“The ‘Real Fabric’ of West Warwick: Its People

hughes, dickDick Hughes:  West Warwick’s ‘Renaissance Man’…

“Dye coming,” was the warning Dick Hughes heard as a boy, swimming in the mill river by his home. Boyhood friends would take turns performing sentry duty, calling out to others when a fresh stream of dye waste was released by the mill into the river.  They’d swim to the side until the multi-colored water passed.

He and I joked that it’s amazing he’s lived to this point (Dick’s 96!).

I was excited to see him, for he is one of the men I recall from my childhood, when he was lector at my church, St. Mary’s on Church St. A slender man with crew-cut hair (he said ‘due to many cowlicks,’) he wore black, horn-rimmed glasses.

Now, fifty years later, Dick’s still trim and still sports an engaging personality.

He met me in the second floor hallway, of his residence, leaning against the yellow wall, with a smile of recognition that widened as I approached.

Right now, this West Warwick man lives in Brookdale Assisted Living, in Coventry, where he is an active senior male in a facility where women outnumber men, probably fifty to one (my assumption.)

He chose Brookdale, after he checked many out. What did he discover along the way? Since facilities are constrained to fill their space and residents needing less supervision are in short supply, folks like him rank high on the preferred list.

In short, he could negotiate his rate, within reason.

Dick has a daughter, Cheryl Hart in California, and a son, David, who lives in Foster. Both adult children are from his sixty-one year marriage to Elsie who died in 2001. Elsie worked in the West Warwick mills, first, as engraver of floral designs on rollers and later, during the war, as stapler of camouflage material onto chicken wire netting.

The couple married in 1941 but Dick soon was drafted and became a photographer for the US Army. He learned to aim his camera through the belly of a fighter jet, mapping topography of the United States and many of his photos ironically ended up, at Warwick Mills, in West Warwick.

Somehow, Dick was always doing something that involved his hometown.

As a young man, Dick got his pilot’s license, only to give it up when he became a new father and couldn’t justify the $8.00 fee for renting the private plane he flew out of the Coventry Airfield.

Following his Army stint, he went into the US Post Office and maintained a route in Arctic for the next many years, retiring in 1975.

Then, Dick did service of a different nature:  In 1978 he was elected to the Town Council but said “I was naïve.” Disappointed with the in-fighting and political divisiveness, he said:  “It was tough getting anything done.” He never pursued another term.

He thinks, today, West Warwick would be better off if it had a strong town manager.

Later, under Mayor Mike Leveque, he became part-time Recreational Director, and credits Marilyn (Wegrzyn) Morin and Judy (DiChristofaro) Ouellette….whom he said ‘helped him inordinately.’ In this capacity, he got public works to donate a truck filled with playground equipment for recreation fields, a truck aptly named the “Rambling Rec” (an inside joke in that the truck was a “wreck.”)

And, for years, he was an integral member of “Coventry Players,” singing and performing in musicals.
But women, don’t get too excited, for Dick Hughes, at 96, has a lady friend….Ruth McGinley, a woman he met many years ago, through Ruth’s daughter, Kathy, when Kathy worked alongside Dick when Dick directed CYO plays.

Kathy was in charge of props and technical aspects.

One day Kathy said: “You seem to enjoy my mother’s company. Why don’t you ask her out to dinner?”

And the man who never seemed to let grass grow under his feet waffled.

It took him two whole weeks to ask Ruth out.

They’ve been going together ever since (Ruth has her own residence at Brookdale.)

So, aerial photographer, career postal worker… husband… father… performer…pilot …dedicated town servant…and valued friend.

West Warwick’s Dick Hughes continues to lead a fascinating life.

***Got someone you’d like to see up in lights? Send their name, contact info, and why you think they’d be good candidate to ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line. Your nominee doesn’t need to be current residents..he/she should exhibit a strong connection to West Warwick/Coventry.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com

My Newest venture–Guest Speaking

colleen kelly mellor--guest speaking poster with 5 locationsDates and venues will be published on this website soon and fact I’m doing guest-speaking is pretty ironic, since I froze–many years ago– in front of my “Problems in American Democracy” class, in high school. I suffered severe public-speaking phobia that I had to overcome or never succeed in my profession. You see, as teacher, I had no choice. Now, I love guest-speaking and engaging with my audience, so I hope to see you at one of my presentations…..

Coming Home: Martha Reynolds McVeigh

The ‘Real Fabric’ of West Warwick:  Her Peoplemartha reynolds

West Warwick resident Martha Reynolds was single until the age of 36, when she met and married Jim McVeigh. At that point, she took on her husband’s name, figuring “McVeigh” had a nice ring to it—especially when added to Martha. That was before the Oklahoma City bombing, of course, when another McVeigh (Tim) became a household name. Even so, Martha’s quick to point out:  McVeigh “the bomber” is no relation.

As author, Martha uses her maiden name—Reynolds—and in her world, name recognition is important, for Martha is a best-selling author with six books to her credit: the “Chocolate” trilogy (40,000 downloads) and “Chocolate for Breakfast” (her debut novel) remain her most popular (available at  MarthaReynoldsWrites.com and Amazon.com).

