Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bruce Sundlun dies, odd timing

Not only was Bruce Sundlun someone I knew, I met him during the comissiong ceremonies for the USS Rhode Island SSBN-740 in Newport on July 9, 1994 and I dealt with him on the USS John F. Kennedy CV-67 project, how this story almost got buried got me mad at the propaganda press. Not only did this occur during a heatwave hours before he died I was over by the state house making sure that the Middle eastern Art festival planned for that evening stayerd shut down, particularly because of the nature of the people who came up with the idea for the event. His passing at this time is a reminder to us al to keep our wits when everyone else is losing theirs.
Interesting this piece mentions how he handled the banking crisis, had he been tougher on the banks I would still have my fortune for that was when washington trust and lenihan law did their dirty deeds.
Peter Z


Bruce Sundlun, fiery former R.I. governor, dies at 91
8:10 PM Thu, Jul 21, 2011


By G. WAYNE MILLER
Journal staff writer

Former Rhode Island Gov. Bruce G. Sundlun, whose heroism in war, success in business, fiery political career and complex private life made him into one of the state's legendary figures, died Thursday at his home in Jamestown. He was 91 years old.

A statement from his family announcing his death Thursday said:

"Former Governor Bruce Sundlun died peacefully tonight at his home in Jamestown. He was surrounded by his loving family. As a husband, father and grandfather he was our north star. We are deeply grateful for his love and lessons throughout our lives."

Sundlun had been hospitalized recently for an undisclosed ailment.

U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse, D-R.I., who was Sundlun's legal counsel and business regulation director during his terms as governor, released the following statement early Thursday evening regarding Sundlun's death:

"I mourn the passing of Bruce Sundlun, a beloved friend and mentor. Bruce's accomplishments as an athlete, soldier, lawyer, businessman and politician would each make his a memorable life; together they made him one of the most remarkable and accomplished Rhode Islanders in our history.

"But most who knew Bruce will remember him for his personality: warm-hearted and funny, impatient and irrepressible, courageous and determined. No one who knew Bruce ever doubted where he stood. He was a towering figure in our state's history and a vibrant figure in the lives of his friends and family. My love, thoughts and prayers are with them."

Read more comments from fellow politicians, associates and friends.

A Democrat, Sundlun served two terms as governor, from 1991 to 1995, during one of Rhode Island's deepest recessions and the worst banking collapse in the state's history.

He was both praised and vilified for his handling of the crisis -- just as admiration for all his accomplishments was always colored by reaction to his formidable ego, his personal style and his succession of romances that led to five marriages and four divorces.

"What lessons would I have for people?" Sundlun said in a Journal interview in January 2010, on the eve of his 90th birthday. "Play it straight. Who, what, where, when, how. Those are the facts of life."

Asked if he had any regrets, Sundlun said: "Not really, that I can think of. I don't have any enemies that I know of. And it wouldn't trouble me if I did."

Born on Jan. 19, 1920, Bruce George Sundlun was the first child of Jan Zelda (Colitz) and Walter Irving Sundlun, whose parents came to America from Lithuania. The Sundluns lived on the East Side of Providence.

"I think I was the first Jewish kid to ever go to the Gordon School," Sundlun, who started in kindergarten at the elite school, said in a 2006 Journal profile.

Sundlun started in kindergarten and made lifelong friends at Gordon -- but also experienced anti-Semitism.

He remembered competing in a foot race at the end of third grade. "I won hands down," Sundlun said. "It was the first time I ever realized I had any athletic ability or could run fast. And the two guys who came in second threw me down on the ground and called me a dirty Jew." Audio slideshow: Sundlun talks about growing up on Providence's East Side.

Gifted with a sharp, analytical mind that would later suit him to the practice of law, Sundlun attended Providence's Classical High School, leaving after junior year for private Tabor Academy in Marion, Mass. He entered Williams College in September 1938 and when Hitler invaded Poland a year later, Sundlun, a sophomore, suspected that America eventually would be drawn into the conflict.

