebrate Richard’s life this Saturday (1/19/13) at 3pm at the Roots Cultural Center 276 Westminster St. Providence
Writing this has been so hard. You can’t include everyone; he traveled in wide, wide circles; only he knew what they all were. The sadness still abounds.
Richard still lives in our memories. His heart was the biggest I’ve ever known. It welcomed everyone and everybody. Not in an over-the-top, you’re my best buddy way but with a warm smile, sincere eyes and patient listening. Richard Walton let you know right away that he was you’re friend; a skill very few of us develop with such intensity. He leaves behind a legacy of living by example, of showing us how to be. He made me, and numerous others, a better person. It doesn’t get much better than that.