Her books are ‘real life fiction,’ meaning there’s just enough woven in of the ‘real’ to make those who know her wonder: “Which is fact and what is made up?”

But her storyline is pretty interesting.

Her Mom was West Warwick native, Joyce Handy, daughter to Earl R. Handy.  The family first lived in a little house on Ames St., in the Fairview Ave. region and eventually moved to the grand turreted home on Fairview Ave., when the family became more financially comfortable.

Joyce would go on to marry John M. Reynolds, a man who was ten years older than she and who worked for the Providence-Washington Insurance Company. They went on to have three daughters, one of whom was Martha.

In the 1950’s, Grandfather Earl Handy who never finished high school but who had significant life skills took his business acumen and opened his own real estate and insurance company out of the little house on Phenix Square that is now Williams’ Barber Shop.

His business flourished.

In her own right, Martha graduated from Providence College and became a fraud investigator for Sheldon Whitehouse’s Attorney General’s office, after working years in the banking industry.

She and husband Jim bought a home in Warwick, off Tollgate Rd.

In 1996, they both decided (ahead of the current housing trend) that they wanted to be ‘maintenance-free.’ With that, they bought a condo in Governor’s Hill, West Warwick, an area they liked for its convenience, affordability, and aesthetic appeal.

And Martha continued working for the AG’s office until 2011.

Today, she’s retired from her investigator work and is employed one to two days a week for Hospice, while she continues to market her books, all six of which are available through Amazon.

As such, she continues the entrepreneurial tradition of her family.

And today’s connection to Williams Barbershop in Phenix, the little setting where her grandfather first began his business as realtor and insurance salesperson?

Martha’s husband, Jim NcVeigh (not Tim) now goes to that barber as customer.

Martha Reynolds’ life truly has gone full circle.fairview ave with tower

(House is the turreted one on Fairview Ave. where Martha’s Mom grew up and little house is Williams Barber Shop, former setting for Martha’s grandfather’s real estate and insurance business.)williams barber shop


***Got someone you’d like me to interview for this series? Email me at ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in Subject line.

P.S. Ironically, I just discovered the house is up “For Sale.” Click on the main pic and then click on each of the directional symbols to give yourself the full tour of Martha’s mother’s home…http://www.trulia.com/property/3237697255-37-Fairview-Ave-West-Warwick-RI-02893#photo-26

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivational speaker and freelance writer whose work has appeared in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator in the Providence Journal. She currently completes “The Asheville Experiment,” the story of her and her husband’s nine year life in one of America’s trendiest little retirement towns—a cautionary tale for all those who consider a move.  In this book, she tells what went wrong and why they returned to live, full time in Rhode Island. Her website is colleenkellymellor.com


Notable West Warwick People in All Walks of Life…

Sports is what most people associate West Warwick with. They know of legendary football player-turned-coach, Monk Maznicki or professional baseball catcher, Mike Roarke.

But most don’t know other ‘greats’ from West Warwick who continue to inspire.

Bill Gadoury attempts to give closure to families of America’s MIA’s. Today, he works for the US Embassy in Laos and is interpreter for heads of state, like John Kerry and John McCain. Below, Gadoury (in his younger years,) is seen working with a recovery team, as they comb the jungles of Laos for those still missing.     gadoury

Dr. Lawrence Porter is professor, author, and former Dean of students at Seton Hall. As eminent scholar, “Larry” was sent to China as the Holy See’s representative, along with the head rabbi of NYC and the top Protestant minister of North America. porter, larry

James Miller lives in Brooklin, Maine, where he’s General Manager and publisher of “Wooden Boat magazine,” a position he’s held since 1984.  miller james

Mike Clarke learned Spanish and took his drummer talent to blistering heights, by becoming ‘substitute drummer’ for international singer Jose Feliziano (of “Feliz Navidad” fame.) Now, Clarke (to the right of Jose) travels worldwide, as drummer, appearing in impressive concert venues.clark, john--jose feliciano

Dr. John Kelly, former Wizard star athlete, graduated from Brown University and then Yale Medical School. He went on to serve many years as chief neurologist at George Washington University Hospital. An ALS center was recently named for him.kelly john

Ann Hood, current resident of Providence, is author of eight novels and a short-story collection.  Her work has appeared in such periodicals as Good Housekeeping, The New York Times, Ladies Home Journal, and The Paris Review.hood ann

Major General Reginald Centracchio was Commanding General of the Rhode Island National Guard who oversaw training, equipping, and deployment of 3,500 troops in support of Operations Noble Eagle, Enduring Freedom, and Iraqi Freedom.Centracchio

Alice Gibney presides as PresidingJustice of the RI Superior Court and is one of the first women appointed to that court. She led the court’s mediation program for fourteen years.gibney alice

The above are an eclectic mix… just like the town (West Warwick) that produced them.

But it’s well-nigh time others got journalistic focus and I’d like to give them that.