Enlisting in the U.S. Army Air Corps after the Japanese bombing of Pearl Harbor on Dec. 7, 1941, Sundlun trained as a B-17 bomber pilot. He was on his 13th bombing run over Germany on Dec. 1, 1943, when his Flying Fortress, Damn Yankee, was shot down, killing four of its nine-man crew.

Parachuting into Nazi-occupied Belgium, Sundlun evaded capture and connected with the Belgian Underground, eventually joining the Maquis, a branch of the French Resistance that was waging guerrilla war against the Germans near the Swiss border. He was a Jew on the run in a land occupied by Nazis.

"We would play it cool until sometime during the night, then we'd go in and attack [German Army] transport, find their fuel trucks, and shoot 'em up and try and set 'em on fire," Sundlun recalled in the 2006 profile. "The Germans would fight back and there'd be some gunfire, but we'd do more damage to them than they'd do to us 'cause we knew every rock and tree."

Five months after being shot down, Sundlun escaped to safety. The U.S. would later honor him with the Purple Heart, the Distinguished Flying Cross, and an Air Medal with oak leaf cluster. France would bestow the Chevalier of the L├ęgion d'honneur.

Sundlun finished his studies at Williams College in 1946 and three years later, graduated from Harvard Law School. After serving as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, he went into private practice, then left law in 1970 to become president of an executive jet company.

Six years later, he was named president and CEO of The Outlet Co., based in Rhode Island, which he transformed into the highly profitable Outlet Communications, no longer in business.

At its peak, Outlet had 16 radio and television stations, including WJAR Channel 10. The company's stock sold for $4 when Sundlun took over. It sold for $68 when he was done a decade later.

Sundlun was a millionaire, with several homes, in Rhode Island, Jamaica and the Washington area -- and he was increasingly active in national and Democratic politics, including with President John F. Kennedy, who named Sundlun co-chairman of his 1961 inaugural committee.

And he was well into a turbulent romantic life that would be another of his hallmarks, prompting countless tales, some of which he was happy to substantiate himself.

In 1949, Sundlun married his first wife, Madeleine (Schiffer) Eisner, the mother of his three sons, all of whom survive him: Tracy Walter, Stuart Arthur, and Peter Bruce. After their divorce, Sundlun married sculptor Pamela (Soldwedel) Barrett in 1966. Barrett divorced him and Sundlun became involved with the actress and philanthropist Barbara FitzGerald, who died of cancer in 1973.

Joyanne Carter, his third wife, was FitzGerald's close friend. They walked the aisle in 1974, but their marriage foundered. In 1983, Sundlun told The Journal, "She invited me for lunch one day in Washington and after dessert she said. 'Well, now you're deserving of a present.' She served me with papers for a divorce."

Two years later, Sundlun married his fourth wife, Marjorie Lee, a woman two decades younger whose warm, vivacious manner stood in contrast to her husband -- and proved an asset on the campaign trail.

After serving on statewide commissions and the Providence School Board, and working for a variety of civic causes, notably the Trinity Repertory Company and the Providence Performing Arts Center, Sundlun in 1986 ran for governor against incumbent Edward D. DiPrete. DiPrete walloped him, two-to-one.

DiPrete also won the rematch two years later -- by a much-closer margin. But in 1990, Sundlun tapped again into his millions to finance his campaign and ran a third time. He buried DiPrete, who was mired in scandal that eventually sent him to prison.

Sundlun planned an imperial inauguration that included a B-17 flying over the State House, but even before the celebration, on the evening before he took office, Sundlun, about to turn 70, received worse news. The Rhode Island Share and Deposit Indemnity Corp., which insured 45 banks and credit unions, had collapsed. Untold numbers of people risked losing their life's savings.

Many years later, the memory of the banking crisis and a $200 million deficit in the state budget still rankled Sundlun. "When I look back at the mess I inherited from that -- f---ing DiPrete...," he said, too angry to finish.

Closing the credit unions and the struggle to come up with a way to pay off depositors dominated the first 18 months of Sundlun's tenure. After the closing, disclosures of corruption in the General Assembly and the DiPrete Administration on behalf of the insurer, the infamous RISDIC, fanned the ire and anger of depositors.

