We just heard the very sad news. Rick Nadeau, best of friends, writer for the OB Rag, intellectual par excellence, just passed today, at 12:45pm PST. Rick had been fighting cancer for the past two years, and today took his last breath while in the arms of his love and wife, Diana, at their home in Sacramento. Rick will be cremated, and there certainly will be some kind of service here in San Diego.
Born and raised in Massachusetts, Rick Nadeau moved to San Diego to go to graduate school at UCSD in sociology. He ended up in Ocean Beach, and lived near the coast for years. He became a labor arbitration specialist for the California Faculty Association, which took him away from Southern California. While he lived here, he worked a variety of jobs – a top-notch shoe salesman, a driving instructor – and then he went to work for Greenpeace, and became its San Diego director. An avid reader of books, he developed into one of the foremost left-wing intellectuals in local circles. He was one of the main writers for “The Whole Damn Pie Shop,” a San Diego progressive magazine in the 1980s. With a green thumb, he surrounded himself with plants, and literally turned an ordinary OB back yard into a luscious garden while living amongst us.
Tragedy struck a local Ocean Beach activist family, the Tumminias, when San Diego Police officers shot and killed young Tony Tumminia in the early 1990s. Rick became the shoulder of Diana, Tony’s mother. Eventually they fell in love, married and ended up in Sacramento where she has been teaching at a local college for a good number of years. After he retired from CFA, Rick continued his own studies; he wrote for our blog, the OB Rag, and joined the editorial board of ‘Because People Matter’, a Sacramento progressive magazine.
Rick will be tremendously missed. He did visit Ocean Beach one last time this past summer and saw many of his friends who reside here. He was very glad that he lived to see Barack Obama elected President. Obama and the rest of us are going to have to continue making change in this world without Rick, as the planet just lost a heavyweight son today.
Richard Paul Nadeau (1944-2008)
by Diana Tumminia, his partner
Activist, Sociologist/Philosopher, Labor Advocate, Feminist, Environmentalist, Public Intellectual, Blogger, Political Essayist, Jokester
Rick Nadeau died in his wife’s arms and in the company of a close friend on November 20th. His body was cremated and public memorial service will be announced for early December by email, word of mouth, and on the OB Rag website (obrag.org ).
Rick’s spirit is loved by many for his generous friendships and ferocious representation of underdogs and many are expected to attend this public memorial.
Born in New England during WWII, Rick grew up in a Catholic working-class family with two brothers and two sisters. As a young boy, he experienced an early love for nature playing with baby ducks and growing a garden at his riverside home. He remembered standing up to local bullies who shot birds, taking away their b-b guns and chasing them home. Despite disabilities, particularly severe asthma, back pain, and problems walking, he developed such a large public presence and powerful articulation for social justice that many considered him the strongest person they ever knew.
Rick majored in sociology and philosophy, mastering a wide range of intellectual paradigms from Hegel to the beat poets and from Marxist writings to postmodernism. In college, he sent his papers to noted critical theorist, Herbert Marcuse, who invited him to attend graduate school at UC San Diego where he obtained a graduate degree in the late seventies.
His college years offered him a first career, so to speak, as an activist, political essayist, and protest organizer. He helped organize the first protests against the Vietnam War on his college campus and the November 1969 anti-war protest, aptly named the largest anti-war protest, in Washington, .DC. He worked as one of the original Earth Day organizers in 1970. During 1970s and 1980s, Rick wrote for various underground newspapers, OB Rag (now online), The Whole Damn Pie Shop, The New Indicator, Triton Times, and Daily Onion. He also worked with the American anti-apartheid movement to promote freedom for blacks in South Africa. Known for his prodigious oratory, Rick lent his highly informed voice to the major social justice causes of the time, lecturing for free in local communities, colleges, and political rallies. In his spare time, he taught sociology at various junior colleges.
