RIC Fundraiser and E-Book Released to Honor the Late Richard Walton

Published in Pawtucket Times, March 14, 2014

            As my co-editor, Rhode Island College (RIC) President Nancy Carriuolo will tell you that the late Richard Walton clearly understood the power of the emerging Internet and the power social media would wield in our daily lives.  The beloved social activist and educator who put tireless energy and effort into supporting many worthy causes began emailing and connecting to his family and vast network of friends electronically in the early 1990s.

             Over 20 years, he would literally write thousands of correspondences on a vast array of topics including serious social causes, baseball and boxing, politics and even entertaining observations about Rhode Islanders and local events.

 Honoring the Late Richard Walton

             According to Carriuolo, the late activists and educators love and active involvement in social media prompted the creation of our e-book, The Selected E-Mail Correspondences of Richard Walton, which offers his sampling of correspondence.  As co-editors of this tribute to Walton, we invite you to a RIC Foundation fundraiser, where we will unveil our e-book in his memory, from 2-3 p.m. on Sunday, March 23, at the RIC Student Union Ballroom, 600 Mt. Pleasant Ave., Providence. We will offer readings from this e-book. The suggested donation for the event is $10. Proceeds will be used to equip the English Department Conference Room, which will be named in Waltons honor.

             Last winter, Facebook notification of a memorial event held at Roots Cafe in Waltons honor brought Nancy Carriuolo and I together with hundreds of others shortly after Richard’s death to celebrate his extraordinary life.   We began to correspond via Facebook.  She sent me an e-essay that Richard had sent her about the Encyclopedia Britannica going out of print and wondering what would happen to his Encyclopedia Britannica when he passed. In return, I sent her an essay titled The great and good Hammerin’ Hank Tears for my Boyhood Baseball Hero, telling his love and admiration for the legendary baseball player, Hank Greenberg, and the tears he shed for a long dead baseball player.

             In our social media chats, Carriuolo admitted that she had saved some of Waltons emails.  Who could delete a correspondence with the subject line:  Do I Really Have to Wear Long Pants? which was written in response to her invitation to recognize Walton as a founding adjunct union president at my opening annual meeting of faculty, administrators, and staff, she remembers, telling me that  I just could not bear to delete any of his emails.  I shot back an email saying that I bet others had saved Richard’s emails, too, then asking her that maybe we should do an e-book?  That was the beginning of our editorial project.

             Waltons 91-page e-book is comprised of electronic correspondence shared by many of his friends and colleagues.  Being a brilliant writer and an observer of life, Walton covered topics as diverse as progressive issues on the topic of homelessness (spending Christmas at Amos House), the Rhode Island Governor’s race, national politics, education and womens rights.  He jumped into giving his two cents about the Lions Head, his favorite New York hangout, as well as boxing and baseball, and even his views on religion.

             In one of my favorite emails in our e-book, Walton shared his great admiration for the great first baseman, Hank Greenberg of the Detroit Tigers.  His love for this Jewish baseball player began as a small child when he grew up in Providence listening to the game on the radio with his grandfather during an era of rampant anti-Semitism and racism.  Even at the ripe old age of 72, the seasoned journalist wrote a powerful Op Ed in The Providence Journal about Greenberg after reading a four-star review of the movie, “The Live and Times of Hank Greenberg.”  He even admitted that he shed tears over “a long-dead baseball player,” this giving me a glimpse into how Walton as a young man would not accept the bigotry of his time and who would later turn his attention and tireless energy to fighting against society’s ignorance and indifference to the less fortunate.

 As to other e correspondences…

 ·       On his career choices: Walton admitted, I did turn down a job as an NBC News

correspondent because I refused to shave my beard.

 ·       On the fact that at age 79 he traveled to Shanghai to teach children, he quipped,

It might turn up in a game of Trivial Pursuit some day.

 ·       On his losing battle with leukemia, Walton noted, Im going on a great adventure.

 The Life and Times of Richard Walton

             With his prominent long white beard and his red bandana, decked out in blue jean overalls and wearing a baseball cap, Walton, who passed in 2012 at the age of 84, was a well-known figure on the Rhode Island scene. In the early 80s, he ran as the Citizens Party vice presidential candidate. Later, he became an early member of the Green Party. At Rhode Island College, where he taught English for more than 25 years, he ran a successful campaign to unionize adjunct faculty, serving as the unions first president.  With his death, RIC President Carriuolo called for lowering the flags on campus to half-staff in his memory. 

                        Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, Walton grew up in South Providence in the 1930s, graduating from Classical High School in 1945.  After taking a two-year break from his studies at Brown University to serve as a journalist mate in the U.S. Navy, he returned to receive a bachelors degree in 1951.  He whet his appetite for music by working as disc jockey at Providence radio station WICE before enrolling in Columbia University School of Journalism where he later earned a masters in journalism degree in 1955.

