Mail Room

By The Editors / July / August 2003
June 22nd, 2007

The West Warwick Fire

The horrific nightclub fire in West Warwick clearly has had a deep and lasting impact on the entire state of Rhode Island, including many members of the Brown community. I was pleased to read the May/June issue highlighting the inspiring manner in which Rhode Island Governor Don Carcieri ’65 led the state through this incredibly tragic time (“Trial by Fire”).

I was disheartened, however, when I saw that the sidebar “The Healer” focused exclusively on the efforts of Rhode Island Hospital and its surgeon-in-chief, Professor of Surgery William G. Cioffi. Although the article gives Dr. Cioffi and his team much-deserved accolades for their tireless and heroic efforts on behalf of fire victims, it failed to acknowledge the extraordinary efforts of other hospitals.

Rhode Island has no Level 1 designated burn center; therefore, twenty-four of the most severely injured patients were transferred to Boston facilities, including Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Shriners’ Burns Institute, and the Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH). As the administrator who oversees MGH’s disaster-management efforts as well as emergency services and burns and trauma surgery, I was involved in coordinating the institution’s response. The MGH treated sixteen patients from the fire, fourteen of them in critical condition and some still-unidentified when they arrived. A dedicated team of caregivers spent forty-eight heart-wrenching hours handling hundreds of telephone calls and visits from desperate family members and friends who were frantically trying to identify loved ones. Staff members in MGH’s Burn Intensive Care Unit and Surgical Intensive Care Unit quickly made beds available for the influx of burn patients, and operating rooms ran nonstop.

In the immediate aftermath of this tragedy Governor Carcieri and his wife came to the MGH and visited with the families of burn patients, offering sympathy, comfort, and support. The governor also expressed his gratitude to and respect for the hospitals in Boston for stepping up when called upon to provide expertise, care, and compassion.

Of the patients sent to the MGH, four have died, three are still hospitalized, and the others have been discharged to rehabilitation facilities. I have had the privilege of meeting and getting to know the wonderful families of these patients. So I was disturbed to learn they were concerned that the public’s attention was focused only on those patients who were being treated in and discharged from Rhode Island hospitals. These families expressed sadness, and in some cases anger, that the patients most severely burned and requiring the most complex care seemed to have been overlooked or even forgotten as they struggled for their lives in the state next door.

Thank you, Governor Carcieri, for reaching out to and warmly embracing people in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts who have been forever scarred by this event. On behalf of the patients and families cared for in Boston, I want to remind readers that it takes more than a single institution to meet the overwhelming and complex needs of a disaster like this. It takes a region.

Ann L. Prestipino ’78
The writer is senior vice president for surgical and anesthesia services at the Massachusetts General Hospital.


William G. Cioffi replies: Ms. Prestipino is quite correct in pointing out that providing the necessary acute and long-term care for the victims of the West Warwick fire took the resources not only of almost all hospitals in Rhode Island, but also those of the University of Massachusetts Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, the Shriners Burn Institute, and Massachusetts General Hospital. The care rendered at all these institutions was outstanding, not only to the patients, but to their families as well.

One of the most difficult parts of the early response to this tragedy was the triaging of patients to appropriate facilities in both Rhode Island and Massachusetts. In our attempt not to overwhelm the capacity of any one center, we either kept seriously injured burn victims at Rhode Island Hospital or transferred them to one of the several burn centers in Massachusetts. Early communication between physicians at each of those institutions and those at Rhode Island Hospital is what determined the eventual distribution of patients.

Tragedies such as this should lead us to review our efforts so that we can improve not only the care delivered to victims, but also the systems that help deliver such care. One positive outcome of this disaster will include a formal review—and hopefully a strengthening—of not only the Rhode Island statewide trauma system, but also regional systems designed to promote timely and appropriate triage of disaster victims.

I too applaud the care rendered by my friends and colleagues at our sister hospitals in Massachusetts. More importantly, my thoughts and prayers go out to the patients and their families, who will forever be changed by this unfortunate event.

Welcoming Perle

I appreciate that the bam had the courage to cover campus feelings about the recent war, coverage that has been lacking in some other alumni magazines (“Searching for Truth,” Elms, May/June). I noticed in the article that Brown welcomed one of our most highly regarded purveyors of state-sanctioned violence, Richard Perle, to campus. I certainly hope he doesn’t have a pay stub from a Brown check in his pocket when he is ultimately tried for crimes against humanity.

