Richard M. Oster was a successful financier, philanthropist, and civic leader. No matter where work or life took him around the globe, Richard never forgot where he came from and was a Rhode Islander through and through.
A graduate of Moses Brown School in Providence and the University of Rhode Island, Richard began his business career in high school, sweeping floors and driving trucks at his father’s business, A.J. Oster Company, a brass manufacturer and supplier in Providence. After his father’s passing, Richard became the President of A.J. Oster, and grew the company into the largest brass mill supplier in the United States. A.J. Oster Co. was successfully sold to Cookson Group plc of London, England in 1979.
Richard joined Cookson Group and led the acquisition and management of more than 40 companies and 20,000 employees worldwide. Richard’s love for his home state was the catalyst for establishing Cookson’s American headquarters in downtown Providence in the former Union Station in the 1980s. The Station renovation marked one of the early successes in the transformation of modern Providence. In 1992, Richard became Chief Executive of Cookson Group plc. Under his leadership, Cookson Group entered the FTSE 100 with over $3 billion in sales, specializing in electronic materials, engineered products, ceramics and plastics. Richard retired as Chairman of Cookson in 1997.
In 1987, Richard was appointed Chairman of the Rhode Island Convention Center Authority, overseeing the financing, construction and opening of the Rhode Island Convention Center and Westin Hotel in Providence, considered one of the largest public works projects in Rhode Island history. Richard shuttled back and forth between London and Rhode Island, often adhering to a grueling travel schedule during this period. The Convention Center project was completed on time and under budget, just as Richard promised it would be. The Rhode Island Convention Center opened in 1994.
Richard was active in a variety of civic and philanthropic causes including the American Diabetes Foundation, Rhode Island Special Olympics, the Providence YMCA, and the American Heart Association. Richard was the first recipient of the American Heart Association’s Gold Heart, which later became known as The Richard M. Oster Gold Heart Award. He served as a director on many boards internationally and locally, including the Meeting Street School, Trinity Repertory Company, Rhode Island Philharmonic Orchestra, Miriam Hospital, Aurora Civic Association, National Conference of Christians and Jews, Big Brothers of Rhode Island and Volunteer Services for Animals. Richard was also a director of the Federal Reserve Bank in Boston.
Richard was awarded honorary degrees from Bryant University, Johnson & Wales University, The University of Rhode Island, Rhode Island College, The New England Institute of Technology and Brandeis University.
Richard never forgot his Russian Jewish immigrant roots, and the influence of his beloved grandfather who came to America selling rags and bottles with a pushcart and donkey. Richard had an unmatchable work ethic and drive to be the best. He led by example and inspired everyone around him.
Richard was a true outdoorsman and loved everything Rhode Island had to offer. Richard was an avid fisherman, enjoying Narragansett Bay and participating frequently in Block Island tournaments. He was an original member of Addieville East Farms and enjoyed shooting there as much as he did in England. Richard and his wife, Sandra, bred champion Labrador retrievers from their home in Barrington and won Best in Show at the Westminster Kennel Club Dog Show. They were also known for giving treasured puppies to Guiding Eyes for the Blind as well as close friends. Richard loved his early morning drives in his Wagoneer with his best friends popping up at a variety of local shops and eateries.
Richard passed away on December 1, 2008, but left an indelible mark on those who loved him. He was a man of great integrity, character, loyalty and determination. Richard’s legacy will live on in all those whose lives he touched, and with his induction into the Rhode Island Heritage Hall of Fame.