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Heather Abbott to Deliver Providence College Commencement Address

​​​​​​​​​​For Immediate Release: April 11, 2016


Providence, R.I. – Heather Abbott ’03G, whose injuries in the 2013 Boston Marathon bombing led her to establish a foundation which helps amputees obtain prosthetic devices, will present the Commencement Address at Providence College’s Ninety-Eighth Commencement Exercises on Sunday, May 15, 2016. The ceremony will take place at 11:00 a.m. at the Dunkin' Donuts Center, 1 La Salle Square, Providence, R.I.

Abbott is one of five honorary degree recipients. The others are Robert W. Fiondella, Esq. ’64, retired CEO and chair of The Phoenix, a leading provider of wealth management products and services; Timothy P. Flanigan, M.D., a professor of medicine at Brown University who treated Ebola patients in Liberia and is also active in Haiti; Rose Weaver, an actor, singer, and playwright; and George T. Wein, founder of the Newport Jazz Festival and co-founder of the Newport Folk Festival.

Abbott earned an MBA from PC in 2003 after completing a bachelor’s degree in accounting from Stonehill College in 1996. She is compliance/EEO and employee relations manager for Raytheon Integrated Defense Systems in Portsmouth, R.I., and founder of The Heather Abbott Foundation.  

In April 2013, Abbott was struck by shrapnel when homemade bombs exploded along the Boston Marathon route. Blown through the doorway of a restaurant, she was carried to safety by Matthew Chatham, a former New England Patriots linebacker. The blast mangled her left foot, breaking her ankle and shattering several bones.

In the hospital, Abbott was visited by First Lady Michelle Obama, who gave her a presidential challenge coin, a token traditionally given to wounded service members and their families. After undergoing three surgeries in four days, Abbott made the difficult decision to allow doctors to amputate her left leg below the knee. 

Her recovery was aided by the support of family and friends, fellow amputees, and strangers. They sent her cards and letters of encouragement, and donated to a special fund to help her receive customized prostheses. Through insurance and donations, Abbott received four different prosthetic legs. Just months after the bombing, she resumed work and independent living, along with paddle boarding, running, and wearing high heeled shoes.  

Abbott learned that prostheses cost as much as $100,000 and must be replaced every 3-5 years. She launched The Heather Abbott Foundation to raise money to help other amputees obtain the devices they need to return to normal living as quickly as possible. She also became a certified peer counselor for the National Amputee Coalition, and a motivational speaker who reminds audiences of the power of positive thinking and the impact of compassion on those in need.

Abbott was awarded the Spirit of an Active Lifestyle Award from the Orthopedic Association in 2014. She was named a Woman to Watch by Providence Business News in 2015 and received the 2015 Woman of Courage & Spirit Award from Women in Higher Education. She also received the Person of Character Award from Bryant University in 2016.  She has been the recipient of honorary degrees from Framingham State University and Southern Connecticut State University, as well as the President’s Excellence Award from Stonehill College in 2015. 

Additional honorees:

Robert W. Fiondella, Esq. ’64, a native of Bristol, Conn., where he still resides​, Fiondella was the first in his family to attend college. He studied political science in the Liberal Arts Honors Program at PC and received a law degree from the University of Connecticut School of Law in 1968. He began working as a computer programmer and systems analyst for Travelers Insurance Company while in law school. 

Fiondella joined the law department of Phoenix Mutual Life Insurance Company in 1969. He advanced through the department, becoming senior vice president and general counsel in 1981. In 1983, he was named executive vice president of the company, and in 1987, was elected president and appointed a director of Phoenix Mutual. He was elected chief operating officer in 1989 and given responsibility for all lines of business.

When Phoenix Mutual and Home Life Insurance Company merged in 1992, Fiondella was elected president and chief operating officer of the new entity, Phoenix Home Life Mutual Insurance Company. In 1994, he was elected chairman, president, and chief executive officer, positions he held until he retired from Phoenix in 2002. He now is a private investor and founding principal of JEROB Enterprises, LLC. 

