Monday, July 23, 2012

Frank Beazley: The obituary

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Page one, Providence Journal, Monday, July 23, 2012

passages | Beazley was champion for disabled, lauded artist
Journal Staff Writer

BURRILLVILLE - Frank Beazley, who survived a harsh childhood and a devastating spinal-cord injury to become Rhode Island's foremost advocate for people with disabilities - and also a celebrated artist and poet - died Sunday morning at Zambarano Hospital, where he had lived since 1967. He was 83.

Just this spring, in a rare honor, the main patient building at Zambarano was named for him. Beazley, the General Assembly declared, was "someone who has worked tirelessly to ensure continuous quality of care for all patients, and who has been and continues to be a tireless voice for the voiceless." Governor Chafee signed the legislation into law.

Senators Paul W. Fogarty, D-Glocester, and Rep. Cale P. Keable, D-Burrillville, offered tributes to Beazley on Sunday.

"Frank was a longtime friend and mentor to me and to many," Fogarty said. "He made a tremendous difference in the quality of life of residents at Zambarano and throughout the state, with his art and poetry, with his advocacy, and especially with his infectious smile. … I was honored to know him and to call him a friend."

Keable said: "As someone whose brother was a resident at Zambarano for 13 years, I saw firsthand the difference that Frank made in the lives of residents there. Frank was an inspiration, to them and to me. … All Rhode Islanders can learn a great deal from Frank's life."

Son of an unwed teenager whose family did not acknowledge him, Beazley was born Dec. 13, 1928, in Halifax, Nova Scotia. He was raised in an orphanage and, later, in a foster home run by an abusive alcoholic.

After service in the Royal Canadian Army, Beazley became a baker. He moved to Rhode Island in 1953 in search of a better life. He was returning to his Providence home from his shift at a Dunkin' Donuts bakery Jan. 6, 1967, when he fell down a flight of stairs.

The accident left him a quadriplegic, permanently paralyzed from the neck down. After several weeks at Rhode Island Hospital, he was moved to Zambarano, now a unit of state-run Eleanor Slater Hospital. With rehabilitation, he was able to regain some use of his hands.

Beazley's fiancée eventually abandoned him, leaving him alone at the institution on remote Wallum Lake, but Beazley did not let his circumstances defeat him. He began to paint and write poems. He gained U.S. citizenship. He found his voice, becoming president of Patients for Progress, a platform he used to advocate for rights for the disabled.

At Zambarano, Beazley successfully championed campaigns for greater patient freedoms, including the right to wear regular clothes, pass fewer hours in bed, watch cable TV and spend more time in the community - campaigns that required years of dogged persistence.

Beazley fought moves to close wards and stop RIPTA bus service to Zambarano. Statewide, he fought for increased funding of programs for all people with disabilities. He regularly testified at the State House, where governors and legislators opened their doors to him. And he always spoke his mind.

Beazley was honored many times for his art and poetry, including twice winning the Allen Ginsberg Poetry Contest and being featured in a display at the Second International "One Heart, One World Exhibition 2002 Cultural Olympiad," in conjunction with the 2002 Salt Lake City Olympics.

Beazley was the subject of a 12-part Providence Journal series, "The Growing Season," published in 2006. Hundreds of readers responded to his story of triumph against great odds.

Behind his many achievements was a modest man of endless good will, with blue eyes and a warm smile. He was fond of flags, lapel pins, candy, children and what he called "beautiful days" ones, for example, with soothing breezes and glorious sunsets.

Beazley lived a simple philosophy: "Take what's there for you. Enjoy what you can."

To generations of doctors, nurses and other staff at Zambarano, Beazley was a cheering presence always grateful for their care, which kept him in good health for nearly a half century. To the many friends he made through his advocacy and his art, Beazley was a man who listened and provided encouragement in whatever challenges people faced.

In his private moments, he loved a good meal, music boxes and the New England Patriots.

Beazley's last public statements came in April, when he made what would be his final visit to the State House, to be officially honored on the occasion of the naming of the Frank Beazley Building, where he lived so long and died.

"It's one of the greatest things that's ever happened to me," said Beazley. "I hope it gives inspiration to a lot of other people."

Typically, Beazley offered gentle advice to others facing adversity, of whatever kind.

"Well," he said, "it's the old saying: You just have to keep your chin up and fight your battles. And respect people."

Vigorous in the spring, Beazley declined in recent weeks, though he could still manage a smile. He died in his bed on his long-time ward, 2 North.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

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