Richard Anthony Couto. Photo from Dignity Memorial obituary.

[The following text was part of a memorial by Irwin Venick during a gathering of Coalition alumni at Vanderbilt University, May 20, 2017.]

Richard (Dick) Couto served as Co-Director and then Director of the Center for Health Services from 1975 to 1988. It was a challenging position at a challenging time. Dick brought a different set of skills and a more academic perspective to the Center and the Student Health Coalition projects which continued to function under its umbrella.

Dick’s social justice perspective was a result of his upbringing in a Portuguese-American, Roman Catholic family in the textile town of Lawrence, Massachusetts. His hometown of Lawrence, an ethnically diverse, rough-around- the-edges neighborhood was central to his life growing up and deeply influenced the adult he became. So, too, was the memory of labor activism in Lawrence’s wool-based, textile industry symbolized by the “Bread and Roses” strike of 1912. Reflecting on the continuing influence of the memories of his youth, Dick would explain his motivation for writing: “One of the primary reasons I write is to give voice to people who I think have a very interesting story that touches on the heart of who we think we are as Americans.”

He earned his BA from Marist College, in Poughkeepsie, New York, in 1964 majoring in history, and spent several years teaching high school in Lawrence, MA, and the Bronx in NYC as a Marist monk. His first teaching assignment was Algebra. He loved teaching it because as he said, “you can’t teach it, you can only help others learn it.” While teaching at the Mount in the Bronx, Dick took high school students to Appalachia as a service project, which sparked a long-term interest in the people of that region.

When Dick came to the Center for Health Services he had to contend with both Bill Dow and a hostile Vanderbilt academic hierarchy. Notwithstanding the difficulties, Dick supported the continued growth and development of the Student Health Coalition. He also developed close relationships with community leaders in East and West Tennessee. One of Dick’s books, “Streams of Idealism and Health Care Innovation,” recounts Student Health Coalition activity in both East and West Tennessee; another, “Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Turn Me Around” tracks social justice activism in a number of southern communities in including Haywood County, Tennessee.

After leaving the Center for Health Services, Dick taught at Tennessee State University and Antioch University and Jepson School of Leadership Studies at the University of Richmond. When asked what he thought his legacy would be, Dick responded from the perspective of a life-long teacher: “The largest part of my legacy will always be unknown. Those are the seeds that we deposited and that people nurtured on their own. Sometimes there is a wonderful opportunity to come back and share, and some of my students do that. But, I also trust that others are nurturing those seeds on their own.”

Related Places:

Related People:

  • Margaret Ecker

    Related Places:   Related People:   Related Stories:   Related Resources/Links:

  • Jack Beckford

    Related Places:   Related People:   Related Stories:   Related Resources/Links:

  • J.W. & Kate Bradley

    J.W. Bradley and Kate Bradley were both born and raised in Petros, Tennessee, a small Appalachian coalfield community in the Cumberland Mountains. Emma Kate Bradley was born 13 October 1932, the sixth of seven surviving children in her family. Her … Continued

  • Maureen O’Connell

    Related Places:   Related People:   Related Stories:   Related Resources/Links:

  • J. Thomas “Tom” John, M.D.

    I am a bit late in getting my bio in, best done in the earlier stages of pending dotage. I am originally from Laurinburg NC a small farming and, then, textile community in the eastern part of the state. I … Continued

  • Betty Anderson

    Profile: Betty Anderson was born in Scott County, Tenn. on March 26, 1936. In the 1970s, she became involved with Save Our Cumberland Mountains, a social justice organization that addressed strip-mining and other community issues in Tennessee and Kentucky. She … Continued

  • East Tennessee Research Corporation (ETRC)

    Profile: [Contributed by John Williams and Neil McBride, September 2015.] As the members of the Student Health Coalition and the Vanderbilt Center for Health Services began working with health clinics, SOCM, the Tennessee Black Lung Association and other community-based organizations … Continued

  • Save Our Cumberland Mountains (SOCM)

    Profile: SOCM began in 1971, under the leadership of J.W. Bradley who sought fair taxation of absentee land corporations. They appealed to the Tennessee government, and won their first battle. Bolstered by their success, the organization then hoped to help … Continued

  • Bill Dow

    Related Places: Related People: Related Stories: Related Resources/Links:

Related Stories:

Related Resources/Links:

External Resources:

Leave a Reply