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I am sure that the newspaper has been deluged with letters, memories and well-wishes from the thousands of people who H.R. Richardson personally touched. I am also sure that each came with a unique story detailing the deep way in which Mr. Richardson impacted the author. I suppose it is the only way to appropriately remember a man such as he.
Mr. Richardson could have but one way of connecting with anyone: deeply and personally. I, like all of you, remain in admiration of H.R. (The "R" is pronounced, ARRUH, should you have asked Mr. Richardson. It was as crystal clear as his attention was to the listener.)
This letter is not to relate a moral story from my past involving the likely intervention of Mr. Richardson into a life-choice-going-bad for a dopey young boy, although it would be easy. I want to find as many hearts as can read this and remind them and myself, what greatness is ... and why it is.
When parents raise their children with ideals such as honesty, generosity, kindness, respect and simple common decency, it is sometimes forgotten that those things are abstracts that must be learned on the fly.
Trial and error. Trial and error. I mean, what does generosity look like? What does kindness feel like, or, better yet: How can we describe these ideals without giving examples that can only and vaguely start to paint the picture? They come in so many different varieties that a child needs to see them all, over time and in all sorts of contexts, before realizing, as an adult most likely, that generosity, kindness and respect are less disparate acts but an entire way of being.
Kindness is less a one-time display and more a warm attitude towards others. Respect is no longer something demanded before it is given, it is granted simply because you are with another human being. Generosity is not just Sunday's envelope anonymously given, but a thankful embrace of the world you share. So here we are, ideals that cannot be described to children, except by a few examples and unclear metaphors.
There is an alternative. There is another way that, for 30-some-odd years of Campbellsville's teens, a fortunate generation got to learn those ideals: They saw them beautifully lived out, everyday, in H.R. Richardson.
As an average, self-centered teenage goof, the ideas of kindness, generosity and respect were fairly abstract and whenever I learned about them, I assure you, it was not while being praised for my copious portions of each. I knew that these things were difficult and involved sacrifice because, as Saint Paul says, I was being the man I am, not the one I should be.
Somehow, and now it seems impossibly so, H.R. made all those things, those vague ideals, joyful. He managed not only to show us all what these things were supposed to look like, he brought an effortlessness and blessed light to his giving that made anyone who knew him want to be like him.
As a boy becoming a man, I was defined and shaped by whomever my parents allowed into my life. I have gotten older and looked back on those people; some had to come at me with a hammer and chisel to carve and shape a man where only hardness was. I thank God that, among the shapers in my life was H.R. Richardson, who came at me with the firm but soft hands of a potter shaping formless clay.
If you are reading this, there is a good chance God touched you through the smile, iron handshake, honest words, the warm gaze, loving pat on the back, funning whack on the back, the laughter, non-condescending instruction and chastisement, the real compliment, humility, dignity and the never-to-be duplicated charm of Mr. H.R. Richardson.
As we said to H.R., everyday, as we exited biology class: "Thank you, Mr. Richardson." It was only proper then. So, it is now.
Thank you, Mr. Richardson.