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Military and music in perfect harmony for retired Navy officer

May 23, 2011

NORTH KINGSTOWN – Debbie Goodwin followed her father in some major aspects of life: she took up an instrument and, as a teen, joined her dad in the Lafayette Band; she chose the same career path, too, logging 22 years in the U.S. Navy; and like, her dad, she met her spouse in the service, too.
It is a military family with a musical flourish.
Her dad, the late Robert Rice, retired as a Navy Lieutenant Commander; her mom, Nettie, was in the Navy Nurses Corps for eight years during World War II. Debbie’s husband, Tom, retired after a combined 29-and-a-half years in the Navy and Marine Corps.
“I paralleled Dad,” she reflects, “In the 1930s, he had a dance band when he was in high school. Then he became career Navy; he was a pilot in World War II and Korea. He had been here, at Quonset, but retired in Tennessee. He and Mom decided to return here.”
As he pursued a second career in real estate, Debbie recalls, her father had a sudden yearning to start playing his trombone again. “He hadn’t played for 21 years, but he started again and joined the Lafayette Band. He loved playing with them.”
Meanwhile, starting in seventh grade, Debbie began playing the flute. “I wanted to play trombone, but Dad said it was too big,” she laughs. “My parents, bless their hearts, came to all the concerts.”
Her high school band director was Joe Pelosi, who also led the Lafayette Band, so it was only a matter of time before Debbie signed on to play with that ensemble, too. “My dad and I played together for two or three years. The Wednesday night practice concerts were fun.”
She also played piccolo with the Kentish Guards militia band in the 1960s and ‘70s. “I remember marching in the Bristol [Fourth of July] Parade.”
Debbie, who earned a bachelor’s degree in sociology from the University of Rhode Island and a master’s in management through the National-Louis University, is a graduate of Officer Candidate School in Newport.
Retiring with the rank of Commander, her impressive record includes the posts of public affairs officer for Naval Air Station Corpus Christi, speech writer for the commander in chief of the Atlantic Fleet, commanding officer of the Military Sealift Command Office in Pusan, Korea and operations officer on the staff of the Defense Advisory Committee on Women in the Services.
When she and her husband retired to a beautiful home in the Annaquatucket area, Debbie – as her father had earlier – returned to music. “I took the flute up again and then I ran into Joe Pelosi at Dave’s Market. He invited me back to the Lafayette Band.”
Three years ago she began studying in earnest, taking lessons from Gina Seraichyk of Roberts Music. “I practice an hour to 90 minutes every night; my Lafayette Band and personal music,” says Debbie.
She even treated herself to something special: a new flute. “It’s terrific to play. After my old flute that I played 30 years ago, it’s like driving a Jaguar after a Volkswagen Beetle.”
The Lafayette Band, which has about 45 members – a dozen of them women – will present “An Armed Forces Salute” at 7 p.m. Saturday in the North Kingstown High School auditorium. The grand entrance and opening flag ceremony will be performed by members of the military, veterans and Naval Sea Cadet units.
The program also includes military memorial ceremonies and a display of military history and equipment. Free-will donations, accepted at the door, will support band operations and the Disabled Veterans of Rhode Island.
Besides martial music, the presentation will include “The Homefront: Musical Memories from World War II”, songs of Glenn Miller, selections from South Pacific and James Swearingen’s “An American Portrait.”
“There’s a Dixieland Band in the middle,” says Debbie.
As vice-president of the 125-year-old Lafayette Band, she is on the hunt for new members. “We welcome players from all levels; those who used to play. We only ask for a commitment of time.
“Personally, it’s extremely rewarding to be in a group like this.”

Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for Southern Rhode Island Newspapers and can be reached at

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