             Waltons training at Brown and Columbia propelled him into a writing career.  During his early years he worked as a reporter at The Providence Journal, and the New York World Telegram and Sun. At Voice of America in Washington, D.C., Walton initially put in time reporting on African issues, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.

             The prolific writer would eventually publish 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments of U.S. foreign policy.  As a freelance writer in the late 1960s, he made his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Cosmopolitan, even Playboy.

                    A self-described peacenik, the journalist was known not only for his political views, but also for his charity and volunteer work with such fixtures as the Amos House homeless shelter, The George Wiley Center, grassroots agency that works to alleviate problems associated with poverty and the musical venue Stone Soup Coffeehouse. In fact, for many years he used his birthday party to host a highly regarded and well-attended annual fundraiser to support Rhode Islands homeless community.

             I know that throughout his life, Richard Walton served as a role model for generations of activists, watching out and protecting Rhode Islands voiceless citizens, showing all that positive societal changes could be made through sound arguments.

 E-Book Allows Us to Re-Experience Walton 

             While we can no longer see our friend, Richard Walton, in our daily travels, his essence, keen observations and thoughts about our wonderful world can be found in his e-writings.  As stated in my afterword in Waltons e-book, his emails will magically propel you into the distant past, when he stood among us, allowing us to easily remember our own philosophical banters and discussions with him, even giving us the opportunity to re-experiencing his sharp wit, humor and his humbleness.

             While so painful to admit that he is no longer here, his beautiful and thoughtful and provocative writings to his family and friends make him come alive once again to us.  Just close your eyes after you read the emails in our e-book.  I am sure you will once again feel his energy and essence.

             For more details about RICs reception to honor Walton or contribute to dedicate a room in his honor, contact Paul Brooks at (401) 456-8810. Donations should be made to the RIC Foundation with the notation:  Richard Walton.

            Herb Weiss, LRI 12, is a Pawtucket writer covering aging, health care and medical issues and is co-editor of The Selected E-Mail Correspondences of Richard Walton.  He can be contacted at hweissri@aol.com.

Activist Richard J. Walton’s Great Adventure in Life and Death

Published January 4, 2013, Pawtucket Times

Throughout his 84 years, Richard J. Walton served as a role model for generations of activists, watching out and protecting Rhode Island’s voiceless citizens, showing all that positive societal changes could be made by making sound arguments. With his last breath, he even taught us how to face death.

Walton, age 84, died on December 27 at Rhode Island Hospital. He had been treated for leukemia for about six months, says daughter, Cathy Walton Barnard, of Simsbury, Connecticut, who noted his last words, “I’m going on a great adventure.”

Walton Touched Many Lives

Even with many in Walton’s vast progressive and activist networks knowing about his illness, people were caught off guard by his sudden passing one week ago, stated Rick Wahlberg, a computer consultant and a former president of Stone Soup Coffee House, who worked closely with Walton on the nonprofit’s Board of Directors for over 20 years and developed close personal ties. “We considered him part of our family just like many others did,” he said. .

According to Wahlberg, a Cumberland resident, Walton was part of New York’s intelligentsia scene, [mingling with writers at the Lion’s Head, a bar a few steps down from Christopher Street] in Greenwich Village, where he lived making a living as a writer.

Wahlberg viewed Walton as a “great example of morality, humanity and a supporter of nonviolence,” noting that his friend led an amazing life that help shaped his progressive point of view and that of his two daughters. When his oldest daughter, Corinne, heard of Walton’s passing, she remarked, “he did more in one lifetime than most.”

Over the years, Wahlberg, 59, and his wife, Barbara, attended Walton’s birthday parties that would raise large sums of money for his favorite charities, attracting the state’s powerful political and media elite right to his family compound, located at Pawtuxet Cove in Warwick. This legendary fundraising event occurred from 1988 to 2011, bringing hundreds of people each year to celebrate his progressive causes. Due to his health in 2012, for the first time, Walton’s birthday was held at the Roots Cultural Center in Providence.

Joyce Katzberg, 59, folksinger and a founding organizer of Stone Soup Coffee House, spent decades protesting with Walton at vigils, rallies and picket lines. She remembers him as a kind, honest person. When necessary, he was not afraid of using the “F word,” she quipped, noting that this word stood for fascism. His social advocacy “has left many ripples and impacted many Rhode Island nonprofits,” she adds.

“Richard called things for what they were, said things in ways that were hard to argue with because he had the facts, knew the background stories and did his home work. He cared enough to tell the truth,” said Katzberg, stressing how he excelled at moderating views between people with differing positions.

Bruce McCrae (a.k.a. Rudy Cheeks), a co-author of Phillip and Jorge column in the weekly Providence Phoenix, who knew Walton for over 30 years as a social activist, educator and a strong advocate for traditional American Folk music, had his thoughts about his recent passing. “There is no doubt in my mind that Rhode Island would have been a much different and poorer place without his constant presence. He was a mentor to generations of students and social activists and one of the strongest voices for peace and equality that Rhode Island has ever known,” he said.