A business and civic leader in Connecticut, he is a member of the board of directors of Oxford Performance Materials and has served on the boards of several other corporations and organizations. He is a driving force behind the development of Adriaen’s Landing, a $900 million revitalization project in Hartford.

When PC established The Angel Fund to help students whose families were affected by the financial crisis of 2008, Fiondella decided that he wanted to “repay” the $900-per-year scholarship he received to attend PC — in today’s dollars — and committed to donate $6,000 per year for four years. 

In November 2015, Fiondella was inducted into the Bristol, Conn. Sports Hall of Fame for his support of athletics in the community. He helped to develop the Bristol Boys & Girls Club, which named its field house in his honor; created Girls Little League Softball and; served on the board of Special Olympics International, among other organizations. 

Fiondella received the 2003 Urban League of Greater Hartford Black History Merit award. He chaired the 2000 Greater Hartford Heart Walk for the American Heart Association. He is the 1996 recipient of the Connecticut River Council, Boy Scouts of America Distinguished Citizen Award. He has provided leadership for events and projects benefiting the American Cancer Society, the American Paralysis Society, St. Francis Hospital and Medical Center, and Johnson Memorial Hospital. He was a director of the Urban League Center and co-chair of the "Working Wonders" Hartford Summer Youth Program.

Fiondella and his wife, Carolyn, are the parents of two sons, Robert and Jeffrey, and have four grandchildren, including Robert Jon Fiondella ’16. 

Timothy P. Flanigan, M.D. received a medical degree from Cornell University Medical College and a bachelor’s degree from Dartmouth College. He is a professor of medicine and professor of health services, policy, and practice at the Warren Alpert Medical School at Brown University and infectious-disease specialist at The Miriam Hospital in Providence. He also is a staff physician at Rhode Island Hospital.

Flanigan was ordained to the permanent diaconate of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Providence in 2013. During his formation, he studied theology at PC. He is a deacon at St. Christopher and St. Teresa churches in Tiverton, R.I.

In 2014, Flanigan spent eight weeks in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak. He helped to prepare for the reopening of St. Joseph Catholic Hospital, which closed when its health care workers contracted the virus. The Diocese of Monrovia and the Salesian Missions assisted Flanigan with his travel, and helped to ship thousands of dollars in food supplies and protective equipment, including gowns, gloves, hats, goggles, and masks. The hospital was decontaminated with bleach and staff were re-trained in procedures for dealing with infectious disease.

He joined Brown Medical School in 1991 to help establish a network of primary care for HIV-infected individuals with a focus on women, substance abusers, and people leaving prison. He developed the HIV Core Program at the state prison in Rhode Island to provide care for infected individuals, and link them to community resources upon their release.

In 2004, Flanigan received an honorary degree from Salve Regina University. He also received a Community Health Leadership award from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for the development of outstanding care for underserved individuals with HIV. 

Flanigan and his wife, Dr. Luba L. Dumenco, have five children.

Rose Weaver has entertained audiences for more than 40 years in theatre, television, and film.

She was one of six children born into a sharecropper’s family in rural Georgia. After completing high school, she enrolled at Wheaton College in Norton, Mass., where she discovered a love of the performing arts while earning a bachelor’s degree in English with a minor in theatre and secondary education.

In 1973, Weaver joined Trinity Repertory Company in Providence as an acting fellow, studying under artistic director Adrian Hall. She remained with Trinity for 22 seasons. In 1994, she starred as Billie Holiday in one of Trinity Rep’s longest-running shows, Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill. She also performed with the National Theatre Company, The Globe Theatre, and in Off-Broadway productions.

On television, Weaver had roles on The Brotherhood, In the Heat of the Night, Tales from the Crypt, The Young and the Restless, and L.A. Law. In film, she starred opposite Jodie Foster in The Accused and appeared in Poetic Justice and Lady in White.

