R.I.P. Judge Walter R. Stone

Sep 22, 2017

UPDATE: Services for Judge Stone:

Calling hours, Wednesday October 4 from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. at Perry-McStay Funeral Home in East Providence.

Memorial Service: Thursday October 5 at 6 p.m. at Sayles Hall at Brown University.

Burial: Friday October 6 at 11 a.m. at Rhode Island Veterans Cemetery, Exeter, RI.

Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Walter R. Stone of Bristol, a civil rights activist and one of Rhode Island’s top trial lawyers before his elevation to Superior Court, where he served as one of the very few African-American judges in the state, died today in a Newport hospice after a long illness. He was 73.

A former assistant attorney general, where he was a criminal prosecutor, Stone left to become one of Rhode Island’s most respected trial and criminal lawyers. In a remarkable career, he prosecuted 25 murder cases and defended 25 murder cases as a defense lawyer.

A compact man with expressive brown eyes and a wide smile, Stone was a grand raconteur blessed with a rapier wit.  An intellectual and history buff, he was a coveted dinner companion.  A Vietnam War U.S. Marine combat veteran, Stone was a graduate of Fisk University and the Case Western Reserve Law School. After serving as assistant attorney general, he became a partner in the Providence firm of Adler, Pollock and Sheehan. He was also a founder of the law firm Stone, Clifton and Clifton in Providence.

He was a longtime legal counsel in the professional boxing world, where he rubbed elbows with such boxing luminaries as Don King. He had many, many stories about the raffish world of boxing.

He was an ardent supporter of civil rights, both as a lawyer and earlier in his career as a community organizer. He was an old friend of civil rights icon, U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.

Stone was a member of the board of Omni Development Corporation, the non-profit housing development corporation. "He was a great guy," said Larry Flynn, chairman of the Omni board. "He was always a guy who cared about the less privileged."

"Before he became a judge, there was no better criminal defense lawyer in the state," said Thomas O'Connor, a former Providence City Council member and close Stone friend.

Stone’s early years were spent in Chicago, where he lived until his senior year in high school. He attended Tennessee State University, and later Fisk. After law school in Cleveland, he worked as a lawyer in the administration of Carl Stokes, the first black mayor of a major American city. He would later receive an honorary doctorate of laws from Rhode Island College at the 2015 commencement. Stone was appointed to the Superior Court, Rhode Island's top trial court,  in 2010 by then-Gov. Donald Carcieri.

Stone was a longtime Democratic Party political activist who ran unsuccessfully for Rhode Island attorney general. An early supporter of  then Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Stone said one his life’s biggest thrills was being elected as a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver, where he watched Obama become the first black to accept a major party nomination for president.

“It was a moving moment,” Stone at the time told former Providence Journal reporter John Mulligan. “This is the March of 63, Woodstock and the Super Bowl of politics all in one. It’s a movement. He just happens to be the face of it.”

Stone attended the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King delivered his famous “I have a Dream” speech. At the 2008 convention, Stone reflected, ”The moment with Dr. King was almost like the seed. And now tonight, you are seeing the fruit. You are seeing the blossoming of the flower. He was a staunch defender of the underdog.

Stone was also president of the R.I. Black Heritage Society and a lawyer for the NAACP. Stone also served on the board of the Rhode Island Foundation.

While Stone had a perpetual smile on his face, he suffered serious sadness in his life. In 2001, his 18-year old daughter, Morgan Stone, died of an asthma attack in New Mexico where she was a student at the College of Santa Fe. Morgan Stone was a much loved graduate of Lincoln School in Providence. She was the child of Stone and his spouse, Lynne Evans-Stone.