Throughout 1988-1990, he worked as field manager and later director of Greenpeace San Diego. At that time, he could be seen wearing a magenta t-shirt with a whale saying “Save the Humans.” Known affectionately by locals as Mr. Greenpeace and by news crews as Mr. Sound Bite, Rick made local and national news when he attended a press conference, arguing against the Exxon Valdez being towed to San Diego. He and others in small boats tried to stop the Exxon Valdez from docking. Rick resigned from Greenpeace when the national office objected to his successful local community organizing around malathion spraying. They wanted him to focus on international issues and official Greenpeace issues. Before leaving San Diego to work for a faculty union, he and others led a protest march against the first Iraqi War, an act that shocked and awed other politicos frozen by inertia.
In 1990s, Rick began labor organizing and defending faculty rights as an arbitration specialist for the California Faculty Association (CFA). After many years of stellar service, he won the F. Ben Mansell Academic Rights award for excellence in representation in 2005. He was well-known on all the California State campuses for his intense and dauntless advocacy of faculty rights. “Numerous CSU faculty owe their careers to his representation efforts,” said his friend, Beau Grosscup of CSU Chico.
For many years, he wrote strident letters to the editor of the Sacramento Bee, which sparked vigorous discussions at local coffee shops and political circles. In the early morning, Rick offered daily political analysis to a circle of friends at the local coffee shop where he will be sadly missed. After retirement from CFA, Rick joined Because People Matter as editor and writer, adding his loving and fiery energy and insight to his articles on: immigration, Bush wars, Palestinian-Israeli conflict, the prevalence of denial in American politics—despite the effects of chemotherapy for liver cancer. In addition, he blogged for OB Rag, Media Left, and was published by Z magazine.
A few weeks before he died, Rick donated his extensive jazz collection to CSUS music students. Wherever Rick was, he added his life-affirming contribution. His tender-heartedness fueled his passion for the underdog. He will be sorely missed by a large circle of family, friends, people, animals, plants and trees.
In lieu of flowers or gifts, the family requests that people make donations in his name to the struggling alternative press: Because People Matter or the OB Rag.
Rick Nadeau in Memoriam
by Gregg Robinson / November 23, 2008
I think it was Studs Terkel who said that Chicago was a city of “Broad Shoulders”-a working class town of factories and unions. My friend Rick Nadeau lived a life of Broad Shoulders. Rick was from the working class. He grew up in Fall River Massachusetts, a white working class town by the side of a river thick with the pollution of countless factories. There he developed a working class commitment to politics more in the tradition of Gene Debs, Big Bill Haywood, and Emma Goldman than “Joe the plumber”. Bright and articulate, Rick had a commitment to political principle that was muscular and physical. His passions were never mild or hesitant; he grabbed life by the throat and wrestled it to the ground. If he thought you were full of shit, he said it. But if he thought you needed help, he never shied away from lending a hand or money.
I got to know Rick in 1973 after he ended up at UCSD as a graduate student at the same time I was there. He had been forced to leave the cold and damp of New England after a flare up in his asthma. I decided I needed to meet Rick after he became famous in the sociology department for a confrontation with a faculty member. Many of the faculty in the department were followers of an intellectual doctrine known as Ethnomethodology. Influence by the drug culture of the late 1960’s and early 1970’s, it maintained that social reality was a construct that individuals created through interaction and talk. This was a kind of phenomenology without frontal lobes: a hippy/trippy view of the world that said that reality lay only in our beliefs and that social change was simply a matter of “changing our heads instead”.
In a graduate seminar Rick had put up with an instructor with this orientation for weeks. The guy was well intentioned, but naïve. He had the kind of enthusiasm for this simplistic version of sociology that only too little contact with real suffering and too much contact with LSD could produce. Rick treated the professor like he did everyone else: he argued, criticized, and attacked. The final conflict took place on a day that Rick was hung over. The prof made the mistake of doing his usual litany about reality with Rick only an arm’s length away. ” Reality,” Prof Naïve said “was a rumor whispered between frightened people too unenlightened to see that we all created it through our own consciousness”. Rick responded that oppressed groups like the Vietnamese had to do more than change their consciousness; they had to change such material realities as bombs and napalm. The instructor replied that “That was their mistake. They were caught up in the ‘illusion of externality.’ All they really had to do to free themselves was to redefine their reality.” At this point, Rick jumped out of his chair, grabbed the guy by his shirt front, threw him against a wall, and thrust his pen into his throat, telling him “You believe that crap? Then redefine this away!” The seminar exploded into chaos, and Rick was almost kicked out of the program. But he made his point, and he was right (to his credit, Prof. Naive came to Rick’s defense). There was a simplicity and physical truth in Rick’s responses to situations like these. Sometimes reality is not complicated; sometimes exploitation is exploitation and bullshit is bullshit. Once I heard about this event, I knew I wanted this guy as my friend.