Although I wasn’t consulted, I think Iraq’s reconstruction should be spearheaded by an advance team of experts: Secretary of Defense Donald Rumsfeld, Perle, and Deputy Secretary of Defense Paul Wolfowitz should be forced to open a Ben & Jerry’s franchise store in downtown Baghdad (quite a lucrative business in such a hot country). Bush can open a liquor store (inventory will be monitored). Cheney must wear a Playboy bunny costume and solicit customers for his gas station (the bunny ears will help him look taller).

David Hahn ’78

I was surprised by an omission in Norman Boucher’s article on campus reactions to the Iraq war. Close to half of his piece is devoted to the hawkish opinions of the neocon Richard Perle at the Brown/Providence Journal Public Affairs Conference. What goes unmentioned is that a Brown faculty meeting in the same building and at almost the same time considered my motion condemning the Iraq invasion and occupation.

The motion was postponed at the April meeting and taken up again in May as a motion proposed by five faculty members against preemptive war. That meeting also ended with a postponement of a final vote, which will again be on the faculty agenda in the fall. In the May 15 Providence Journal, my colleague Associate Professor William Beeman warned that invasions of other Middle Eastern nations may follow; if he is correct the debate then will be all the more pertinent.

As I have suggested in a recent issue of the faculty newsletter, the parliamentary tactics and the setting of the agenda at the faculty meetings look like a pattern of avoidance. This hardly accords with President Simmons’s “plea against indifference,” quoted in Boucher’s May/ June “Here and Now.” Sadly, however, the May faculty agenda allowed only twenty minutes at the end for discussion of the antiwar motion, which explains why the vote was again postponed. But as U.S. imperialism and the erosion of free expression at home threaten both the world and our nation, Brown as a preeminent American institution of higher education cannot remain silent.

Edward J. Ahearn

The writer is a professor of comparative literature and French studies.

Guilt and Innocence

Your report on the convicted innocents reveals the unreliability of stranger identification, especially when the observer is of a different race (“Innocence Lost,” May/June). In practically every case of the convicted innocent, misidentification is the primary cause, often coupled with the intentionally false report of jailhouse confessions by inmates who receive substantial reductions in their punishment as a reward. The unjust sentence resulting from wrongful conviction is then usually exponentially increased by the sentencing judge, who views the truthful insistence of innocence as evidence of the absence of remorse. Parole is then denied because the innocent convict does not show appropriate contrition.

Unrecorded jailhouse confessions should be absolutely barred as inherently untrustworthy, just as we bar confessions produced by torture. Stranger identification should be allowed only after a strong caution about its inherent unreliability. Finally, no sentence or parole should be affected by the defendant’s insistence of innocence. These reforms will not eliminate wrongful convictions, but they will reduce them without resulting in significant numbers of acquittals of the guilty.

Ernest Prupis ’52
Seabrook Island, S.C.

Defining Terror

Janet Reno’s concern with the rights of individuals is noteworthy, especially in light of the method in which the Branch Davidians were “freed” under her watch, as well as the subsequent distortions of truth and government cover-ups (“Free[dom] Speech,” Elms, May/June). The Branch Davidians were also U.S. citizens and had done nothing to, or even threatened, the U.S. government or their fellow citizens. Terrorism seems to be defined only by who stands at the podium.

Reno’s concern about a government that launches preemptive strikes is absurd in view of Waco, which led to the horrible deaths of innocent men, women, and children. The use of tanks against our citizens is not only abhorrent, it’s illegal.

Incidentally, I am curious about the report that the audience “laughed out loud” when President Bush delivered his ultimatum to Saddam Hussein. What was so funny? I am, however, pleased that the former U.S. attorney general could “restore decorum” to the audience as you report. At least she showed some decency, respect, and concern. Too bad she didn’t do this when she was in office.

Rick Teuscher ’59
Brownsville, Tex.

