Rhode Island media lost a heavyweight in early 2021 with the passing of long-time TV news investigative reporter Bill Rappleye, who succumbed to brain cancer last week. Bill left a mark on RI journalism that will affect generations, setting an example as the political reporter for Channel 10. He was a distinctive combination of respectful and hard-hitting; always reporting the facts, but unafraid to express his own opinion. In those opinions, he would champion the everyman and look out for the average Rhode Islander. He took his role to heart as the guy who needed to get comprehensible answers on behalf of the person on the street, from the people in charge. You couldn’t intimidate Rapp, and if he felt he wasn’t getting answers he would keep asking until he did (getting kicked out of more than a couple of press conferences along the way). His constant energy and enthusiasm were contagious and could not be daunted.
Rapp consulted with Motif on a regular basis, and was always generous with advice and guidance. He loved what he did, approached his job with a great sense of humor and a sense of responsibility, and if you wandered about Providence in the last 20 years, you were sure to run into him doing a live report at some point. He probably asked you for a quote at the time. He loved man-on-the-street pieces. He also truly enjoyed catching wrong-doers “with their hands in the cookie jar,” and calling them out. Although he could always simplify a topic – that’s part of the job – he had a joyous appreciation for complexity and relished any chance to dive into a meaty topic.
I remember him being extremely excited when, at one point in his tenure at Channel 10, they gave him free reign to run his own after-broadcast online show. He did it with a web cam at his news desk, internet only. It had no budget, received no promotion, he wasn’t paid extra for it and almost no one watched. But he didn’t care about any of that – it was an opportunity to go in-depth, on any topic he felt mattered, with experts he picked and could talk to for an extra hour, an almost unheard of indulgence for an on-air reporter. It wasn’t talk radio – it was a real exercise of the mind exploring difficult topics, and that was pure joy for him.
It’s no surprise that most every politician in the state has expressed their admiration and condolences on one social medium or another in the past few days. He was respected, even by the people he often put on the spot.
Bill is survived by five daughters, Georgia, Anika, Chesley, Karma and Layla, as well as a full career’s worth of hard scrabble video clips and reports and an exceptional collection of fedoras. We will miss you, Rapp.