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Raphael March

November 20, 1940 April 11, 2024
Raphael March
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Obituary for Raphael March

Raphael March, 83, passed away peacefully at Bannister Center in Providence on April 11th. Born Raphael Fink on November 20th, 1940 in Queens, NY, he was best known as Ralph later in his life. He changed his last name to March in his 20s, following in the footsteps of his uncle Herbert March (also formerly Fink), a union and civil rights activist in Chicago.

Raphael was the first born son of Morton and Gertrude Fink, who moved to Rhode Island in 1949 when Morton became a Professor at RISD. He had three younger brothers, Stephen, Robert, and Richard. Both Morton and Raphael were geniuses, but tragically Gertrude became schizophrenic in her 30s, the same mental illness that afflicted Raphael in his late 20s and changed the course of his life.

Raphael attended the University of Miami where he was very politically active with the civil rights movement and protesting against the Vietnam war. He was very active with a variety of political groups and there are even rumors that he dated one of Malcolm X’s girlfriends. He was severely beaten by police while protesting, which may have been a catalyst for his schizophrenia. Raphael also made his way to Israel where he lived on a kibbutz. He was a master chess player, which continued throughout his life.

Raphael loved cities, especially New York. He found his way there any chance he could. Once Raphael’s mental illness took over, he was no longer himself, but instead became very agitated and unintelligible, ending up in troublesome situations. In the 1970s Morton made the difficult decision to institutionalize his son Raphael in the state of Rhode Island.

Once mental institutions were dissolved by the Reagan administration in the 1980s, it is unknown what happened with Raphael. By the 1990s he found his way into group homes for men, where he corresponded with his mother up until her death in 2000. Due to his name change, new addresses, and strict patient privacy laws, his family was unable to find him again until 2018.

At some point something miraculous happened for Raphael, which is that he received excellent transformative care. A combination of modern medicine, compassionate nurses, and friends in Providence earned him the nickname “Mayor of Cranston Street.” At least one nurse expressed that Ralph was her favorite patient ever. Many others in his community, from nurses to neighbors, looked forward to seeing him regularly. Without the remarkable work of his caregivers, things could have turned out differently. He was stable for the rest of his life with no mental health hospitalizations. Instead he battled physical challenges like leukemia, and was remarkably resilient each step of the way.

For years he walked down Cranston Street to his favorite McDonalds every day, where his greatest joys were a cheeseburger, a small coffee, and especially all the people he interacted with along the way. He was known to give someone a buck if they needed it, even if he didn’t have much.

Discovering that Raphael was not only still alive in 2018, but that he was so loved and cared for, is a beautiful gift to his family. We hope Ralph’s story provides hope to those who need it.

In lieu of flowers, please make a donation to Elwyn who runs the Fellowship Houses that cared for Raphael most of his life:

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