With that, I ask you readers to recommend others raised in this town who’ve gone on to most productive lives. They don’t need to be famous. Examples are:  the teen who works several jobs to help contribute, financially, to his family; the young child dealing bravely with a devastating disease; the mother who started another career in her 50’s because she hated the mind-numbing job she had; the older man who devoted his senior years to serving the less fortunate; the long-haul trucker who’s driven his Harley motorcycle cross-country; the West Warwick teacher who tutors struggling students “free” after school  every day.

Consider these folks like CNN Heroes– only they’re Kent County People (West Warwick or Coventry-ites who’ve moved away are eligible, too.) You can even suggest yourself.

What will they have in common? Their lives are inspirational.

I’ll flesh them out (with their permission, of course) and make them come alive.

These people are the real ‘fabric’ of West Warwick.

Email me at ckmellor@cox.net with “Kent County People” in subject line and tell me why you think your candidate deserves attention.

Be brave—Drop me a line.

Where Are They? Past Members of Our Class No One Knows About…..

valley-country-club-2015-single-class-1-membership-1-1996392-regular“Whatever happened to So-and-So?” we’d ask and no one seemed to know. In fact, our sleuthing reunion detectives (and we had some really good ones,) couldn’t find these class members—no matter what.

I was on two reunion committees, but since husband and I lived away, in North Carolina, through a meaty time of reunion preparation (those intervening winter months when all members of the class are contacted and information is disseminated), I never did a lot.

Oh, I tried. The most I could contribute was in setting up the board of all of us attendees, with names and pictures from our high school yearbook. Of course, those pictures were of little help on the night we arrived for the reunion, since most of us have changed so much during the years from our 17-year-old selves.

If we wore our high school photo and name on a button on our clothes, that night, it was often met with hesitation and then disbelief when a former classmate encountered one of us and began the conversation, “Oh, hi….Wow! We haven’t seen one another in years.”

Translation?  “Wow! I would’ve never known it was you if not for your name tag.”

Actually, some of us considered that we may have seen one another, over the years, in the Mall…in restaurants…wherever…we just didn’t recognize each other.

At the Reunion committee meetings, we’d discuss where the celebratory event would be held (with decided preference to keep it in West Warwick, in support of our own,) what band or DJ would be hired; what menu we should offer; and our classmates.

It was hoped that we could contact all but that never happened.

As the years ticked by, we needed to cull that list, since each year saw a passing of some.

Then ‘many’ as the years advanced (and some classes planted trees in their honor, along the hillside of West Warwick High School.) Our class of 1963 never did that, perhaps anticipating that there’d be a forest for each class eventually.

But some of our class have never responded to reach-out attempts over the years. It was as if, with graduation, they got their “get-out-of-town” pass and left—never to return.   They seemingly never had curiosity, either, about the rest of us…how our lives went…what we did or didn’t do.

Some who were “stars” in our high school years went on to average lives, while others who were nondescript rose to national and international fame.  Some who were voted “Most Likely to Succeed,” fulfilled the destiny we assigned. They went on to become the doctors…the entrepreneurs…the academics who’d make a sizable contribution to our society, just as we all thought they might.

Who are the most interesting? Those who never stood out in high school but waxed brightly with advanced years.  They found their voice and star power much later.

Some came to Reunions and we’d offer later “Oh, Buzzy Bankowicz…Wow!  He became a financial whizz and now he lives on a posh estate in the south of France. He’s just in town to visit family and to come to this Reunion… a first for him.”

Rhode Island’s done well with folks rising to stardom in the media, as evidenced by TV host, Meredith Viera,  Deborah Messing who became a full-blown television mega star or Elisabeth Hasselbeck, Conservative talk-show panelist on “The View” and later commentator for Fox News.

But it’s the West Warwick stars some of us really want to know about…and some of those ‘stars’ don’t need to be the TV or professional variety. They can be the ones who successfully led a really difficult life, raised wonderful children, did a lot for their town because they recognized its formative influence on them.

Those might be the real ‘stars’ of any class……

(Photo above is a stone arch of the Valley Country Club where we held our last Reunion.)

P.S.  I’m coming to the end of my feature stories appearing in Kent County Daily Times weekend edition. But I’d love to write about YOU, so if you’d like to be the subject (or you know someone who’d  like or deserves spotlight), write me at ckmellor@cox.net. Put “Kent Times article” in Subject line.

West Warwick native, Colleen Kelly Mellor (ckmellor@cox.net), is a motivator/speaker and freelance writer whose work appears in the Wall St. Journal, Scripps-Howard, and many regional newspapers. She is author to the children’s books Grandpa and the Truck (grandpaandthetruck.com) and is regular commentator on her 30-year career as teacher, in the Providence Journal. At present, she completes “The Asheville Experiment,” about a Rhode Island couple living in one of the ‘hottest retirement towns in the US’ for nine years (and answers why they returned to Rhode Island.) Her second book, “In the Shadow of Princes,” tells the story of her childhood, growing up in a milltown, in a highly-competitive family.