Time’s Arrow

Emily Gold Boutilier’s excellent piece on William P. Kelley’s death (“A Piece of Light,” Obituaries, May/June) reminded me that Bill wrote a fine poem about death for Brunonia, the literary magazine that he edited in 1954. The poem, about the confused and wandering thoughts of a fatally wounded soldier, was called “Thanatopsy,” a clever reference to William Cullen Bryant’s poem “Thanatopsis.” A stanza gives the flavor: “Damn me if the larks aren’t singing/ Bravely lines of John McCrae/Pardon if my song is swanny/Cantabo tibi Domine.” Each stanza, like this one, ended with its own Latin line, perhaps reflecting Bill’s study for the priesthood. In any case, this undergraduate poem demonstrated the writer’s extraordinary talent.

James Furlong ’58
Mystic, Conn.

Welcoming Barak

Kristin Cato ’91 registers “dismay at the warm reception given to Ehud Barak, the former prime minister of Israel, by the Brown community.” (“The Best Neighbors,” Mail Room, May/June). She continues, “When will America wake up and confront the outrageous brutality perpetuated against Palestinians by Israel?”

Cato’s own somnolence obscures reality. Within the ranks of Hamas, which for the last thirty months has been fulfilling its vow to kill Jews, there is no shortage of martyrs. America is fully awake to the fact that this Islamic jihad has systematized terror, exacerbated hostilities, and placed the “road map to peace” beyond reach.

Roger Brandwein ’54
Scarsdale, N.Y.

I cannot let go unchallenged the insensitive letter from Kristin Cato ’91 railing against Brown for welcoming Ehud Barak. If Cato were more aware of recent events, she would recall that in 2000 Ehud Barak tried to make peace with the Palestinian Authority, offering it most of its requirements for a Palestinian state. Why does it upset Cato that Brown would be happy to greet such a statesman as Barak? Is she so prejudiced against Israel that she sees no Israeli worthy of a warm welcome from Brown?

Ellen Shaffer Meyer ’61
Wilmington, Del.

The Future

Thank you for the wonderful article on Julia da Cruz (“The Return of Julia da Cruz,” March/April). I am proud to say that in the fall of 1971 I walked the corridors and stood in the classrooms at Providence’s Central High School as a fledgling English teacher. My experiences at Central changed my life, and now—after thirty-one years of teaching—my memories of the students, my fellow teachers, and my Brown professors all continue to be an inspiration and guide. Even more inspiring and more impressive is da Cruz. The fact that Central made a difference to her and that she has decided to make a difference at Central is a gift to us all. Nothing could be more important to the Providence community, or to our future as a society. Education is—and will always be—about the individual, the one-to-one correspondence between teacher and student. Da Cruz is demonstrating that she is an achiever who wants to be part of the future for others, encouraging and assisting and guiding them to their own achievements. Thanks to writer Charlotte Bruce Harvey for the terrific writing and to the BAM for putting this story on the cover!

Michael J. Herman ’72 M.A.T.
Baldwin, N.Y.


A.J. Jacobs ’90 is not the first Brown man to read an encyclopedia cover to cover (“Bore or Boor?” The Classes, May/June). In about 1950, at the age of twelve, I started reading all eighteen volumes of the Book of Knowledge. Because that compendium also included some short stories and poems, I did tend to skip over the nonfactual stuff. But then I went back and read everything before I entered high school. I think this reading helped me to become a three-time winner on the NBC quiz show Three on a Match.

Anthony I. Morgan ’59
Stamford, Conn.

Class Confusion

Members of the Enlisted Reserve Corps were given our call-to-active-duty notices in December 1942, not 1943 as shown in your caption (“Duty Called,” The Classes, May/June). It may interest your young readers to know that by this date many of us who had entered Brown in the fall of 1941 had already completed two years toward our degrees and were awarded certificates from President Wriston. To accomplish this we attended classes through the summer of 1942 and took five courses a semester instead of the usual four.

I returned to Brown after the war in February 1946 and graduated in June 1947, so I received a degree, which normally takes four years, in a little more than two calendar years. We were given the choice of identifying ourselves with either our entering class or the one with which we graduated. I elected to stay with the class of 1945, but many classmates who entered with me in September 1941 chose to be identified with other classes. Some men who attended Brown during the war and actually got their degrees in 1945 are complete strangers to those of us who made up the original class of 1945!

Richard N. Silverman ’45
Waban, Mass.

Bump’s Pride

A friend, Bob Devaney ’69, a former Brown hockey player and a member of its Athletic Hall of Fame, sent me the article about my father, Bump Hadley ’28 (“Almost Famous,” March/April). I thoroughly enjoyed the text and pictures and will share them with Bump’s five grandsons. Although he never graduated, my dad was very proud to have attended Brown.