McCrae, 62, says his efforts for social change extended internationally to Africa where, in 1960, he worked on a number of documentary films on the emerging independence movements on that continent and to Latin America, where he started the Sister Cities Project between Providence and Niquinohomo, Nicaragua, helping to build a medical facility and school there.

One of the City of Pawtucket’s most visible social advocates, Maggi Burns Rogers, remembers Walton as someone who worked hard to improve the world without forgetting how to enjoy it. “He loved to laugh, eat, drink, was an avid gardener, knew his music, read literature and even traveled the world.” (In between his social activism, teaching and writing, during his long life Walton traveled to over 50 countries, making return trips to many of them.),

“Richard won’t be remembered for just one thing because he brought his talent to so many different nonprofits,” says Rogers, including Amos House, the George Wiley Center, Stone Soup Coffee House, Rhode Island Coalition for the Homeless, and the Pawtucket Arts Festival Executive Committee to name just a few.

With his long white beard, President Betsy Florin, of the Pawtucket-based George Wiley Center, viewed Walton as a Santa Claus-like figure. But unlike Santa, he gave every day of the year, all of his life, she said. “His real gift was not something tangible that could be wrapped in a pretty box and placed under a tree, it was, rather a gift of imagination combined with activism.”

Walton “imagined a world of decency and fairness and then sought to make that happen,” said Florin.

As to Walton’s daughter, Barnard, 52, even in her earliest childhood memories she remembers her father as being an activist, who once marched with his young daughter at a gay pride parade. While not being an activist to “his degree” the Preschool teacher is very politically active in her local community.

Today, Barnard is a diehard New York Mets fan. When Barnard and her brother visited their father in New York, he often took them to watch the team play at Shea Stadium. (As noted in an Op Ed penned by Walton in 2000, throughout his life Walton’s favorite baseball player and hero was Hank Greenberg, a Jewish baseball player who played in the major leagues in the 1930s and 1940s, primarily for the Detroit Tigers. He was considered to be one of the premier power hitters of his generation. Walton noted that Greenberg, who experienced anti Semitism, would encourage another player subject to slurs from the sidelines, that was Jackie Robinson.)

Six Lifetimes Jammed into One

Walton’s life is richly detailed in Wikipedia, a web-based free content encyclopedia.

Born in Saratoga Springs, New York, Walton grew up in South Providence in the 1930s, graduating from Classical High School in 1945. After taking a two year break from his studies at Brown University, serving as a journalist mate in the U.S. Navy, he returned to receive a bachelor’s degree in 1951. He whet his appetite for music by working as disc jockey at Providence radio station WICE before enrolling in Columbia School of Journalism where he later earned a masters in journalism degree in 1955.

Walton’s training at Brown University and the School of Journalism at Columbia propelled him into a writing career. During his early years he worked as a reporter at the Providence Journal, and the New York World Telegram and Sun. At Voice of America in Washington, D.C., Walton would initially put in time reporting on African issues, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.

The prolific writer would eventually publish 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments of U.S. Foreign policy. In the late 1960s, as a freelance writer, he made his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Cosmopolitan, even Playboy. He was also the former UN Secretary-General U Thant’s personal editor for his memoir, “The View from the United Nations.”

In 1981, after 26 years of living outside of Rhode Island, he would return, ultimately becoming one of the most recognizable social activists around, fighting against hunger, homelessness and poverty. The journalist would run for political office and was active in the Citizens Party [the predecessor to the Green Party]. He ran as the political group’s vice presidential candidate in 1984 with the radical feminist Sonia Johnson. They did not win.

For over 25 years, Walton has taught writing to thousands of students at Rhode Island College (RIC). Walton fought to successfully establish a union at this university, hammering out a contract, ultimately serving as its first president until his death. With his death, RIC President Nancy Carriuolo called for lowering the flags on campus to half-staff in his memory.

Walton was married to Margaret Hilton and Mary Una Jones, both marriages ending in divorce. He is survived by his daughter Cathy Walton Barnard and son Richard Walton and three grandchildren.

Big Shoes to Fill

Walton, with his long white hair and beard, wearing his trademark blue overalls, bandana and Stone Soup baseball cap, serves as a role model to the younger generations of social activists, those who will take up his worthy causes to fight for justice, to end poverty, hunger, and homelessness. He taught us how to live life to the fullest, exploring the world while not forgetting to help those in need.

Walton’s life turned out to be a grand adventure. But even with death approaching he taught us to take that leap of faith into the unknown, recognizing that death, too, can be and even grander adventure.

The family is planning a memorial service to be held the first weekend in June.

Herb Weiss, LRI ’12, is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers health care, aging and medical issues. He can be reached at hweissri@aol.com.