In 2000, Weaver received a master’s degree in fine arts from Brown University, where she studied English, creative writing, and play writing. She wrote Menopause Mama, a one-woman play with music that tells the story of aging; Skips in the Record, which was awarded a Rhode Island State Council on the Arts Fellowship in Playwriting; and Silhouette of a Silhouette, based on the death of her brother.

​A versatile performer, Weaver has sung solo with her own jazz ensemble and with pop orchestras, narrated commercials and radio shows, and shared her knowledge as a teacher. She was a visiting instructor of theatre at Wheaton College, a teaching assistant at Brown University, and an assistant professor of theatre at Rhode Island College. She was artist-in-residence for the Providence Public Schools and Durfee High School in Fall River, Mass.

From 2005-2012, Weaver worked in the Department of Electrical Engineering at the University of California, Los Angeles, as co-editor of the annual report magazine, supervisor of faculty support, and organizer of the Seminar Series in Electrical Engineering. She returned to Rhode Island in 2015 following the deaths of her husband, Francis LaMountain, and her son, Michael.

Weaver is a member of the Actor’s Equity Association, the American Federal of Television and Radio Artists, and the Screen Actor’s Guild of America. She was awarded an honorary doctor of fine arts degree from Marymount Manhattan College in 2002.

George T. Wein, a native of Boston, is considered to be as much a legend as his festivals.  Through his company, Festival Productions, he has spearheaded hundreds of music events since 1954 when he produced the first Newport Jazz Festival®  – an event which started the festival era. Five years later, Wein and folk icon Pete Seeger founded the Newport Folk Festival®.

​In 1970, he founded the New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Festival. He pioneered the idea of sponsor association with music events, beginning with The Schlitz Salute to Jazz and the Kool Jazz Festival. His company went on to produce titled events for JVC, Playboy, Mellon Bank, Verizon, Essence, Ben & Jerry’s and others. 

Wein celebrated his 90th birthday in 2015, and is said to have as much creative fuel as he did when he started the Newport festivals and advanced the concept of live music. In 2010, he founded Newport Festivals Foundation, a 501(c)(3) organization that perpetuates the history of jazz and folk music in Newport and allows the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals to live on in perpetuity.

As a result of his diverse contributions to jazz and world culture, Wein has been honored by heads of state, educational institutions, and leading publications. He is an NEA Jazz Master (Jazz Advocate) and received a Grammy® Honorary Trustee Award in February 2015.  

Among the honors and awards Wein has received include - the Lifetime Achievement Award by the Rhode Island Council for the Humanities and New Englander of the Year from the New England Council, honorary degrees from the Berklee College of Music, Rhode Island College of Music, Five Towns College, and North Carolina Central. 

He is a lifetime Honorary Trustee of Carnegie Hall and on the board at Jazz @ Lincoln Center. In addition, honors have been bestowed upon him by Presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, AARP, the Studio Museum in Harlem, the French Legion d’Honneur, Chile’s Order of Bernardo O’Higgins and other organizations around the world. 

In addition to his work as a producer, Wein is an accomplished jazz pianist, whose group, Newport All-Stars has toured the United States, Europe and Japan. Over the years, the Newport All-Stars has featured some of the greatest musicians in the history of jazz.

Wein’s autobiography, Myself Among Others: A Life in Music (Da Capo Press), chronicles his life in jazz and was recognized by the Jazz Journalists Association as 2004’s best book about jazz. 

In addition to his life in jazz, Wein has a long history of involvement with philanthropy and the arts, including the establishment of the Joyce and George Wein Chair of African American Studies at Boston University, the Alexander Family Endowed Scholarship Fund at Simmons College, and an annual artist prize given through the Studio Museum in Harlem in honor of his late wife, Joyce Alexander Wein. The New Orleans Jazz & Heritage Foundation named their Jazz & Heritage Center in honor of George and his late wife, Joyce.