Published June 6, 2008, All Pawtucket All The Time
Bright and sunny skies pulled many Rhode Islanders to the beaches for fun and sun last Sunday, but for over 100 of the state s political, social progressive activists and scores from the folk music scene, Pawtuxet Cove, in Warwick was the place to be to celebrate Richard Walton s 80th Birthday Bash.
Some of the state’s elected officials included Lt. Governor Elizabeth Roberts, Warwick Mayor Scott Avedisian and Representative Grace Diaz, and Representative David Segal who came to support the well-known social activist, homeless advocate and supporter of the poor at his 20th Annual Potluck Benefit. The event is scheduled annually to raise monies for Amos House and the Providence-Niquinohomo [Nicaragua] Sister Project.
Walton estimates that his gathering over the years has raised over $60,000 and this year’s event, with donations still coming in, has already raised nearly $5000.
Potluck Becomes Annual Gathering for Many
Walton, sitting on a bench wearing his trade mark straw tropical hat and a blue checkered African poncho from Niger, Africa, reflected on the beginnings of his annual potluck fundraiser. Walton remembers that a friend suggested that he plan a special party to celebrate his 60th birthday in 1988. Because he did not want to accept gifts, the event would instead become a vehicle to raise money to support two worthy causes important to him.
Dr. Fine marks the first Sunday in June on his calendar each year to remember to attend Walton s annual potluck. “Now it is a part of my life,” says Dr. Fine. “[Walton’s] life gives others an example of a much better way to live,” says the Scituatep hysician
Folk Music lovers, Rick and Barbara Wahlberg, met Walton over 20 years ago at Stone Soup Coffee House. The Cumberland couple have been coming to the Walton s annual potluck for 12 years. Ten years ago, Barbara says that she took Walton s cue, when she turned 40 years old. She held a potluck to raise money for Providence-based Dorcas place, a program that promotes adult literacy.
“Richard is a great example of a humanitarian,” says her husband, Rick, President of Stone Soup Coffee House, located at Pawtuckets St. Pauls Church. “If we can all be just half the humanitarian he is, it will be a better world,” states Wahlberg.
For 20 years, Rudy Cheeks, a co-author of Phillip and Jorge column in the weekly Providence Phoenix, has made his pilgrimage to Walton’s backyard potluck on Grenore St. He says that this potluck gives him an opportunity to see old friends that he sees only once a year. “Attending this event helps to sustain the spirit of a lot of people,” Cheeks says.
Also Caring and Sharing
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,DC, he would initially put in time reporting on African issue, ultimately being assigned to cover the United Nations.
Over the years the prolific writer would even produce eleven 12 books, nine being written as critical assessments ofU.S.foreign policy. In the late 1960s, as a freelance writer Walton would make his living by writing for The Nation, The New York Times, The Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Village Voice, Newsday, The [old] New Republic, Playboy, Cosmopolitan and many others. He was also the former UN Secretary-General U Thant’s personal editor for his memoir, “The View from the United Nations.”
His writing would give way to activism. Walton 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 more than years, Walton has taught English to thousands of Rhode Island students at the University of Rhode Island and Rhode Island College.
Even though he resides in Warwick, Walton has forged strong-ties to the City of Pawtucket. As a folk music advocate, he brought the regionally acclaimed Stone Soup Coffee House and served as its president for about fifteen years. Walton also sits on the Boards of Pawtucket-based nonprofits, including theGeorgeA.WileyCenterand Slater Mill Historic Site and serves on the Executive Committee of the Pawtucket Arts Festival.
In between his social activism, teaching and writing, Walton has traveled to over 50 countries, making return trips to many of them.
As Walton mingles at this years pot luck, Rudy Cheek voices his hope that one of Rhode Island‘s most notable social advocates has another 80 years to live. “His continued activity and contribution is huge in Rhode Island,” says Cheeks.
Herb Weiss is a Pawtucket-based freelance writer who covers aging, health care and medical issues. The article was published in the June 6, 2006 issue of All Pawtucket All The Times. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.