BRISTOL, R.I. – With the statewide celebration of the 350th Anniversary of the Rhode Island Colonial Charter fast approaching, award-winning author and historian John M. Barry – acclaimed biographer of Roger Williams himself – will address the Roger Williams University Class of 2013 and receive an honorary degree during Commencement exercises on Saturday, May 18.
The ceremony will begin at 10 a.m. on the University’s main athletic field on the Bristol Campus at One Old Ferry Road. Larry Rachleff, accomplished conductor and music director for the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, will also be awarded an honorary degree.
A day earlier, Morris Dees – a preeminent civil rights attorney and founder of the Southern Poverty Law Center – will deliver the Commencement address and earn an honorary degree at the Roger Williams University School of Law ceremony.
The law school ceremony will begin at 1 p.m. on Friday, May 17, also on the University’s main athletic field. The School of Law will also present an honorary degree to Rhode Island Superior Court Presiding Justice Alice B. Gibney during the ceremony.
John M. Barry
John M. Barry is a prize-winning author and historian who captivates readers on topics ranging from the influenza pandemic of 1918 to the Great Mississippi Flood of 1927. In addition to his full-length work, the author’s commentary has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Washington Post, Fortune, Time and elsewhere; and he has been a guest on “Meet the Press,” on shows on every broadcast network in the U.S., as well as on such foreign media as the BBC and Al Jazeera.
The Society of American Historians named Barry’s “Rising Tide: The Great Mississippi Flood of 1927 and How It Changed America” as 1998’s best book on American history. The National Academy of Sciences named “The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History” the best 2005 book on science and medicine. To date, Barry remains the only non-scientist ever to give the National Academy’s annual Abel Wolman Distinguished Lecture. He has even advised the Bush and Obama presidential administrations on pandemic preparedness and serves on the board overseeing the levee districts in New Orleans.
In November 2012, Barry visited Roger Williams University for a presentation on his latest book, “Roger Williams and the Creation of the American Soul: Church, State and the Birth of Liberty,” published in January 2012. The book explores the separation of church and state through the story of Roger Williams, Rhode Island’s founder and the first to link religious freedom to individual liberty.
Accomplished musician and conductor Larry Rachleff has led the Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra as music director for more than 17 seasons. He also serves as director of orchestras and holds the Walter Kris Hubert Chair at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music in Houston. During his career, he also served as music director of the San Antonio Symphony.
Rachleff is a regular guest conductor with the orchestras of Colorado, Utah, Indianapolis and Kansas City, with recent appearances at Charlotte, Fort Worth, Columbus, Rochester, Florida, Grand Rapids, Seattle and Phoenix, among many other fine orchestras. He recently conducted a special gala concert with Itzhak Perlman and the Houston Symphony.
An enthusiastic advocate of public school music education, Rachleff has conducted All-State orchestras and festivals in virtually every state in the U.S. as well as throughout Europe and Canada. He is also a dedicated champion for contemporary music who has collaborated with leading composers including Samuel Adler, the late Luciano Berio, George Crumb, Michael Daugherty and John Harbison, among others. Rachleff lives in Houston with his wife, soprano Susan Lorette Dunn, and their young son, Sam.
Morris Dees was born in 1936 in Shorter, Ala., the son of cotton farmers. As a young boy, he worked the fields with blacks, witnessing firsthand social and economic depravation and Jim Crow treatment at its worse. While at the University of Alabama Law School, he formed a successful publishing company and Millard Fuller, who later founded Habitat for Humanity.
In 1970, Dees sold his publishing company and formed the Southern Poverty Law Center, along with Julian Bond and Joseph Levin. Early cases included integrating the Alabama State Troopers and desegregating the Montgomery YMCA. The center quickly grew into one of America’s most successful and innovative public interest law firms, and Dees earned accolades for his landmark legal victories against the Ku Klux Klan and other hate groups.
Dees has received numerous awards in conjunction with his work. The U.S. Jaycees chose him as one of the Ten Outstanding Young Men of America for his early business success. In 2009, he was inducted into the Trial Lawyers Hall of Fame by the American Trial Lawyers Association. The American Bar Association honored him in 2012 with the ABA Medal. Dees is also the author of three books: “A Lawyers Journey” (his autobiography), “Hate on Trial” and “Gathering Storm, America’s Militia Threat.” He remains actively engaged litigation. He and his wife live in Montgomery, Ala.
Alice B. Gibney
Alice B. Gibney is the presiding justice for the Rhode Island Superior Court. A West Warwick native born to schoolteachers, Gibney graduated from Rhode Island College in 1969 and went on to Catholic University School of Law in Washington, D.C., where she earned her law degree in 1972. When Gibney was appointed to the Superior Court in 1983, she said in an interview that being a judge was the only thing she’s ever wanted to be.
She worked as a law clerk for Superior Court Judge Florence K. Murray and later practiced as an associate with Anderson, Henning & Anderson in Providence. In 1978, she became assistant U.S. Attorney, but moved back to private practice with Boyer, Reynolds & DeMarco. She served as a Workers’ Compensation Court Commissioner for two years before being named to the Superior Court bench.
Gibney has spent much of her career concentrating on civil cases, including many medical malpractice lawsuits. When former Rhode Island Governor Donald Carcieri nominated her for the presiding justice role in 2009, he said: “Justice Gibney is admired and respected by her judicial colleagues and by all those who come before her courtroom. Considered a conscientious and gifted trial judge known for her ability to manage complex litigation and high case volume, Justice Gibney is well suited to serve as Presiding Justice.”