There were nasty demonstrations at the State House almost daily. As the months dragged on and depositors remained without their money, Sundlun endured some ugly protests.

Perhaps the worst came on Sept. 6, 1991, when more than 1,000 depositors picketed, screamed and taunted Sundlun and other leading Democratic political figures at a party fundraising event at Rhodes-on-the-Pawtuxet in Cranston. Sundlun was burned in effigy. There were placards comparing Sundlun with Hitler.

Depositors eventually got their money back, through a $700 million bailout plan that was financed by using a portion of state sales tax revenue to pay off bonds. Sundlun successfully ran for re-election in 1992 but was defeated in the 1994 Democratic primary by Myrth York. Gubernatorial terms at the time were two years long.

In his four years as governor, Sundlun led a major overhaul of the state Workers Compensation System and started the state's RIteCare program that provides medical insurance to poor children.

On social issues, he supported abortion rights and gay rights.

In his frequently combative style (one of his printable nicknames was "Captain Blowhard"), Sundlun pushed through the renovation and expansion of the terminal at T.F. Green Airport, now named for him; the Rhode Island Convention Center; the Providence Place mall, and moving the University of Rhode Island's Providence campus from Smith Hill to the old Shepard Building downtown.

"I think history will treat him well," said the late Elmer Cornwell, a Brown University political science professor and expert on Rhode Island politics. "He didn't come from a political background, he came from the corporate world. He was used to making tough decisions and his forcefulness served the state well during some very difficult times."

Sundlun was just nine months into his first term as governor when his wife Marjorie, walking with a childhood friend in her upstate New York hometown, was struck and nearly killed by an elderly driver. Doctors saved her life, but her brain was badly damaged.

Governor Sundlun flew to the hospital, where, in a news conference to discuss his wife's condition, he wept -- one of the few times in his life he ever did, he said. Marjorie recovered but was never the same. Sundlun divorced his fourth wife in 1999, after, he says, he arranged for her financial security.

It was during Sundlun's second term as governor that he publicly acknowledged he was the father of a daughter, Kara (Hewes) Sundlun, now an Emmy-award winning news anchor at Hartford station WFSB, Channel 3, and the child of an affair. Sundlun agreed to pay for her college education and remained close to Kara, who changed her last name to his.

"She's got a better personality than I do," Sundlun said in 2006. "She's naturally nice, although I'm getting nicer."

After divorcing Marjorie, Sundlun was seen in the company of Soozie Dittelman, a photographer and owner of East Greenwich Photo, whom he had met several years earlier when he was president of Temple Beth-El in Providence. They married on New Year's Day 2000, when Sundlun was almost 80.

Stories about Sundlun have been part of the Rhode Island landscape for decades. There is the story of his shooting raccoons at his Newport estate, of berating a CVS clerk for failing to carry plastic forks he wanted for a Christmas party, of driving dangerously but defiantly in his old age. All were true, and highly publicized.

After losing the governorship, Sundlun taught political science at the University of Rhode Island. Courses he taught included political leadership and Rhode Island politics.

"His style was somewhat aggressive, but as the students got to know him, they appreciated the wealth of knowledge he had," said Prof. Maureen Moakley of URI, who team-taught a course with Sundlun.

Sundlun mellowed with advancing age, but he never entirely lost the edge that was forged by his difficult childhood, his war experiences, and his business and political battles. His increasing difficulty in hearing and stubbornness in not wanting to use hearing aids made conversations in recent years exercises in mutual shouting -- but until the end, he was full of stories.

And, at least sometimes, there were signs of uncharacteristic softness and even self-reflection.

"No one ever called me a nice human being -- although Soozie's gone pretty far toward changing me into a nice human being," he told the Journal five years ago. "I think basically I am a nice human being. But I'm 86 when I say that."

Sundlun is survived by his wife, children, stepchildren and stepgrandchildren.

With reports from Scott MacKay, former Journal staff writer

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