Irving “Bud” Hadley
Freedom, N.H.

Where’s that Beefcake?

I share the concern expressed by Jeffrey Liss ’65 regarding gender supremacy of cheerleaders’ uniforms (“Skirting the Issue,” Mail Room, March/April). I suggest changing the uniforms of the men.

Attiring female cheerleaders more modestly would employ the dubious practice of Puritanism to fight genderism. The principal evil of sexual objectification is that the sex-object role is assigned primarily to women, while society’s more powerful roles are reserved for men. Genderism should be fought head on, for example in fair hiring, retention, promotion, and compensation.

Let there be cheesecake, but only if accompanied by a proportional amount of beefcake.

Mike Fahey ’67
New York City

The Beginning

I first learned of Dave Zucconi’s passing with the arrival of the BAM (“Brown Always Came First,” Elms, March/April). The news had an immediate emotional impact, completely out of proportion to the fact that I had seen him only four or five times over the past twenty years. Now I’ve figured out why.

I played rugby at Brown from 1965 to 1968. After I graduated, I moved back to New York City and joined a rugby club called Old Blue, playing for another seven years. My decision to join that club determined the course of my adult life. I met my future wife in 1973 at a party after a rugby match. She in turn led to my reacquaintance with a high school classmate whose company hired me as a computer consultant for six of the next twelve years. Based on that work, we moved to a New Jersey town where we lived for twenty-two years. Once, when I walked down our block with my young son to watch the commuter trains whiz by, I struck up a conversation with another father-and-son team of train watchers; a few months later the father asked me to do some consulting work for his company, and within a few years, I was on its board of directors. My position there eventually gave me the credibility I needed to be elected to the local board of education.

In the past, whenever I’ve told this story of the succession of events that has shaped my life, the starting point has always been the phone call that led to my joining Old Blue. But now I realize the thread goes further back. When I arrived on the Brown campus as a freshman in the fall of 1964, the first person to say hello to me was Dave Zucconi, who was then an admission officer. Although we hadn’t met before, he recognized my name.

The next spring I went looking for a Brown athletic official at what was then Aldrich-Dexter Field. I was told he was down at the lower field, watching the rugby match. When I went down to find him, I was totally amazed by what I saw: a bunch of muddy, bloody madmen running around and slamming into one another without benefit of protective pads and with one loud, shrill voice clearly audible above all others: Zucconi’s. I started playing rugby the next fall, and the rest is my personal history—which started with the rugby club that Dave Zucconi founded.

Eugene D. Nelson ’68
South Orange N.J.

Local Hero

I was sorry to read of the death of Margaret Devoe ’27 (Obituaries, March/April). Her twins, known as Razzle and Dazzle, went through the Providence public schools with me. Razzle was a very pleasant boy: his plan to save Marvel Gym from the bulldozer added a heroic and quixotic element to his image in my memory. Dazzle, class of ’56, figures in my life in fuller detail.

A descendant both of Roger Williams and of Mayflower pilgrims, Dazzle—or Margaret, to be more formal—was the first person I had known who belonged so deeply to the Providence community. Most of my classmates had parents or grandparents with accents derived from all over the world. Their lunch boxes contained wondrous secrets of spice and scent. We were a quiet and respectful generation, but we looked forward to changes in society, our fantasies fed by Hollywood. Dazzle’s conservative point of view took us, or me, by surprise. Dazzle dazzled us at the piano in the auditorium. Her loyalty to the school class, like her later devotion to Pembroke and Brown, gave her an undeniable dignity. She reentered my personal realm through alumni events and through the passage of time, which embraced me into my own version of a swamp-Yankee community. Somehow I have come to feel that I am an adopted descendant of Roger Williams. You go to enough historical homesteads, museums, and India Point reproductions of antique sailboats and you begin to believe your dreams and fantasies.

Wondrous things happened. Margaret senior rang my front doorbell, delivering a message for a friend. She sipped tea with us. Margaret junior served a luncheon at her stately home on Olney Street. Dazzle and I fit right into our own times. She still plays the piano in the public schools, and accompanied my children in their choirs during their Martin Luther King Jr. grammar school days.

Brown is a great and constantly changing world community, but it still has local roots. That’s part of its special charm.

Michael Fink ’59

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July / August 2003