In Memory of Dr. Benjamin Ricci

Dr. Benjamin Ricci, a pioneer in transforming the service system for persons with mental retardation in Massachusetts, passed away on January 21, 2006 after a long illness. He is survived by Virginia, his wife of sixty one years and his three sons.

Dr. Ricci will be remembered as a caring and outspoken advocate in representing individuals with mental retardation and their families on issues of care and supports but also as a visionary who understood the need for changes in the service system that would assure the health, safety and welfare of this vulnerable population. He was the architect of the Individual Service Planning regulatory process. He galvanized the college community in Western Massachusetts by bringing college students to the Belchertown State School and preparing a generation of future leaders working in the field of mental retardation. He led the fight to close the Belchertown State School and the creation of a strong community system in Western Massachusetts. He was one of the founding fathers of Advocacy Network.

From 1970 to 1977, Dr. Ricci was president of Advocacy Network and became the Board Chairman in 1977. Over the years many individuals and family members have been helped by Advocacy Network. Dr. Ricci authored several books and his most recent book was a labor of love. The book, Crimes against Humanity: A Historical Perspective, chronicled the conditions at the Belchertown State School.

Dr. Ricci's crusade to improve conditions at the Belchertown State School started after the family made the difficult decision to place their young son Robert at the facility. The horrific conditions led Dr. Ricci to file the class action lawsuit, Ricci v. Greenblatt in February of 1972 and concluded with the closure of the institution in 1992. Dr. Ricci was committed to improving the lives of persons who lived at Belchertown. In May 2001, a testimonial dinner organized by Advocacy Network and held at Chez Joseph, honored his life and work. Documents related to this lawsuit may be viewed at the Special Collections Department of the WEB Du Bois Library at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst campus.

Dr. Ricci was also a close friend of Albert Warner and worked closely with him to improve conditions at the Pine Grove Cemetery in Belchertown. The cemetery is the resting place for more than two hundred individuals who had lived and died at the Belchertown State School. Mr. Warner had lived at the state school until the age of 27 when he moved to Amherst, got married, and worked there for many years. Sadly, Mr. Warner also recently passed away. Mr. Warner and Dr. Ricci advocated for DMR to make the Pine Grove Cemetery a dignified resting place. In 1987 a monument was erected at the cemetery which listed the names of the persons interred at the cemetery. Every year on Memorial Day weekend an ecumenical service is held at the cemetery. In 1998, the cemetery was renamed the Warner-Pine Grove Cemetery; Dr. Ricci attended and was a speaker at the cemetery service every year.

Dr. Ricci, a native of Cranston, R.I., had a distinguished career in the military before becoming a university professor. He served during World War II and was proud of his service to this country. Dr. Ricci was a professor of anatomy and physiology at University of Massachusetts in Amherst from 1950 to 1986.

Dr. Ricci has left a legacy that will never be forgotten. As we all continue with the mission to assist others to live safe, meaningful and dignified lives, we will remember Dr. Ricci's well-known salutation, "Keep the faith!" We can honor his memory by our endeavors to improve the lives of those we serve everyday.

This information is provided by the Department of Developmental Services.