Rhode Island Superior Court Judge Walter R. Stone of Bristol, 73, a civil rights activist and one of Rhode Island’s most respected trial and criminal lawyers, passed away Friday, September 22, 2017. He served as one of the very few African-American judges in the state he embraced as his home after coming to Providence in 1972 on a Reginald Heber Smith Community Fellowship to work for two years at Rhode Island Legal Services. After serving as an assistant attorney general for the State of Rhode Island and also trial attorney for the Office of the Public Defender, he founded the Providence firm of Stone, Clifton and Clifton. He later became a partner in the Providence firm of Adler Pollock and Sheehan PC where he was the Chairman of the Criminal Law Group and served as the team coordinator for the firm’s Sarbanes-Oxley training, evaluation and mock investigation team.
A seasoned and noted white-collar criminal defense, employment discrimination and commercial litigation attorney, Judge Stone has successfully defended clients in high-profile cases of national importance, participated in precedent-setting litigation and distinguished himself by extensive public service. He was a staunch defender of the underdog and strong advocate for the underserved. He brought to his varied clients some 35 years of litigation know-how and experience, including successfully defending corporations in age- and race-discrimination matters, defending and prosecuting numerous homicides and other felonies, and serving as counsel for sports and entertainment entities.
Based on over 35 years of experience, Judge Stone more often than not would tell clients, the most important skill of a litigator is the ability to listen “well.” More importantly than telling a client what they wanted to hear, he would strive to advise them on what they needed to know.
Judge Stone was actively involved in local and national efforts to foster diversity in the legal community, and he served on Adler Pollock & Sheehan’s Diversity Committee helping to guide its efforts toward promoting a more diverse culture.
He was as a longtime legal counsel to the International Boxing Federation. Through his involvement with professional boxing and the sports arm of the African National Congress, he was actively involved in bringing professional sports back to South Africa near the end of apartheid. He also served as Vice Chairman of the Rhode Island Racing and Athletic Commission, which is charged with the oversight of the Rhode Island gaming industry.
As a longtime Democratic Party political activist, he was elected a Carter Delegate to the Democratic National Convention representing Rhode Island’s First Congressional District in 1976. An early supporter of Illinois U.S. Senator Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, he was absolutely thrilled when elected as a delegate to the 2008 Democratic National Convention in Denver and moved to tears as he witnessed Senator Obama become the first black to accept a major party nomination for president. At the time, he 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.” Having also attended the 1963 March on Washington where Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered his famous “I Have a Dream” speech, Stone reflected at the 2008 convention, “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.”
Judge Stone served numerous philanthropic, educational, health, legal and cultural organizations through his ongoing volunteer efforts. He was former Chairman of the Rhode Island Black Heritage Society, as well as former Vice Chairman of the Heritage Harbor Museum Board. From 1997 until his judicial appointment in December 2010, he served as Chairman of the Board of Rhode Island Legal Services where he began his career as staff attorney in 1972. In addition to serving on the Roger Williams University Board of Trustees, he was a member of several boards of directors including the American Lung Association, Bannister Nursing Home, Caritas House, Heritage Harbor Museum, Latin Film Festival, Newport Art Museum, Omni Development Corporation, Plan International USA, Progreso Latino, Rhode Island Foundation, Rhode Island Lung Association, Rhode Island Minority Asthma Collaborative, and Rhode Island School of Design Fine Arts Committee.
Both Roger Williams Law School and Rhode Island College conferred on him Honorary Doctor of Laws degrees. Judge Stone served on three state judicial selection panels and received numerous awards and citations, including the Rhode Island Historical Society’s 2003 John H. Chafee Award for Community Service and the Rhode Island Bar Association’s 2005 “Pro Bono Publico Award,” which recognizes the outstanding efforts of attorneys who have provided equal access to justice to the indigent through the Volunteer Lawyer Program. His most recent awards included the Christiana Bannister Community Service Award presented in 2016 by the Rhode Island Black Business Association and the Neil J. Houston, Jr. Memorial Award presented for dedicated service and civic contribution toward the criminal justice profession and the public interest.
Walter Ray Stone was born in Chicago to Lavinia Stone, graduate of Meharry Medical School, School of Nursing, who died 2 days after his birth. He spent his early years in Chicago and later with family in Lexington, Kentucky, graduating from Henry Clay High School at the age of 16. Stone attended Tennessee State University and graduated from Fisk University in 1966 with a B.A. degree. He earned his Juris Doctorate from Case Western Reserve School of Law in 1972. Judge Stone was a U.S. Marine combat veteran during the Vietnam War and recipient of the Purple Heart. Prior to military service and law school, he worked in Wilmington, Delaware for E.I. DuPont in the Technical Services Division. He was a member of Omega Psi Phi Fraternity and a proud Master Mason in King Solomon Lodge #5 of the MWPHGL of Rhode Island.
Judge Stone is survived by son Hunter Stone – Gardner of New York, and companion Ambassador (Ret.) Alice M. Dear of New York City, and mourned by a host of friends and colleagues. He was father of the late Morgan Stone.
Judge Stone’s calling hours will be held on Wednesday, October 4, 2017 from 2 to 7 p.m. in the PERRY – McSTAY FUNERAL HOME, 2555 Pawtucket Avenue, East Providence. A memorial service will be held on Thursday, October 5, 2017 at 6:00 p.m. in Sayles Hall on the Brown University campus. Burial with Military Honors will be held on Friday, October 6, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. in RI Veterans Cemetery, Exeter. For any additional information, visit www.perrymcstay.com. In lieu of flowers, contributions may be made to the Morgan Stone Memorial Fund, care of The Rhode Island Foundation, 1 Union Station, Providence, RI 02903.