Scott MacKay Commentary
6:45 am
Mon December 26, 2011

Auld Lang Syne 2011

PROVIDENCE, RI – As 2011 winds to a close, RIPR political analyst Scott MacKay says it's time to reflect on the contributions of some Rhode Islanders who won't be around to celebrate the New Year.

That nostalgic Scottish ballard Auld Lang Syne will be sung over and again this New Year's Eve as we toast the end of the year with a cup o' kindness.

The question Robby Burns asks in this anthem is timeless: Should those we loved and knew be forgotten?

Let us pause in the waning hours of 2011 to honor old times and old acquaintances, especially Rhode Islanders who died this year and left their stamp on our tiny state.

Bruce Sundlun was a World War II hero, successful businessman and Democratic governor who steered us through the morass of the state banking crisis during his two terms in the 1990s. Dave Gavitt lit many a dark winter night at the Providence Civic Center as coach of the Providence College Friars, conceived the Big East basketball conference and ran the Boston Celtics.

Jim Taft, as Republican mayor of Cranston, did much for his home city and carried his party's banner as a candidate for governor in 1976. Malcolm `Kim' Chace was a quintessential Yankee business leader, adviser to Warren Buffet and generous benefactor to a skein of Rhode Island charities and non-profits.

John Hardiman was the state public defender who spent almost 30 years as a tireless advocate for criminal defendants who could not afford a lawyer. Tommy Cavanagh rode his skates from the rinks of our state to become a hockey standout at Harvard University and play in the National Hockey League.

Pat DiPrete used her position as Rhode Island's First Lady in the 1980s to battle teen pregnancy and help set up the state's first shelter for homeless women. Jeff Greer served his state well as a business regulator and lawyer for Governor Donald Carcieri.

Sister Wilma Riley was a Sister of Mercy nun, voice for those who had none, and a fearless fighter for the poor who was never impressed by wealth, power or office. Les Daniels was one of the earliest historians of comic books and a student of Providence's own horror writer, H.P. Lovecraft. Benefit Street will miss him.

Larry Friedlander was an accountant and bon vivant who founded the High Hat and enlivened the Providence music scene with his support for live music and local musicians.

Elmer Cornwell taught political science to Brown University students for a half-century as a leading scholar of the U.S. presidency. Dr. Dennis Mikolich, an infectious disease specialist, was beloved by his patients at the Veterans Administration Medical Center.

Judge Edward Healey ruled from the Family Court bench with intelligence, integrity and compassion. Julius Michaelson was attorney general and a staunch supporter of organized labor who came within a whisker of winning a seat in the United State Senate.

Miguel Luna served as a city council member from Providence's South Side and as a leader in the state's emerging Latino political community.

Bishop Robert Farrow, pastor of Holy Cross Church of God in Christ United, was a voice for civil rights in the African-American community. Dennis Poulin made the ultimate sacrifice for his country, dying on the battlefield in Afghanistan while serving in the National Guard.

This isn't, of course, a full roster of Rhode Islanders we will sorely miss in 2012. I'm sure you have your own list.

We leave you with verse from the British poet Housman. "Smart Lad, to slip betimes away. From fields where glory does not stay. And early though the laurel grows, it withers quicker than the rose."

Happy New Year! See you in 2012.

Scott MacKay's commentary can be heard every Monday at 6:45 and 8:45 on Morning Edition. You can also follow his political analysis and reporting at our `On Politics' blog at RIPR.org.

Do you have insight or expertise on this topic? Please email us, we'd like to hear from you. news@wrni.org.