No one who witnessed it will ever forget it.
That would be the East Greenwich Tercentenary Parade, celebrating the town’s 300th birthday, on July 31, 1977. Some 100,000 people crowded along Route 1 and Main Street. Townsfolk and tourists stretched from the North Kingstown line, at Frenchtown Road, to the Warwick town line, at Division Street. They roared and applauded for nearly four hours as the marchers streamed by.
The impresario of that greatest march in East Greenwich history, Dick Chadwell, has passed away at 81. He was an Ohio man who embraced East Greenwich as his hometown after he married local Joan Larke. They raised their only child, son Chip, a 1982 graduate of East Greenwich High School (Joan was Class of ’60) on Wanton Shippee Road. All three, along with Chip’s wife, Faye, ended up in Florida two decades ago.
In one of those awful tragedies that defies comprehension and God’s compassion, Dick died February 20 of COVID-19. Ten days later, so did his daughter-in-law, Faye. “It’s numbing. Surreal. It’s just not fair,” Chip told the Tallahassee Democrat March 1.
Yet our sorrow should be soothed by what Dick Chadwell meant to East Greenwich, especially 44 years ago during that summer of ’77. Ask anyone who was there: Chadwell’s humungous afternoon parade, followed by his Mummers’ string-band concert at Eldredge Field, all of it climaxed by an incredible extravaganza of night-time fireworks, were stupendous. They were the rousing finale of the town’s two-week long birthday bash.
Dick joined the Navy after high school, and married Joan in 1963 while posted to the Navy base at Quonset Point. After serving 20 years, he retired as a chief warrant officer in 1976, just as plans for the East Greenwich Tercentenary were getting under way. If the late Gil Hempel, chairman of the town’s 300th party, were the king of the Tercentenary, Dick was its crown prince, assigned the critical and mammoth task of organizing the parade.
Parade planning took the first half of 1977, and entered a feverish final push that summer. The flier describing the coming spectacle had a Tom Sawyerish quality to it. “Thousands of marchers will be featured along with almost 100 bands, floats, and exciting added attractions!!” it screamed in red, white and blue. “See the world-famous Avalon String Band—the Mummers! See Miss East Greenwich 1977—and 1927! Twelve great divisions in all! Don’t you dare miss this one!!!” The town had a shortage of exclamation points for months after Chadwell’s cavalcade.
But there was much work yet to be done. There would be brass bands, and fife and drum units as far as the ear could hear. “Wherever you watch the parade from you’ll be able to hear many of the bands,” Chadwell pledged. “No matter where you watch from, you’re going to hear music—and lots of it!”
Chadwell was busy juggling requests from out-of-town units that wanted floats in the parade, but he had to make sure they didn’t overshadow hometown efforts. Chadwell fretted that the “rumors” of local floats he kept hearing about might end up being just that. “We need commitments – I’ve got to know for sure,” he said in May. “There should be many more East Greenwich floats than out-of-town floats.” He journeyed to surveil Bristol’s historic 4th of July parade and modestly declared, according to the Rhode Island Pendulum, that East Greenwich’s would be “every bit as good–`if not better.’”
He was organizing and re-organizing the parade’s units and order–can’t have three brass bands back-to-back – as the clock to kickoff ran down. Five days before the parade stepped off, he added Canada’s Immaculate Conception CYO All-Girls Band to his roster. The 90-member group, its members largely from broken homes, had been scratched earlier for a lack of funds. Then Chadwell got a late-night phone call the Tuesday before Sunday’s parade. “When Father Allard called me from Montreal and said the Montreal police department, along with the parish, had raised $1,700 to cover transportation costs, what could I say?” Chadwell shrugged. Band members planned to camp out in sleeping bags at Our Lady of Mercy during their stay, but they still lacked the $500 they needed to feed the girls. “When I heard that, I said, `We’ll welcome their participation, and we’ll find $500 someplace.” He squeezed them in.
To understand why Dick Chadwell and his troops did such a great job running the parade, all you have to do is check out the “marching orders” from the Parade Committee, whose other members were Ray Alfano, Harry Guilfoyle, Jack McGinn, Tom McKone, Jim Payne, Joe Pelosi, Frank Rhodes, Anne Wynne, and Joan Chadwell. “To ensure that all spectators will have occasion to enjoy the musical units to the maximum, the Parade Committee has color-coded telephone poles along the parade route (red, white & blue) and will designate musical units to correspond so that red bands will play at red markers, white bands will play at white markers, and blue bands will play at blue markers,” read just one part of one of the many orders (adding that this was only the minimum). You could sense the military precision he brought to the procession, which made sense: It had been only 335 days since he hung up his Navy whites. “Parade Chairman Dick Chadwell reigned over the orderly confusion as he and his committee escorted the thousands of marchers to their positions in the line of march,” the Pendulum reported in the edition following the parade.
“Cheers went up from the thousands in the area whenever the slightest action caught the crowd’s attentive eye. The Avalon String Band–the Mummers–made a fine showing with their banjos and feathers between the fourth and fifth divisions,” the local paper added. The East Greenwich High School Band generated proud cheers from those who remembered it during leaner times.
The parade didn’t end up lacking for hometown floats, either. There was a replica of the long-torn down Our Lady of Mercy church on Main Street. There was a miniature hockey rink—with real hockey players on fake ice—tossing foam-rubber pucks into the crowd, sponsored by the East Greenwich Hockey Club. The Pendulum featured an old-fashioned news wagon, complete with old-fashioned newspaper carriers with canvas bags slung over their shoulders. But the float getting the loudest cheers on that 90-degree day may have been the 12-foot-high Schlitz beer can (why it wasn’t ‘Gansett remains a mystery).
“The greatest parade in East Greenwich history was over!” the Pendulum’s final sentence in the article on the march declared (using an exclamation point apparently borrowed from North Kingstown).
“The parade was the cherry on top of all the things he accomplished in East Greenwich,” son Richard “Chip” Chadwell, Jr., says. “Very proud when it was all said and done about how it turned out, and that he was able to give his adopted hometown a celebration for the ages.”
Things got back to normal after the Tercentenary. Chadwell, who had been working at Hospital Trust Bank, ended up running the now-defunct Mid-State Ice Rink for four years. “Rink officials noted that Chadwell’s military experience would be helpful in running a facility populated by young hockey players,” the Pendulum said. He later won election to the Town Council as a Republican. “Dick has earned his spurs in community service,” the Pendulum said, endorsing his 1982 run. “If Dick can restrain his rather `short fuse’ we think he’ll make a good council member.” Of course, it was that short fuse and military bearing that helped him pull off the parade. Before he and Joan (who set type at the Pendulum for a decade) pulled up stakes and headed to Florida, he also managed East Greenwich’s Old Stone Bank branch.
In his well-deserved retirement, Dick enjoyed gardening, golfing, cheering New England sports teams, and spoiling his grandchildren, Anders and Reganne. Last summer, he relived the Tercentenary through the East Greenwich News’ Facebook page, which spent two weeks posting about events 43 years to the day after they took place. He clicked “like” on many of them.
“I hope to be around for 350!” he posted July 26.
Alas, it was not to be. But what Dick Chadwell brought to East Greenwich 44 years ago will outlive us all. Such memories are the stuff of immortality, and for that we should be grateful.
Thanks for dropping anchor in East Greenwich for 30 years, CWO4 Chadwell. Fair winds and following seas to you, and Faye.
You can find the obituary HERE.