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 sense of humor. An intellectual and history buff, he was a coveted dinner companion. A Vietnam War 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 a longtime legal counsel for the World Boxing Association, 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 and U.S. Rep. John Lewis, D-Georgia.
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 Carol 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. An early supporter of then Illinois U.S. Sen. Barack Obama’s 2008 presidential campaign, Stone said one his life’s biggest thrills was become 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.
Funeral services are incomplete, according to Thomas O’Connor, the former Providence city council member and close Stone friend.