By Mike Rhodes
Talking to Avigdar Adams, Richard Stone’s domestic partner for 46 years, you get a sense of the rich life Richard lived. He was on the Editorial Board of the Community Alliance newspaper since March 1999, wrote numerous articles and even published a book, Hidden in Plain Sight, which is a collection of stories about activists in Fresno.
I learned that Avigdar and Richard met in Berkeley in the early 1970s. Avigdar was a Registered Nurse and Richard worked as a counselor at a community clinic. Richard had moved to Berkeley from New York where he grew up. He went to Swarthmore College where he earned an M.A. in literature. He also had degrees in psychology and teaching.
Richard had ended up in Berkeley after traveling around the country with his wife Maxine Stone. After two years, the marriage ended and Richard moved into a living arrangement where he met Avigdar.
They soon became a couple and before long traveled to Israel where they lived on a kibbutz. Richard was Jewish and wanted to better understand the culture, lifestyle and reality of Israel. They lived on a farm raising chickens and orange trees for one and a half years. The members of the kibbutz really wanted Richard to stay, but he decided to move back to the United States with Avigdar.
They came back to the Bay Area, but life was too hectic and they ended up living for a while with Avigdar’s family in Chowchilla. As a Registered Nurse, Avigdar soon got a job at the Valley Medical Center in Fresno. Once in Fresno, they never left.
Richard always worked jobs where he had some free time for writing, which he liked doing and was very good at. In addition to writing for the Community Alliance newspaper, Richard published at least six books. His writing style gave a voice to the voiceless and validated the work people did in this community in support of peace, social and economic justice.
Not only did he write for the newspaper, but Richard was also one of those rare individuals who would volunteer to do the difficult behind-the-scenes jobs that nobody else wanted to do—like filling out paperwork to establish a 501(c)(4) nonprofit status for the paper and turning in annual reports to the state. Pam Whalen, who is on the Editorial Board of the paper, said, “I’m not sure if the paper would have survived without Richard’s hard work over the last couple of years.”
Angela Price with the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (FCNV) said that “Richard Stone was one of the very first Board members of the Center for Nonviolence as I am, so our friendship has endured over 25 years. I say ‘endured’ because we were definitely not alike; Richard was gentle, I look gentle but I can be aggressive (I’m told). He would never twist any one’s arms to get what he wanted; I have to tell myself sternly that that is probably what I am doing.
“He always saw the best in everyone; I sometimes find that hard to do. Richard was the most peaceful and honest person I’ve ever known and I thank him for teaching me so much by example. When people asked what they could do to help, Richard would say, ‘Try and do something that will make the world a better place.’”
Dan Yaseen and Camille Russell, who are active in Peace Fresno, said, “We remember Richard with enormous fondness and treasure his leadership in founding Peace Fresno. On the days following 9/11, the Fresno Center for Nonviolence (FCNV) was a key player in galvanizing a thoughtful, proactive community response. Richard and Vincent Lavery led weekly meetings at the Center and demonstrations at Shaw and Blackstone as the progressive community grappled with the implications of 9/11 and the U.S. attack on Afghanistan that followed on October 7.”
Writing from Ireland, Vince Lavery said, “I learned a lot from you Richard because of your words and actions to help bring more peace and social justice into this world.”
Maria Rodriquez, a healer who spent a significant amount of time with Richard before he died, said, “My walk with Richard was both spiritual and business-based. Our journeys were similar, in that although I’m a Muslim and he was raised with Jewish beliefs we were both comfortable sitting with any path whose intentions were towards creating peace and understanding (that’s actually part of his business motto). He was always searching for self-acceptance…and I believe that he found it (by the serene look on his face when he transitioned).”
“When Mike asked me to write a few lines about Richard’s work at the Center,” Price says, “I started rereading some old files we kept at the Center. Richard’s name is everywhere! His work as program director spawned programs like the Pairs Project matching people across significant boundaries (e.g., race, religion, gender identity) and Peace Challenge for Youth, which ran for five years, that gave mini grants for projects by youth.
“He was active in organizing our peace center conferences and our yearly anniversaries. He helped create panel discussions on religion and politics—difficult subjects like Israel and Palestine too. He assisted with newly formed groups like The Living Room (for AIDS-affected people) and Healing Hope (for Southeast Asian refugees) until they received their own nonprofit status. Richard hosted many a Stir It Up radio show on KFCF 88.1.
“In more recent years, I believe Richard felt that his teaching in the prisons as part of our Prison Ministry program was the most important meaningful work he ever did.”
Maria Telesco, who Richard worked with on the Prison Ministry program, said, “I have known Richard Stone for over 20 years. I have worked closely with him as a prison volunteer in several California prisons teaching the Houses of Healing program. This program helps prisoners learn how to rebuild their lives.
“Along this journey we became very close friends. Richard was a wonderful associate. Working in challenging conditions, he was able to draw out the best qualities of each inmate and myself. Our program can only be judged in one way, the number of wonder letters we still receive from inmates even though we had to end our program a couple of years ago.”
Remembering his role at the FCNV, Price said, “It was Richard’s writing, though, that stamped his signature on to everything we have done starting with our Peace Agenda of which he was very proud. He authored pretty much every article we needed written from those anniversary programs and on the Center’s page in the Community Alliance. And even the important letters we needed to write to universities or colleges—and to the government!
“He was simply a wonderful writer and fully deserved the first Mike Rhodes Writer’s Award. All of us on the Board are grieving at the loss of our friend and co-worker. To Richard’s partner of 46 years, Avigdar, we send our deepest sympathy.”
Richard Iyall, a member of the Native American Cowlitz tribe, said “Richard Stone was active in so many things. He will be missed greatly. His smile and encouraging demeanor were very special. In addition to leaving a legacy of his books, his other writings and helping others with their writings, he also left a legacy of love for life and for people.”
While living in Fresno, Richard worked as an independent studies instructor in Reedley, was a counselor for older Americans, worked at the Yoga Center of Fresno and was a volunteer at Fresno Filmworks.
Richard Stone was born on Sept. 13, 1943, and died on Aug. 7, 2018. Copies of Richard’s latest book, Criminal Acts, are available at the FCNV for $5, and all sales will benefit the Center. Contributions to honor his life can also be sent to the FCNV (1584 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno, CA 93728). Another of his books, Hidden in Plain Sight, is available on Amazon.
Mike Rhodes is the founder of the Community Alliance newspaper and author of Dispatches from the War Zone: Homelessness in Fresno 2002–2015. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.