For as aggressive and pugnacious as he could be, he was always concerned for those that did not share his strength. The poor, the disabled, and women were groups for which he felt particular kinship. Women’s issues would not appear to attract someone so obviously working class, but maybe because of his attachment to his mother, he was strongly committed to feminism. As a child Rick was violently asthmatic, and delicate. Because of this, he was close to his mother, but distant from his over-bearing ex-Navy father. As he reached his teens he became his mother’s defender against his sometimes abusive dad. At fifteen, Rick still saw himself as delicate and bookish, but he had grown the body of King Kong. Rick’s father never put his hands on his mother again.
Rick quit graduate school because he couldn’t handle the bullshit, and eventually ended up in the union movement. He carried with him that physical commitment to helping the powerless. The union he worked for in Sacramento was headed by someone all too similar to Rick’s dad. The guy was aggressive in his defense of the union, but abusive and condescending to those who worked under him. He left Rick alone both because he was too good at his job to threaten him, but also because it was obvious Rick would not intimidate. He did, however, make the lives of the (largely female) clerical help miserable. In response to this, the women tried to organize their own union. The union movement is notorious for its hostility to “internal unions” like these, and Rick’s boss was in a fury as a result. The women asked for support and help from the other union organizers thinking that their progressive politics would make them sympathetic. Only Rick responded. The women asked him to represent them in negotiations with their boss, a chore Rick undertook with a sense of passion and outrage. Nothing gave Rick more pleasure than calling the guy a sexist in front of union members, and demanding a contract that gave them not just a pay increase, but the right to “work in a shop free of intimidation and threats.” Rick got them their contract.
This was how Rick approached politics: with an anger at injustice no matter where he found it. There was a comfort in the fire of Rick’s outrage that warmed his friends and allies. If we felt fearful that a Nixon would destroy Cambodia in his secret war, Rick’s anger gave us hope it would come to an end. If a Reagan left us depressed because so many other Americans supported his policy of rolling back the welfare state, Rick’s certainty that this stupidity could not endure gave us courage. If a Bush could invade Iraq and kill hundreds of thousands then Rick’s rage reassured us that we were right and the 80% of Americans who approved the policy were wrong.
Rick cultivated community and friendship with the same passion he gave politics. He inhabited a place, and put down roots. He put his art on the wall, his books on the shelves, flowers in his garden, and jazz on his tape player. The music that came from his home stitched a group of friends together. I don’t know anyone I enjoyed arguing more with, or anyone I could rely on more in a crisis. Friendship for Rick was not something that you gave lip service to, but something you put your whole back and shoulders into. I think it was Woody Allen who once said that, “Three quarters of life is just showing up.” Rick showed up for his friends in good times and in bad.
I don’t want to get spiritual (Rick would slap me around for it if he were here), but I think there is a connection between Rick’s death and that of Studs Terkel a few weeks ago. Both of these men were working-class heroes, both of them lived lives of passion and commitment, both of them felt a gut level connection to progressive politics, and both enjoyed more than their share of food and alcohol. If you can measure the importance of someone by the hole they leave in our lives when they are gone, then Rick and Terkel leave holes the size of Rick’s shoulders. Two working class heroes have passed: look out heaven the place will never be the same again. Terkel is going to be writing essays about how God ignored the needs of poor people, but Rick is going to have God up against a wall with a pen at his throat: “How dare he let idiots like Bush get so much power”.