Jamestown humanitarian wins inaugural civic award
Joan Arnold was an active member of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island for many years. When she died last year, her fellow organization members decided to honor her with the creation of an annual award carrying her name. This year, Rosemary Forbes-Woodside of Jamestown has been named as the winner of the inaugural Joan C. Arnold Civic Participation Award.
According to Susan Wells, director of the Newport County offi ce of the League of Women Voters, Joan Arnold was the lynchpin of her organization in her role as treasurer. She remained on the job even as her health began to fail.
“She was so important to this league that we decided that we wanted to remember her in a way that would impact the community and celebrate her life and her kind of leadership,” Wells said. “Without people like her, the organization would not be as strong as it is. That’s what this award is for.”
Forbes-Woodside, who works as an electronics engineer at the Naval Undersea Warfare Center in Newport, has lived in Jamestown since 1991.
“I am very honored to get the award because [Arnold] was a lovely lady,” Forbes- Woodside said. “It’s very humbling because when you do volunteer work, you don’t really want to be so noticed. I am very pleased.”
At the beginning of the 21st century,
Forbes- Woodside helped to organize a group called Conanicut Concerned Citizens. She said that she got involved because she was concerned about toxins leeching out of the landfill and into the town’s water supply. The group’s mission is to protect the island’s water resources, which they feel are being threatened by the town’s landfill.
The group raised the issue with the state Department of Environmental Management, urging the closure of the landfill due to the threat of toxic materials entering the water supply. After a lengthy struggle, the state and the town of Jamestown agreed to close the landfill. While the Town Council has voted for the closure – and money has been set aside for the project – no date has been set for the work, which will be done by the town Public Works Department.
Forbes-Woodside said she thought that the closure was going to happen this summer, but to date she hasn’t heard of any specific plans for the project. She contends that in the meantime the town has been slow in providing monitoring reports. Several members of her group continue to meet with the town engineer on a regular basis.
“The town was supposed to close the landfill back in the 1990s and they didn’t close it,” she said. “There is no cap on it, there is no liner, and they don’t monitor the wells properly.”
Among her other activities, Forbes-Woodside is currently the president of the board of the Humane Society of Jamestown. She expressed concern about the proper procedures for addressing animal issues now that the town does not have an animal control officer.
“According to town ordinances, there are all of these tasks that are supposed to be taken care of by the animal control officer,” Forbes- Woodside said. “Who do you call if you have a skunk that has distemper or an animal that has rabies? We would like everyone to call the police, who would record the calls and call DEM, or Public Works, or maybe a police officer would take care of it. Right now I don’t know who picks up animals.”
Forbes-Woodside also volunteers at the annual Save the Bay Swim and the Beavertail Lighthouse Museum. She is a trustee for the Jamestown Philomenian Library, and is on the board of the Taxpayers Association of Jamestown. She is also a board member of the group that bestowed the award on her: the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island, a nonpartisan, nonprofit organization that raises concerns on a number of social and political issues, from health care to environment to election reform.
“As a group, the league has certain issues that they want to address,” said Forbes-Woodside. “Nationwide they make a difference on important social issues.”
Forbes-Woodside added that she thinks that more people should be involved with Save the Bay, and cites the organization’s efforts in helping to fight the proposed LNG terminal. She also hopes that people will get involved in causes of their own choosing.
“I just think that people should be more involved in general, in doing things that they like,” Forbes- Woodside said. “If you like the cause, whatever it is, it’s not like it’s an effort on your part.”
The Joan C. Arnold Civic Participation Award will be given to Forbes-Woodside at an event to take place on Thursday, June 7, at the home of Richard and Jane Koster in Jamestown. (Jane Koster is the treasurer of the League of Women Voters of Rhode Island.) Tickets to the reception – which will include wine and hors d’oeuvres – are $15 per person. To purchase tickets, call Wells at 378- 7595.
“This award is to recognize someone who has worked not only out front, but behind the scenes, as Rosemary has done for so many years,” said Wells. “Her persistence and dedication to a cause have made a difference.”